JAMES COMBER has been labelled the new John Ovenell after his impressive debut for Barnstaple.
Ovenell stepped up from Devon One rugby with Torrington in 2008 and quickly became a reliable performer in the Barum second row before retiring last summer, aged 36.
Comber joined from Bude, of Tribute Western Counties (west), last week and made an immediate impact at No 8 in the 35-7 win over Amersham and Chiltern.
It brought back memories for Kevin Squire, the Barnstaple director of rugby.
"It's terrific when someone who is the best player in a team is prepared to step up and try a higher level," he said.
"John Ovenell did it and perhaps James is the next John Ovenell.
"Maybe he has not come up as many levels as John did but it is still a big step up."
Ian Thatcher, who has rejoined Barnstaple from South Molton, is likely to partner Matt Gohl in the second row for tomorrow's National Three south west game at Avonmouth Old Boys.
With Comber and captain Winston James certain starters at No 8 and open-side flanker respectively, that left Squire with a choice between Mike Sumner and Kele Taofinu'u for the blind-side role.
"James Comber is a natural No 8 and it (his debut performance) has given us some real problems this week," said Squire.
"We have got four brilliant back-row players and we have to squeeze them into three players."
Avonmouth are fourth from bottom of the table, three places and 17 points below Barnstaple, and are likely to pose a physical test.
They have won only once in their last four outings but have beaten Newton Abbot (30-19) and given tough games in defeat to Brixham (32-22) and Exmouth (12-6) at their Barracks Lane ground.
"They're a typical Bristol side – very physical," said Squire. "We will try to get the ball into the wide channels, that's where we can hurt these sides.
"We will look foolish if we lose but it's a game I'm paranoid about."
Barnstaple won 35-8 in the home fixture against Avonmouth in September.
Josh Squire, who has since suffered a serious knee injury, scored 25 points with two tries three conversions and three penalties.
Ross Williamson is expected to start at scrum half tomorrow in place of Ben Vellacott, who will be on duty for Exeter Chiefs in their Academy Under-18 League match at Bristol on Sunday.
Barnstaple (possible): Will Topps; Luke Berry, Linford Brock, Ryan Carter, Toby Williamson; Steve Perry, Ross Williamson; Mark Berry, Sam Roberts, Joe Bussell, Matt Gohl, Ian Thatcher, Kele Taofinu'u, Winston James (capt), James Comber.