Flashback! Exmouth celebrating their win over North Devon in the 2018 Servicemaster Clear Devon T20 Cup final at Budleigh Salterton

HOLDERS Exmouth have been pitched into a tough, all-Premier Division qualifying pool for next season’s Servicemaster Clean T20 competition.

Exmouth are joined by Plymouth and Sidmouth in pool four, which is the only three-team group in the competition comprised entirely of Premier sides.Exmouth defeated Plymouth in the last four to reach the 2018 final.

Premier sides Exeter and Paignton are the only entrants in Pool Six.

Cullompton, the B Division outsiders who went all the way to the semi-finals before losing to beaten finalists North Devon, have been grouped with Bovey Tracey and Heathcoat in Pool One.

Competition organisers have ordered round one of the competition to be played as a festival comprising three games in the same day.

To avoid the fixture disruption that blighted last season’s latter stages of the competition, not helped by games clashing with England matches in the Football World Cup, organisers are aiming for an earlier start to round one.

Round-one games have to be played between Saturday, April 20 and Sunday, May 12. Six winners and the two, closest runners-up, will go through to round two, which must be played by June 16.

The final has been pencilled in for July 14 at North Devon CC, with July 21 as the reserve date. The winners will represent Devon in the national ECB Vitality Blast T20. 

The draw is (host clubs first) Pool One: Bovey Tracey, Cullompton, Heathcoat; Pool Two: Bradninch, Abbotskerswell, Torquay; Pool Three: Sandford, Barton, Plympton; Pool Four; Plymouth, Exmouth, Sidmouth; Pool Five: Cornwood, North Devon, Budleigh Salterton; Pool Six: Exeter, Paignton.

The first team listed in each pool has the initial choice of hosting round one. Should they not be able to or, not wish to host that round, the opportunity passes to team two and then team three respectively.

Richard Stevenson, the Tolchards DCL’s cup competitions manager, has urged clubs not to delay arranging their festivals.

“With teams having now been notified they are requested to agree to the date of round one, which has to be played as a festival and where playing early it is strongly suggested a reserve date is set,” said Stevenson.

“It is the responsibility of team one in each pool to contact the other teams in the first instance to get the round one date agreed.”

The Devon champs go through to a South West final on July 28, leading into regional then national knockout rounds, which progress to the final in late September. Exmouth were losing national finalists in 2015 when they lost to Ealing at the SWALEC Stadium in Cardiff.