Fylde welcome Loughborough Students to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) for what will be, if the game resembles those in previous seasons, an exciting spectacle of open, attacking rugby. On their last visit to the Ground in April 2018, the teams shared 114 points – unfortunately a rather one sided 33-81 defeat for Fylde, the biggest home loss that anyone could remember!
There is a particularly important co-incidence this season as both clubs are celebrating their 100th birthday.
That was the last home game of a disappointing 2017-18 season which resulted in Fylde’s relegation from National One whilst Loughborough survived. This proved merely a stay of execution for the Students as they suffered the same fate last season and they dropped back to National Two (North).
Overcoming the Students will be a very tough task for Fylde. Loughborough shade the bragging rights, with seven wins in the last twelve fixtures between the two clubs.
Excepting the 33-81 defeat, Fylde have generally dominated games at the Woodlands with victories by 56-22, 43-25, 30-28 and 32-21 in the last six seasons. The Lancastrians performances at the University’s ground have been much less successful, with the 21-0 loss in November 2017 just the latest defeat there.
The conventional analysis of the Students season is that early on they struggle as they try to integrate the latest batch of players into the squad. Once this is sorted out they get stronger as the campaign progresses. This has proved to be true again in 2019-20 with a rocky start bringing three, albeit narrow, defeats in the first four matches – at Stourbridge (31-20), at Chester (29-23) and home to Caldy (28-33) broken up by a decisive home victory over Hinckley (41-7).
However, the warning to Fylde comes in their next five fixtures, four of them good wins – at Sheffield Tigers (37-40) and Luctonians (33-36) and at home to Hull (22-17) and on Saturday Sedgley Park (23-18) – with just one loss at Otley (19-12). This team never gives up and all bar one of their games have been very close, win or lose. So we should expect another nail biter at the Woodlands on Saturday.
Loughborough has been a centre for high performance rugby for generations. They have superb physical and staffing infrastructure which is almost second to none, including excellent grass and artificial pitches, top quality coaching and medical support. They dominated university rugby for a long period but this scene has been much more competitive in recent years with the emergence of Hartpury College, Durham University, Leeds Beckett and one or two others. However, Loughborough remains a hugely impressive rugby development system which is able to attract some of the best young talent who want a university education.
One of the great strengths of Loughborough’s set-up is the depth of player resources they can call on. There are squads for the BUCS (British Universities & College Sports) leagues as well as for their highest level players in National One. Just nine matches into this campaign they have used around 43 players whilst Fylde have played 26.
Taming Loughborough’s very quick backline and athletic, mobile pack will be a serious challenge for the home side on the big Woodlands pitch.
Loughborough have developed another talented though relatively inexperienced playing squad this season. As is the nature of three year degree programmes, there is always a heavy turnover of students and the strength of the squad will obviously vary somewhat each year.
The Students backline features the outstanding goal kicking playmaker and fly-half Owen Waters who is in his third season in the squad. Last season he had a sabbatical at Esher in National One and was a regular at 10. He’s ranked 4th in the leading N2N points scorer with 90, a table led by Fylde’s Greg Smith with 116.
Another very influential and experienced back is fullback Will Kaye, also in his third season in the squad. He is their leading try scorer with 8 to date. Bamidele Fadahunsi is an experienced and dangerous winger who has National One experience with Rosslyn Park and at level four with London Irish Wild Geese.
The Students have a close relationship with Leicester Tigers who have provided a number of their players on dual registration, including prop Keston Lines, lock Tom Manz and winger Joe Browning.
In the Students pack, prop Lines has been joined by tighthead Emmanuel Iyogun who last season was skipper of Northampton Saints U’18s squad and is now a fulltime member of the Saints Academy. Saracens dual registered lock Cameron Boon at 6’8″ is a towering figure in the Students’ lineout and has represented both Ireland and England at ’18s level.
Another interesting member of the pack has been former England U’20s cap & Worcester Warriors Academy player Sam Ripper-Smith, a wonderful name for a hard hitting flanker!
Fylde name the same starting line-up as last week at Caldy. There are three changes on the replacements bench as backrower Hal Chapman is fit again and Sale Sharks Academy & England U’18s wing Tom Roebuck is available once more following on from his try scoring debut v Chester. Young Lancashire U’20s hooker Drew Stephenson who joined Fylde in the summer covers for Ben Gregory and might make his 1st XV debut at some stage.
15 Joe Carpenter; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Jacob Conner, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Drew Stephenson, 17 Matt Ashcroft 18 Hal Chapman , 19 Tom Forster, 20 Tom Roebuck.