It was a peerless, sunny and warm Dales day when Fylde visited Wharfedale’s Threshfield ground in September and they came away with a decisive 19-32 victory. Although we won’t be able to match the conditions for running rugby that day, the Lancastrians will be looking to put on another similar display when our old friends and rivals from the wrong side of the Pennines visit the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00).
Fylde will have been encouraged by their performance against Preston Grasshoppers which brought a 3-28 victory.
The Wharfedale match programme in September set the close relationship between the two clubs in affectionate and gracious perspective. “Although we have built close bonds with a number of clubs over the years, no fixture is more eagerly anticipated than the visit of Fylde. The special tang of a Roses rivalry is always in the air when Fylde’s team and travelling support arrive, and in recent years this particular chemistry has produced several classic matches.”
Matches between the two clubs at the Woodlands over the years have also produced some splendid rugby and we will give a warm welcome to the Greens’ players, officials and spectators on the day.
Wharfedale have had a mixed season to date, with six victories, a draw and nine defeats. They sit in 12th place in National Two (North). They started the campaign strongly with three wins in their first five fixtures but more recently have lost five of their last six games. Some of the losses have been in very close matches such as 14-17 at Sedgley Park, 9-12 at Hull and in their last game 36-39 at home to Sedgley once more. Their best performance without doubt was to frighten outstanding league leaders Caldy at Threshfield before losing out 11-16, the closest the Cheshire club has been to an upset this season. Dale were leading in the 2nd half only to lose a forward to the sinbin and the powerful Caldy pack set up a driving maul to snatch victory.
Perhaps most disappointingly, the Greens have only achieved three 4-try bonus points in their 16 games to date. Their squad is sufficiently strong, and their followers sufficiently passionate, especially at Threshfield, to turn this around in the second half of the season.
‘Dale enjoyed a glorious 20 season run in National One, a record which still stands, until their relegation in April 2016. They initially found it rather difficult in National Two (North), finishing 10th in 2016-7 and 13th just above the relegation zone in 2017-18, but improved to a comfortable mid-table 9th last season.
The first ever game between the clubs was in the 1995-6 season, just as the game was going professional. Since then, Fylde have won seventeen of the matches, Wharfedale six and one has been drawn. A number of these games have been extremely tight with just a few points separating them. A couple of exceptions were the first ever game when Fylde triumphed by 54-18 in December 1995 and in September 2000 when a weakened Fylde squad were overrun by a Wharfedale team inspired by England international flyhalf David Pears and were humiliated 72-10 at Threshfield.
The Green’s Director of Rugby, and still a member of the current playing squad, is highly influential no 8 Rob Baldwin. Head Coach is Jon Feeley and he’s assisted by Jon Skurr.
‘Dale moved to strengthen their squad in the last couple of close seasons, with newcomers including former England U’20s flanker Chris Walker – ex-Otley, Doncaster Knights, London Scottish, Yorkshire Carnegie and Rennes (Fr), including a great deal of Championship experience – utility back Will Edwards (ex-Loughborough Students), fly-half and goal kicker Jack Blakeney-Edwards (ex-Darlington Mowden Park & Otley) and lock Ben Leacock (ex-Kendal) arriving at the start of last season.
Arrivals this season include the powerful prop Matt Beesley, returning from spells away at Northampton and Ealing, centre Jonny Moore, ex-North Ribblesdale, Will Smith – an exciting back row prospect from Wensleydale who was in last year’s England Counties 18 group squad, and Matt Speres – hooker/back row originally from Cape Town. He spent several seasons at the Sharks Academy in South Africa but is an adopted Dalesman having captained Skipton and recently turned out for North Ribblesdale. One newcomer who is well known to Fylde supporters is former Kirkham Grammar & Fylde openside flanker Jamie Brookes who moved from Blackburn RUFC in September and has become quite a hit at Threshfield.
The Greens’ pack is traditionally strong and the Fylde forwards will have to face difficult challenges in the tight and loose exchanges. There are some familiar faces likely to be involved on Saturday including prop Joe Altham, brother of former Fylde favourite Peter, hooker Dan Stockdale and lock George Hedgley. Amongst the backs, wing Oliver Cicognini will be a constant danger as he proved against Fylde in March and fullback Rian Hamilton is a fine strike runner from broken play.
Wharfedale have named the following squad:
15 Louis Verity; 14 Rian Hamilton, 13 Oscar Canny, 12 Jonny Moore, 11 Oli Cicognini; 10 Jack Blakeney-Edwards, 9 Sam Gaudie; 1 Matt Beesley, 2 Dan Stockdale, 3 Joe Altham, 4 Simon Borrill, 5 George Hedgley (c), 6 Jamie Brookes, 7 Matt Speres, 8 Josh Burridge.
16 Toms Asejevs, 17 Sam Dickinson, 18 Chris Walker, 19 Ben Blackwell, 20 Henry MacNab.
Fylde make one change in their starting line-up and one amongst the replacements. Ben Vernon starts the game at flanker and fellow backrower Hallam Chapman returns to the 20 man squad after recovering from injury.
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Chris Briers, 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 Hallam Chapman, 19 Ben O’Ryan, 20 Lex Botha.