It is the 20th anniversary of one of the biggest games in Fylde’s modern era. They travelled to Queen’s Park Rangers’ Loftus Road ground on Sunday, 25th January 1998 to take on Wasps in a 5th Round Tetley’s Bitter Cup tie. Their progress in the Cup that season began with a 3rd round 48-5 victory over Aspatria, followed up by a 20-5 win over Rosslyn Park in the 4th Round, also at the Woodlands.
The sense of occasion was not lost on the Fylde players as they faced a fully professional squad stacked with internationals such as Kenny Logan, Nick Greenstock, Andy Gomarsall, Gareth Rees, Damian Cronin, Simon Shaw and Chris Sheasby. Of their regular senior players, only Lawrence Dallaglio was missing.
The Wasps match programme listed the following Fylde line-up:
15 Gavin Moffatt; 14 Ian Bird, 13 Stuart Connell, 12 Mark Evans, 11 Mark Preston; 10 Steve Gough, 9 Chris O’Toole; 1 Richard Hanson, 2 Martin Scott, 3 Craig Burns, 4 Brian McCarthy, 5 Paul Holmes, 6 Anthony Ireland, 7 Gareth Russell, 8 Alasdair Bell.
16 Matt Filipo, 17 Karl Kumbier, 18 Jon Taylor, 19 Liam McCormick, 20 David Tanner, 21 Julian Irvine.
In fact, there were many changes and we believe on the day the starting XV was:
15 Steve Gough; 14 Mark Evans, 13 Stuart Connell, 12 Dave Tanner, 11 Mark Preston; 10 Alun Peacock, 9 Martin Wallwork; 1 Matt Filipo, 2 Martin Scott, 3 Richard Hanson, 4 Brian McCarthy, 5 Jon Taylor, 6 Gareth Russell, 7 Anthony Ireland, 8 Liam McCormick. Replacements included Julian Irving & Ian Bird.
Fylde began in a startling fashion, matching the star studied home side and taking the lead with a remarkable try by Mark Evans. A clearing kick in their own half by Wasps was collected on the full by a very young Evo 40m out. He chipped over the first line of defence, caught it and stepped past struggling Wasps’ international backs for a superb try. [Go to http://bit.ly/2DvUBNN for a video of it].
A penalty kick by Alun Peacock and two penalties by Wasps left the score at 6-8 to the Lancastrians at the half-time interval. Could this be one of the greatest ever shocks in the Cup? Predictably, the greater fitness and physicality of the full-time professionals told in the 2nd half and they stretched ahead for a 34-8 final score. Wasps went on to the Final on 9th May before losing to a Michael Lynagh-inspired Saracens 18-48 in front of 65,000 at Twickenham.
Former Fylde hooker Craig McIntyre, who missed the game through injury, asked a few of his team mates what they remembered about the game.
Mark Evans: “I have so many fond memories of this game. I remember training being especially intense that week, not just because of who we were playing, but also due to the fact that we all wanted to be in the starting team at Loftus Road. I was still quite young and I was vying for the wing position with Ian Bird or the centre position with Dave Tanner or Julian Irving. Luckily I got selected on the wing.
“I remember seeing the Wasps team for the match and all of us being amazed that, bar Dallaglio not starting, they were at full strength. What was even more surprising was that we led at half time 8-6! We were outstanding in that first half. My main memories were of Gareth Russell being just immense in the backrow and all of the pack actually outplaying the huge Wasps forwards for much of the first half.
“The other personal highlight was obviously my try. Did I ever score a better one? Probably not. The fact it was at Loftus Road, versus Wasps and that when I caught the ball near the half way line three internationals were opposite me – Logan, Sampson and Greenstock – made the try all the more special. Everything just went so perfectly. The chip, gather, sidestep and final sprint to the line all happened in a flash and I could never have executed it like that again even if I tried.
“However, the funniest memory was of the celebrating after and being mobbed by Martin Wallwork and Dave Tanner and jogging back past the half way line and looking over at our away dug out. As I looked over, Brendan Hanavan was crumpled up in a ball on the floor nursing his head. He was in real pain. I had no idea what had happened but I later found out that he was cheering and celebrating each part of my try, and then when I dived in to score he jumped for joy – but forgot he was in a dug out!! – and he promptly whacked his head on the roof as the coaches weren’t used to a dug out back then! We laughed about that so much on the way home.
“Despite the second half where Wasps really turned the screw, it was one of my fondest memories in a Fylde shirt against genuine top class, professional players. These days, with no cup competitions, those kind of fixtures are just not possible.”
Some memories from the other players:
Jon Taylor: “It was a very cold day, and the pitch was weird as the edges were lower than the middle. I also put in a raking kick along the touch line, of which any back would have been proud. Also, Simon Shaw dropped the ball in front of Gareth Russell, who then proceeded to comment on how poor a player he was (unedited version is “You’re ******* ****, you!”)”
Mark Preston: “I had an early one on one with their fullback (the renowned sprinter, Paul Sampson) and failed miserably to go round him. I also couldn’t get use to the camber on the pitch either.”
Martin Scott: “We gave them a hard time up front and had the upper hand in the scrum (obviously!). I also remember being in very close support for Evo’s try, and couldn’t believe how fast Paul Sampson was.”
Stu Connell: “We played exceptionally well in the 1st half. I spoke to one of the Wasps players after the game. He couldn’t understand why Fylde were struggling at the bottom of Allied Dunbar Premiership Two at that time. Several of us were coming towards the end of our careers. If we had been at our peak … who knows?!”
Craig McIntyre: “I was unfortunately injured for the match, and I recall bumping into Trevor Leota, the Samoan international hooker, in the toilets at half-time. He was massive…….huge neck and shoulders!! Like a villain from a Bond movie.”
Photos courtesy of Craig McIntyre.