Fylde's squad for big challenge as Loughborough visit the Woodlands
Fylde need three points from their last two games if they are to be certain of staying in National One next season. If they beat Loughborough Students at the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm), either Blaydon or Hull Ionians will be relegated along with already doomed Macclesfield. Both Northern clubs have had recent, outstanding revivals but need bonus point wins in their last two matches if they are to threaten Fylde's position.
So the Lancastrians have their fate very much in their own hands and it's hoped that a big crowd will get behind the team in such a crucial game. It's yet another test of the degree to which people on the Fylde Coast and hinterland want to see regular high quality National rugby. Their support, verbal and financial, has never been more needed. It is hard to get into this division and much easier to fall out of it given the very uneven financial resources available to clubs. For instance, ask Macclesfield and Hull Ionians who regularly bounce between National Two (North) and National One.
Overcoming the Students will be a very tough task. They hold the bragging rights in recent seasons with five wins in nine fixtures between the two clubs. Results have generally favoured the home team and there have been some high scoring battles since 2012. The Students have generally finished in the bottom six clubs in the division but this year sit more comfortably in mid-table with 10 wins, a draw and 17 defeats. As usual, they have scored freely throughout the season. They are the 3rd highest points scorers with an average of 30 points per game. Their defence has conceded a lot of points but not as many as Fylde.
The Students have lost eight of their last nine games but a number of these by very fine margins, and they have scored lots of points in the process and have troubled all their opponents including fellow higher/further education club, outstanding league champions Hartpury College.
Taming Loughborough's very quick backline and athletic, mobile pack will be a serious challenge for the home side on the big Woodlands pitch in what is likely to be dry and fine conditions. In the earlier fixture this season in December, and playing on the Student's artificial pitch, Fylde not only were defeated comprehensively (17-46) but they also lost seven players through injury.
Under Director of Rugby Dave Morris, Loughborough have developed another talented though relatively inexperienced playing squad. No fewer than 11 of their players were included in the 2017 England Students training squad and one, fullback Will Edwards, made his debut recently for the England 7s squad in the HSBC Sevens World Series in Vancouver.
Leading try scorers are centre Gair Currie with 15, followed by Will Edwards and winger Yiannis Loizias with 11 and centre/wing Rotimi Segun with 9.
Leading points scorer is fly-half Josh Sharp with 160 but he was injured mid-season. His place at 10 has been taken by Owen Waters who has kicked 106 points.
Fylde make a number of changes from the squad that lost two weeks at Darlington Mowden Park.The backline remains unchanged. In the pack, Jake Pope, Nick Gray, Jack Turley and David Fairbrother return to the starting line-up. Connor Dever and Anthony Bingham are named amongst the replacements.
Two very popular players in the starting line-up mark their last home appearances for the Club so they will be very anxious to bow out on a high note. Evan Stewart and Simon Griffiths, who both moved to the Woodlands for the 2011-12 season, will be leaving at the end of this campaign. Evan has made 134 appearances and Simon 121, both making huge contributions to the Club's progress in National One. Head Coach Paul Arnold, although not playing, is the third massive figure whose last home game this will be after a seven year tenure. All three will be much missed and there will be a few emotional people in the Clubhouse after the game..
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Scott Armstrong, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Oli Brennand; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls; 1 Jake Pope, 2 Alex Loney, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Gray, 5 Simon Griffiths, 6 Jack Turley, 7 Evan Stewart, 8 David Fairbrother.
Replacements: 16 Jonny Wild, 17 Tom Burtonwood, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Connor Dever, 20 Anthony Bingham.