Fylde welcome Hull Ionians to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) in the latest of a number of fixtures between the clubs, both in National Two (North) and in National One. Fylde just about hold the bragging rights in recent seasons, winning three out the five N1 games since 2015. These games have been free-scoring affairs with an average of 60 points per match and it’s hoped that Saturday’s fixture will be more of the same.
Ionians are a very well established club that has rather yo-yoed between levels three and four. Since they were promoted back to N1 in 2015 they have found the going tough, finishing in 12th & 13th positions in the table. Saturday’s game will be very important in the relegation fight and they will prove very difficult opponents for the home side.
Of Ionians’ 20 matches to date this season, they’ve won five and lost 15. All five wins – Esher (43-28), Fylde (33-14), Cambridge (27-21), Old Elthamians (27-11) and Blackheath (32-21) – have been at home and they have struggled away from their very well appointed Brantingham Park base. They have had a couple of very narrow losses on the road, at Bishop’s Stortford (35-31) and Caldy (27-26).
Ionians Head Coach is Alex Crockett, the former England Saxons, Bath, Bristol, Worcester Warriors and Newcastle Falcons centre. He has a very stable squad, with a core of experience and a stream of younger talent coming through to back this up.
A traditionally strong pack is missing the now retired, evergreen England Counties prop Steve Johnson but has able replacements in tighthead Rikki Stout, veteran Dave Laverick and hooker Ali Thompson. Back five players include locks Ed Falkingham and Joe Makin, and free scoring flanker James Sanderson. These have been complemented this season by newcomers such as lock James Newman, no 8 Stone Priestley-Nangle and Yorkshire Carnegie dual registered prop Charlie Capps.
Mainstays of the backline include the accomplished goal kicking scrum-half Isaac Green, new half-back partner Chris Bell, experienced centres Lewis Minikin and Joe Allott, versatile utility backs Greg Lound and Steve Slingsby, and dangerous wingers Sam Wilson and Sam Rees.
Green is the leading points scorer with 85, and Sam Wilson heads the try ranking with 9, closely followed by Joe Allott with 8 and James Sanderson with 7.
Ionians’ squad shows no changes in the backline from last week’s game at home to Bishop’s Stortford. In the pack, Dave Laverick and Ed Falkingham are fit to return to action. Additionally, 6’7″ Australian-born lock Byron Hodge (formerly with Bedford Blues, Saracens Academy & Sydney University) makes his debut on loan from Rotherham Titans where he’s been a regular in their Championship campaign.
15 Steve Slingsby; 14 Sam Wilson, 13 Lewis Minikin, 12 Joe Allott, 11 Sam Rees; 10 Chris Bell, 9 Oliver Fox; 1 Dave Laverick, 2 Ali Thomson, 3 Rikki Stout, 4 Joe Makin (c), 5 Byron Hodge, 6 Tom Cotterill, 7 James Sanderson, 8 Ed Falkingham.
16 Ben Stephenson, 17 William Dennis, 18 Stone Priestley-Nangle, 19 Andy Humberstone, 20 Greg Lound.
Fylde make three changes to their starting line-up, with Chris Briers returning to the centre after a two months absence with a broken arm, and in the pack Alex Loney is named at hooker and Tom Burtonwood at openside flanker.