Fylde stage one of their most attractive of fixtures at the Woodlands when old friends and rivals Blackheath visit on Saturday (ko 15.00). This will be the latest in a long history of games between the clubs and, if recent seasons are anything to go by, it should be another exciting, high scoring affair.
Fylde have earned the bragging rights since they returned to National One in 2011, winning seven, losing four and drawing one of the twelve games. These matches have produced an extraordinary 686 points, with an average 57 points per game.
Under new Head Coach James Shanahan, Blackheath have had a very successful start to the season. They were on fire in the early weeks, winning seven of their first eight matches – Plymouth (32-31), Rosslyn Park (6-25), Ampthill (16-15), Hull Ionians (46-15), Moseley (14-55), Old Albanian (31-3) and DMP (39-24) – with their only defeat being at leaders Coventry (37-10). In the last fortnight have they stumbled somewhat, at Esher (28-19) and last Saturday at home to Bishop’s Stortford (19-21). They sit in 5th place in National One.
It’s been particularly heartening in recent seasons to see the restoration of a long run of fixtures between the two clubs following a 13 year gap between 1998 & 2011. These fixtures began 35 years ago and became the traditional opening game of the season before league contests took over in 1992/3. Fylde suffered seven straight defeats between 1981 and 1987 but turned the tables somewhat in the early 1990s when they were regular victors. However, Blackheath then enjoyed a period of dominance but Fylde have had success more recently. Overall, Blackheath have won 17, Fylde 14 and there has been one draw.
Blackheath RFC was established in 1858 as the world’s first club that was open to all. They became known by the nickname ‘The Club’ in recognition of this and they have carried this sobriquet ever since. They have produced an astonishing list of international players numbering over 120 and in the late 19th century their Rectory Fields ground was the location for numerous England international matches before the foundation of Twickenham in 1910.
Like so many famous old clubs, Blackheath suffered somewhat since the inception of professionalism in the mid-1990s but, nevertheless, have maintained their status in National One (level 3 in the RFU league hierarchy) for the last thirteen seasons. Their last relegation was at the end of the 1998/9 season when they dropped out of the Allied Dunbar Premiership Two division along with Fylde.
New Head Coach James Shanahan recruited well in the close season, bringing in a number of players from his old club Old Albanian. These include veteran hooker Matt Miles (Old Albanian, Worthing, Cambridge, Birmingham Solihull & Northampton), prop Hayden King (Old Albanian) and flanker Harry Bate (ex-Old Albanian & Blaydon). Other newcomers include lock CJ Osazuwa (ex-Chinnor & Richmond), influential fly-half Joe Tarrant (ex-Ampthill), prop Danny Harriott (Rotherham, Jersey & Loughborough), flanker Hugh Huston-McCormick (ex-Canterbury), lock Neil Patrick (ex-London Scottish, Plymouth Albion, Cornish Pirates & Rotherham) and prop James Hallam (ex-London Scottish, London Welsh & Blaydon).
The strong Blackheath pack also includes backrow forward Tom Baldwin (ex-Bath Academy), lock Tom Stradwick, flanker Freddie Owens and hooker Mike Perks (Newport Gwent Dragons).
Their back line includes a number of survivors from previous seasons including wing/fullback (and sometimes goal kicker) Leo Fielding (ex-Cinderford & Chinnor), centre and skipper Markus Burcham, wing James Davies, Mark Cooke (ex-Jersey), Jake Lloyd, Tom Chapman and the very dangerous wing/centre Geoff Griffiths (formerly Plymouth, Rotherham & Bedford Blues).
The leading points scorer is Joe Tarrant with 91, with the try scoring list led by Mark Cooke (5) and Tarrant, Leo Fielding, Geoff Griffiths and Freddie Owens all on 4.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up from the 20 that won at Old Albanian last Saturday. In the pack, Tom Burtonwood returns at hooker with Ben Gregory on the bench. With injuries to backs Henry Hadfield and George Brookes ruling them out of selection, Warren Spragg has acted swiftly to reinforce his outside backs resources. Rotherham Titans’ Jamie Cooke is arriving on loan and it’s expected that he will feature on the right wing against the 5th placed promotion contenders. Cooke, 21, is a product of Hartpury College and was a standout player in their BUCS Super Rugby campaign last season which culminated in a Twickenham Final 17-12 victory over Loughborough. He joined the Titans after leaving Hartpury this past summer.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Jamie Cooke, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Alex Dolly; 1 Adam Lewis, 2 Tom Burtonwood, 3 Mark Irving, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Adam Joyner, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Matt Garrod, 19 Toby Harrison, 20 Luke Fowden.