Fylde welcome old friends and rivals Coventry to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm) in the latest of 65 years of fixtures. On the surface, it looks like David v Goliath given the bottom v top positions of the clubs in National One. But Fylde have outshone the Midlanders at the Woodlands in the last six seasons, with five wins. So the Lancastrians will be looking for another similar performance to upset the form book.
Big hitting Coventry have flattered to deceive in the last six seasons, despite significant investment in their squad. This time, under Director of Rugby Rowland Winter, they appear to have got it right and are one of the two or three most likely clubs to reach the Championship at the end of April. They have run in some big scores already – 20-63 at Hull Ionians, 26-61 at Esher and home wins against Birmingham Moseley (50-11) and Blackheath (37-10). Much tighter wins were at Old Albanian (19-21) and at home last Saturday to league newcomers Bishop’s Stortford (30-27). Of a maximum of 30 league points to date they have earned 29.
Although old rivals, the two clubs have very different infrastructure and resources. Cov have a fine stadium, a host of blue chip sponsors, a big city base and an intention to get back to the RFU Championship as soon as possible. These ambitions have been given expression in a major development phase which began in 2016. An aggressive business strategy led by Chairman Jon Sharp is based on the utilisation of their Butts Park Arena assets and the development of various commercial opportunities in the city. This is the kind of big business of which Fylde can only dream.
Rowland Winter (formerly with rivals Cambridge RFC) was appointed in the spring of 2016 and he built a new team of coaches and support staff ahead of last season. He recruited a batch of newcomers from home and abroad. This has been the pattern at Coventry in recent seasons but this time it’s intended to plan for the long term and a 4th placed finish last season was a good basis on which to launch a very serious promotion charge. If Fylde have punched above their collective weight in the last six years, Cov have under performed, much to the frustration of their considerable spectator base. Nevertheless, they are the best supported club in National One and are averaging gates of 1,800 this season.
Roland Winter’s new coaches this season are Head Coach Nick Walshe (former England, Sale Sharks & Bath scrum-half, and with coaching experience at Bedford Blues & Gloucester as well heading up England U’20s in 2013) and the Forwards Coach is Leicester Tigers favourite Lewis Deacon.
Additional to a retained list of 18 players from last season in a substantially full-time squad, a star studied roster of newcomers for this season includes hooker Phil Nilsen (Yorkshire Carnegie), prop Harry Morley (Nottingham), lock George Oram (Birmingham Moseley), lock/backrow Nile Dacres (Plymouth Albion), backrow Latu Makaafi (Doncaster Knights), flanker Jack Preece (Birmingham Moseley), backrow Luke Narraway (London Irish), scrum-half Dave Brazier (Birmingham Moseley), fly-half Ben Palmer (Old Albanian), winger Anthony Matoto (Tongan 7s international, Massey RFC & North Harbour) and centre Sam Tuitupou (Sale Sharks).
Fullback or wing James Stokes is joint leading try scorer in National One with 8, and fly-half Will Maisey is currently ranked 2nd in the list of leading points scorers overall with 73.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up, with Connor Wilkinson back at centre after university commitments replacing the unavailable Chris Briers, and, in the pack, Tom Burtonwood returning at hooker. On the bench, there’s a welcome return of summer signing, back five forward Harlan Corrie who was injured early in the game at Caldy.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 George Brookes, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Alex Dolly; 1 Jake Pope, 2 Tom Burtonwood, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Adam McCarthy, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Mark Irving, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Harlan Corrie, 19 Toby Harrison, 20 Danny Carlton.
Match officials are referee Jamie Leahy; AR1 Paul Fincken, AR2 Steve Halliday.