Big match preview: Fylde v ‘Hoppers

Fylde welcome Preston Grasshoppers to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm) in what promises to be the latest in a very long history of games between the neighbouring clubs. This is especially poignant as it’s ‘Hoppers 150th season and Fylde’s 100th.

We’re unsure of how many matches have been played at 1st XV level since Fylde were established in 1919-20. But we do know [thanks to Mike Forshaw at ‘Hoppers] that the first game between the two was played in Ansdell on Boxing Day 1921 in which the home side ran out winners by eight points to nil. The return fixture in Preston was played at the Ribbleside Ground on the 4th of March 1922 which Hoppers won by thirteen points to three. This was the first full season of rugby for the Grasshoppers after the war.

Up to the start of league rugby, initially the Northern Merit Table, then the formal RFU league hierarchy and to the start of professional rugby in 1995-6, games between the clubs were ‘friendlies’. That word hardly described many of the fierce battles between friends and neighbours wearing the distinctive ‘Hoppers and Fylde shirts.

Since 1995, both clubs have spent significant periods at levels 3 and 4 in the RFU hierarchy. Both have had ups and downs but still have important roles and represent strong brands in Lancashire, North West and English rugby.

Reliable and publicly available RFU league data earlier than the introduction of professionalism is hard to locate other than at clubs themselves. Games since 2003-4 have been as follows:

Last season’s games typified the competitiveness of this tradition, with ‘Hoppers winning 18-15 at Lightfoot Green and Fylde coming out on top 33-17 at the Woodlands. Both were excellent to watch for the large crowds who attended and were played in the very best spirit.

‘Hoppers were promoted as champions on North Premier at the end of the 2017-18 season and had an excellent first season back at level four in National Two (North) when they finished in 7th place, one behind Fylde. They had a stuttering start but a fine second half of the campaign which saw them win eight of their last ten fixtures.

The first week of the new season saw ‘Hoppers going down in a close game by 20-30 to Sedgley Park at Lightfoot Green and Fylde winning 32-52 at N2N newcomers Scunthorpe RUFC. ‘Hoppers organised a tough series of preseason games, all at home, to Glasgow Hawks (12-14), Rotherham (5-40) and, in the opening round of the Lancashire Cup, to Blackburn (26-18).

There have always been players who have moved between the two clubs and this brings its own interest and competition. For ‘Hoppers, Paul Arnold had a distinguished seven seasons as player and coach at the Woodlands, and former Fylde players such as Peter Altham, Matt Lamprey and Oli Trippier are now playing important parts in the current Hoppers squad. This summer’s recruitment saw another two players added to that roll when Fylde youth product Toby Harrison moved to Lightfoot Green whilst Jordan Dorrington signed up to bolster the ‘Hoppers ranks after a couple of seasons at Vale of Lune following his departure from Fylde at the end of the 2016-17 season. Fylde stalwarts Connor Wilkinson and Tom Grimes are notable products of the ‘Hoppers youth system.

‘Hoppers have strengthened their squad with some shrewd recruitment during the summer. Apart from Toby Harrison, Jordan Dorrington’s brother Ben (formerly at Vale of Lune) has signed up too. Hooker Christian Taylor has joined from Sale FC and a third Vale recruit is Sam Wallbank, also from Vale.

Established and influential players in the ‘Hoppers squad include forwards ex-Wharfedale prop/lock Adam Howard, lock Ally Murray, South African backrow Ryan Carlson and no 8 Matt Lamprey. Amongst the backs there is the young England Counties centre Sam Stott, versatile Scott Jordan, centre Alex Hurst and pacey winger Tyler Spence.

Fylde will finalise their line-up following training on Thursday evening. It’s hoped that players in their handsome 32-52 victory at Scunthorpe last Saturday will have escaped injury and will be available for selection.

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