Fylde welcome Old Elthamians to the Woodlands for a very important National One game on Saturday (ko 15.00). This is the first ever fixture between the two clubs with rather different histories. OEs are one of several clubs in London and the South East who have risen quickly through the RFU leagues, with no fewer than five promotions in nine seasons.
They have an experienced squad of established and new players and will be a real test for Fylde. They will have few fears coming to the Lancashire Coast, having the extraordinary record in their promotion National Two (South) campaign last season of victories in 13 leagues games away from their College Meadow ground, plus a tremendous win at Sale FC in the play-off match in early May.
National One is proving predictably a little harder for the newcomers as, like Fylde, they have lost their two opening fixtures. On the first day of the season they went down 39-14 at Esher and then lost 13-19 at home to fellow N2S promotion club, Bishop’s Stortford last Saturday.
Old Elthamians RFC were established in 1913, six years earlier than Fylde, as an outlet for former students of Eltham College. The Club moved from their original pitch in Mottingham (SE London) to Chislehurst and, eventually, to College Meadow in Grove Park, South East London. Whilst building up to five adult teams in the 1950s, playing numbers diminished in the 1970s and the Club went ‘open’ in 1972. Adult numbers increased subsequently, as well as the establishment of what has become a very strong Mini-Junior Section. But it has been in the last decade in which the Club has moved rapidly up the leagues to their current level three status. The most famous of its junior alumni is the giant former England and Sale Sharks prop, Andrew Sheridan.
The Director of Rugby who has been the architect of recent success is Gavin Lach. The Head Coach is Sam Howard and he is assisted by player-coach Ian Kench. Leading players in the squad include flying winger Dominic Lespierre (formerly Coventry, Broadstreet & Hull) who scored 34 tries in last season’s promotion campaign. Newcomers include former England 7s, Harlequins and Newcastle Falcons scrum-half Sam Egerton and Kiwi centre Kieran Moffat (ex-London Scottish, Otago & Southland) who has NPC experience where he became known as ‘the intercept king’! Other backs include centre Max Wilkins (ex-Old Albanian & Ampthill) and goal kicking winger James Golledge (ex-Loughborough & Clifton).
The OE pack roster includes new prop Alex Davies, who has Premiership experience with Newcastle Falcons and Harlequins, and fellow front rowers, hooker Jay Rudland Thomas (ex-Loughborough & Richmond) and prop Stefan North (Richmond, Blackheath & Southend). Back five forwards include lock Adam Preocanin (ex-Ealing Trailfinders, London Scottish & Westcombe Park), George Messum (Loughborough Students & Chinnor) and Ian Kench (formerly Esher & Nottingham).
The OE match squad is:
15 Bryan Hotston; 14 Dominic Lespierre, 13 Kieran Moffatt, 12 Max Wilkins, 11 James Golledge; 10 Joe Carlisle, 9 Sam Egerton; 1 Alex Rogers, 2 Jay Rudland-Thomas, 3 Stefano North, 4 Adam Preocanin, 5 Tom Scorgie, 6 George Messum, 7 Hamish Barton (c), 8 Harry Ledger.
16 Lewis Brown, 17 Nathan Morris, 18 Truman Sullivan, 19 Tom White, 20 Ollie Claxton.
Photo of OE v Bishop’s Stortford courtesy of OE/Ian Carter
Fylde miss skipper and scrum-half Greg Nicholls who is out with a long term knee injury. He joins a long list of players who have missed pre-season games, training or the first two league fixtures through injury including Alex Loney, Ralph Dowds, Matt Garrod, Olli Parkinson, Jamie Brookes, Adam Joyner, Adam McCarthy, Danny Carlton, James Bailey and Matt Ellis. Fortunately, most of these are on the road to recovery. Adam Lewis will lead the squad on Saturday.
James Bailey returns to the starting line-up in his usual wing berth. Young Australian halfback Alex Dolly makes his debut at scrum-half. He played for Sale Jets last Monday v Wasps, alongside his brother, hooker/flanker Nic. They are both English qualified through their grandfather, a stalwart at Aldwinians RUFC. Welcome and good luck Alex!
There are three changes to the starting pack, with Sale Sharks Jake Pope at prop, the very welcome return to fitness of lock Matt Garrod, and Adam McCarthy in the back row in place of David Fairbrother, who is away on Royal Navy duties. With an average age of the starting pack around 22, this is probably the youngest ever eight fielded by the Club in league rugby.