First ever game between Fylde and Bishop’s Stortford at the Woodlands

The first ever game between Fylde and Bishop’s Stortford will be held at the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm). The visitors are one of the new meritocrats in the National Leagues, having worked their way steadily up through the RFU league system. They have adapted incredibly well to life in National One, sitting comfortably in 6th place in the division, having won eight games and a draw out of 12 fixtures. In particular, their away performances have been outstanding, winning four and losing just once in a very close game (30-27) at league leaders Coventry. There’s no doubt that they will pose major issues for the Fylde squad on Saturday.

They have put in some fine displays at Old Elthamians (13-19), Rosslyn Park (24-31), Birmingham Moseley (25-27) and Blackheath (19-21). Home wins have been against Caldy (49-26), Ionians (35-31), local neighbours Old Albanian (18-14) and Esher (24-17). Two home defeats have been against promotion chasing Plymouth Albion (17-36) and Ampthill (22-41), plus a 22-all draw against DMP last Saturday.

Founded a year later than Fylde in 1920, the rise of Bishop’s Stortford really got under way when league rugby became established in the 1980s. Ten years of gradual progress at level 5 (London One which became National Three London & SE) came to a head with promotion to National Two (South) in 2013. Four seasons in the that division resulted in promotion last season as clear champions.

Unlike a number of ambitious clubs, especially in London and the South East, this success has been achieved by a very stable squad of local players rather than importing journeymen from all over the globe. The great majority of the squad have spent all or most of their senior careers at BS and this makes their success this season even more outstanding.

Their Director of Rugby is the very experienced former England international hooker Andy Long who had a successful club career with Bath, Munster, Rotherham, Newcastle and Northampton Saints. He cut his coaching teeth at Cambridge in 2011 and moved on to Stortford two years later. Long has inculcated an attacking style of rugby based on a solid pack and a dynamic, running backline.

One very notable exception to the concentration on local players was the recruitment this season of the excellent lock or backrower Daniel Leo. The Kiwi born player has had a stellar career with Queensland Reds, Bordeaux Begles, USA Perpignan, Wasps, London Irish and London Welsh. Most notably, he is now playing a crucial role as advocate for Samoa and Pacific rugby more generally. Leo’s international career spanned 39 caps for Samoa over ten years and his belief in Pacific Island rugby has driven his campaigning work for greater financial support to recognise the tremendous contribution of these islands to global rugby. No doubt he is now bringing this experience to benefit Bishop’s Stortford in National One.

Leading scorer is influential fly-half and goal kicker George Cullen (ex-London Scottish & Tynedale) who has 112 points to date. Wingers Will Roberts and Chris Smith share top try scoring ranking with six.

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Fylde make five changes in their starting line-up from the Esher game. After recovering from what was initially thought to be a career ending injury at Caldy in the second match of the season, skipper Greg Nicholls returns at scrum-half and renews his halfback partnership with Greg Smith who missed the trip to Esher. Tom Carleton moves from standing in at no 9 to his more usual fullback role.

Jake Pope and Matt Garrod return to the starting pack whilst newcomer Will Hopwood makes his debut at flanker. The 23 year old, a product of Stonyhurst College and from Longridge, has played in New Zealand in the past few years including earning representative honours for Northland’s B squad. Will has played a few games for Fylde Hawks in the run up to Saturday’s game.

15 Tom Carleton; 14 James Bailey, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls ©; 1 Jake Pope, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Matt Garrod, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Will Hopwood, 8 David Fairbrother.

16 Dan Richardson, 17 Andy Stevens, 18 Ben Vernon, 19 Alex Dolly, 20 Luke Fowden.

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