Fylde welcome Stourbridge to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm) for an historic fixture, a hundred years since the Club’s first competitive match in October 1919. The position of Fylde in 2nd place in National Two (North) and Stourbridge in 4th adds to the importance and excitement of the occasion.
Stourbridge was founded in 1876 but like a number of rugby clubs in the North Midlands at that time didn’t last long. The club was re-formed after the 1st World War so it has a similar lineage to Fylde’s. But the two clubs’ fates didn’t bring them together until 2001-2 in National Two (level 3) and there have been just eight matches between them since. Fylde have had the whip hand with seven victories, including a double last season, 18-36 at Stourton Park and 54-10 at the Woodlands.
Stour is one of the ‘big fish’ in N2N, have a professional set-up in the North Midlands and should never be underestimated. Over the last few seasons they have rather flattered to deceive, not quite delivering what they’ve promised. They have started this season strongly and must be considered promotion contenders given the talent in their squad.
Stour opened 2019-20 with a 31-20 victory over a fancied Loughborough Students side and followed this up with a splendid 19-45 away win at Luctonians. They slipped up at home to Hull (14-19) but edged a 27-31 win at Otley. A very late Mark Goodman try pinched a 25-28 win for Sedgley at Stourton Park last Saturday.
Almost twenty years ago Stourbridge were outstanding champions of National Two North in 2000-1 and then had an excellent eleven successive seasons in National One (level 3). They mainly occupied a mid-table position during this period but were rarely embarrassed. The run came to an end in 2011-12 when they were relegated back to level four, National Two (North). In the six seasons since then, they have generally been promotion contenders, including finishing in 4th place twice, 3rd once and in 2012-13 in 2nd place before losing in a play-off match.
Under long standing Director of Rugby Neil Mitchell, they have built strong squads season after season, mixing experienced players from around the Midlands and beyond with local products who have come through their youth system.
The current squad reflects this pattern and is based on a strong pack. Props Stefan Thorpe (ex-Moseley and Birmingham Solihull), Chad Thorne (ex-Coventry & Hartpury) and Mark George (with more than 220 appearances for the Club) provide a solid base along with former Moseley hooker Jack Lea. Durable lock Nick Murphy (ex-Dudley Kingswinsford) has usually partnered skipper Llyr Griffiths in the 2nd row.
The roster of backrow forwards include the very experienced and always impressive Nigel Mukarati (formerly Broadstreet) who has made almost 220 appearances for the Club over seven seasons, missing just four matches along the way!
The backline has a number of dangerous runners including the very quick Dan Rundle (ex-Coventry, Tynedale & Westoe) who was one of the few players who famously chased down Fylde’s record scorer Oli Brennand at the Woodlands when playing for Cov a few seasons ago. A versatile back is ex-Moseley and Hartpury’s Mark Harrison whilst the centre partnership has most frequently featured George Morgan alongside Hal Riley. The halfback combination has most often been goal kicking fly-half Chris Scott and free scoring, former Aberavon scrum-half Joe Heatley.
Leading points scorer is Chris Scott with 31 points and top try scorers are winger Dan Rundle and scrum half Joe Heatley with five.
Prominent newcomers include fullback Afeafe Haisila-Lokotui (ex- Worcester Warriors & Moseley) and no 8 Joe Collingham (formerly with South Leicester, Leicester Lions and Cambridge).
Fylde retain the same starting line-up as that which won at Tynedale last Saturday. Lock Nick Ashcroft has recovered from injury and joins the replacements. The full squad is:
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Ralph Dowds, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis (c), 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Jacob Conner, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Jonny Wild, 17 Matt Ashcroft, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Hal Chapman, 20 Lex Botha.