Fylde make their first ever trip to South Leicester on Saturday in a key National Two (North) game for both clubs. Fylde hope to step up the pressure on league leaders Hull Ionians and Chester, keeping above 4th placed Huddersfield at the same time. ‘South’ are in a serious fight at the bottom of the table and will be hoping to close the gap on 13th placed Sheffield Tigers. They’ve found their fourth season in N2N something of a struggle despite a number of gritty performances against teams throughout the division.
South started the season in very sprightly form, winning three and drawing one of their first five games. They then suffered a run of six defeats (including a 42-20 reverse at the Woodlands) ahead of their finest performance of the campaign by beating Huddersfield 35-29 at their Welford Road Ground in November. A run of four losses set them back again before an important victory at Sheffield Tigers gave then renewed hope. An excellent home win against Hinckley again boosted their hopes of escaping the relegation zone but a run of four defeats in which they’ve conceded 196 points have again disappointed players, officials and supporters.
Fylde will travel in hope but quite aware that on their day South are quite able to upset the apple cart and the Lancastrians will certainly not be complacent. Their own form has been generally bright, with 12 wins, 2 defeats and a draw since the start of November.
Coincidentally, both clubs were founded at exactly the same time, ahead of the 1919-20 season. Their histories have differed considerably up to today with, since the establishment of league rugby, South mainly competing in the Midlands regional leagues. From Midlands Two (East) around the Millennium, they were promoted to Midlands One (level 5 in the RFU league structure) in 2005-6. They gradually strengthened their position in that that division over nine seasons before becoming outstanding champions in 2014-15, winning 25 out of their 26 fixtures. They finished 24 points ahead of 2nd placed and near neighbours Hinckley who joined them in National Two (North) through a play-off. Since reaching N2N (level 4), they have been consistently successful, finishing 4th in the three subsequent seasons.
As with Leicester Lions, South suffer from being in the huge shadow of Leicester Tigers and appear to attract very small crowds to their ground. Even their fierce pre-Christmas contest with local rivals, the Lions, was witnessed by an officially estimated crowd of 112.
South’s Director of Rugby is Geraint Davies and he has a fairly stable squad to call on. Like all clubs, South lost some first choice players from last season including a couple to Birmingham Solihull and another to Stourbridge. One important newcomer is goal kicker and playmaking fly-half Ben Palmer, a much travelled player formerly with Coventry, Leicester Lions, Old Albanian, Henley Hawks, Broadstreet, Bromsgrove and Nuneaton. He is South’s leading points scorer to date with 158 points to date.
Other standout backs include powerful New Zealand-born, England U’18s centre Javiah Pohe, who has impressive Championship & Premiership experience with Nottingham and Leicester Tigers, centre Timo Koster (ex Loughborough Students & Leicester Lions) and winger Michael Ogunwole (ex-London Scottish & Nottingham University). Both Ogunwole and Pohe showed their scoring potential when they notched tries at the Woodlands in early November.
South are noted for having a very powerful pack including stalwart prop Ron McNaughton (more than 100 appearances for the Club), lock Tom Cheney (four seasons with South, 6 with Leicester Lions & 2 with Rugby Lions), experienced flankers Wesley Cope (ex-Old Albanian) and Dan Ireland. Other influential back five forwards include no 8 Will Ward, now in his 4th season at the Club, and Martin Wolfenden, ex-Cambridge, Broadstreet & Coventry.
Fylde make three changes to their starting line-up. The unavailability of wing Tom Grimes, an injury to Ralph Dowds and the call-up of Gus Warr to the Sale Sharks bench for Friday evening’s Premiership match against Leicester Tigers, have led to a re-jigging of the Fylde backline. With Connor Wilkinson dropping back to fullback and Tom Carleton filling Grimes position on the left wing, there’s a new centre partnership of the recalled Luke Fowden and fit again Chris Briers.
The pack is unchanged except for the return of no 8 Jacob Conner. Adam Lewis is fit once more and joins a strong set of replacements, alongside Alex Loney and a fit again Matt Garrod. The versatile Tom Forster covers the various back positions.
15 Connor WIlkinson; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 Tom Carleton; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Cal Ford, 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Nick Ashcroft, 6 Ben Vernon (c), 7 Sam Dugdale, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Adam Lewis, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Matt Garrod, 19 Ben O’Ryan, 20 Tom Forster.