Fylde welcome Hinckley to the Woodlands on Saturday for their first ever visit (ko 15.00). The visitors had a very productive start to the season and, after winning their first six fixtures with heavy scoring, led National Two (North) imperiously. Whilst they have maintained a superb unbeaten record on their Leicester Road ground – winning nine and drawing one – they have struggled away from home. They won their first two away games in September but since then have lost seven in eight trips. Only their excellent 20-33 victory at Wharfedale in January interrupted this gloomy run. Such home/away schizophrenia must be puzzling for the Hornets rugby managers and players.
Overall, though, Fylde & Hinckley have similar records and their first game in Leicestershire in October was a hard fought 16-5 victory for the home side. Fylde’s run of ten wins, a draw and a single defeat since the beginning of November has catapulted them to equal top of the division whilst Hinckley are in 6th spot, just 12 points behind.
Hinckley is situated 15 miles north of Leicester and the town’s club has gradually worked itself into becoming a major force in Midlands rugby. Once again facing new opposition, we find a club with a longer history than Fylde, having been founded in 1893. Their distinguished alumni include the last dual cricket and rugby international, M J K Smith, and the England & British Lions legend, Dean Richards. After playing in the Midlands divisions for most of the last 25 years, they broke through to the National Leagues in 2010 but quickly dropped back to the Midlands Premier (level 5). A sustained improvement campaign eventually lifted them back to National Two (North) in 2016-17 and they have a taken an upward path, finishing in 9th in their first season and then up to 5th in 2017-18.
Their Director of Rugby is the very well known former England international and Leicester Tigers hooker, George Chuter, who was appointed for the 2017-18 season, assisted by coaches Phil Llewellyn & Emyr Lewis. Chuter’s squad, like most clubs in the National Leagues, is a mixture of local talent who have developed at the Club and players who have joined more recently.
Their leading scorer is accomplished, goal kicking fullback Joe Wilson who ran up 237 points last season and is vying with Fylde’s Greg Smith to be the leading scorer in N2N this season. He has notched 183 points compared with Smith’s 190.
Their strong pack is led by powerful 1st XV skipper and no 8, Alex Salt although he hasn’t featured in the playing squad since mid-October. The strong roster of props includes Stephen Harvey, Dave Peck and Oscar Harper. The pack was strengthened in the summer by the recruitment of lock James Moreton (ex-Broadstreet) and hooker Josh Greatrix (formerly at Hartpury College, Leeds Beckett University, Yorkshire Carnegie and Moseley). Backrowers include free scoring flanker Gareth Turner (ex-Coventry & South Leicester) and brothers Henry and Oliver Povoas (ex-Coventry & Leicester Lions).
A top newcomer in the backs is centre Ryan Hough who has extensive experience in the Championship with Nottingham, then Coventry and South Leicester, as well as a spell in Australia. He is a very dangerous runner who has eight tries to his name. Speedy winger Calum Dacey shares the leading try scorer ranking, also with eight. The regular playmaker is experienced fly-half Tom Wheatcroft, formerly of Cambridge, Ealing Trailfinders & Coventry, and his half-back partner is Joe Glover who has recently been skippering the team.
The most famous member of their backline is former All Black, Crusaders and Leicester Tigers fullback/wing, Scott Hamilton. He joined Hinckley in the 2016-17 season after a spell coaching and playing for Coventry in National One following his departure from the Tigers.
Fylde make five changes in their starting line-up. In the backs Henry Hadfield, Chris Briers and Cameron Crampton return, as amongst the forwards does prop Bevan Rodd, who last weekend was in the England U’20s squad in Ireland, and no 8 Jacob Conner, now recovered from injury. A very strong bench will give reassurance as and when replacements are needed.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Matt Garrod, 5 Nick Ashcroft, 6 Ben O’Ryan, 7 Sam Dugdale, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Cal Ford, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Ben Vernon, 19 Gus Warr, 20 Lex Botha.