One of the delights of returning to National Two (North) this season has been to meet new clubs Fylde haven’t played before in 1st XV league competition. Five clubs fall into this category – Chester, Hinckley, South Leicester, Peterborough Lions and, their opponents on Saturday, Sheffield Tigers.
Fylde travel to the Tigers’ Dore Moor ground (ko 2pm) in an attempt to extend their nine game unbeaten run. This will be a very tough challenge as the Tigers have already proved to be doughty opponents by winning at the Woodlands in late September. Fylde supporters present that day will remember clearly the fine exhibition of goal kicking by Tigers fly-half Mark Ireland who nailed six penalties and a conversion to win the game in the last minute. Fylde outscored the Tigers by four tries to one but indiscipline caused their downfall that day.
For many years, Sheffield Tigers were in the shadow of Sheffield RUFC who play at Abbeydale Park in the south west of the City. A few miles away, again in the south west of Sheffield but on the very edge of the City, lies the Tigers’ Dore Moor base. This is a beautiful setting but exposed and often very cold in mid-winter. The Tigers now have the bragging rights as Sheffield’s top RU club, with Sheffield RUFC now competing in the Midlands Premier league (level 5)
The Tigers have yo-yo’d between National Two and the North Premier division. In the last 12 seasons, they have had five campaigns at level 4 and seven at level 5. They finished in 10th place in National Two (North) last season and 13th the previous year. Like Fylde, the Tigers run four senior teams and have a healthy Mini-Junior Section.
The Tigers have had an uneven season so far, with high scoring victories and rather more defeats. A record of W6-D1-L11 rather hides the fact that in so many games they have only narrowly lost. In fact, they have by far the highest total of losing bonus points, 8, than any other team in the division. So Lady Luck hasn’t been kind to them.
They have lost five of their last six matches but in four of these they went down by 6 points or less. This sequence was broken up by a hard working (12-3) home win against Hinckley and they almost won at Chester last Saturday only to be beaten (31-27) by a late home try scored by no less than England international Ben Foden. They have proved a free scoring team, just a few points short of Fylde’s aggregate of 480 points in 18 matches. This underlines the fluency of their backline which was very impressive at the Woodlands.
The Tigers’ Head Coach is also one of their star players. Jamie Broadley is a highly experienced, hard running and try scoring centre, formerly with Rotherham Titans and Harrogate. His productivity in the last two seasons for the Tigers has been outstanding, with 50 tries in 56 matches. He leads a three quarter line of great running and creative talent, including the equally experienced fullback or wing Pete Swatkins, former Fylde M-J, Colt & 1st teamer centre Tom Hart, and wingers Greg Mellor and Henri Packard. The playmaker is the aforementioned fly-half Mark Ireland, (formerly at Otley & Kendal) who is the principal goal kicker and has been the team’s top scorer in his three seasons with the Tigers. His regular half-back partner is scrum-half Ryan Holmes. Given the quality of the Fylde backs, this game could be the meeting of two of the most creative back divisions in N2N this season.
The Tigers also have a strong pack, including tight head prop Tony ‘Junior’ Gelsthorpe, a former world powerlifting champion, fellow prop Will Bennett, newcomer Surrey County hooker Sam Johnson (ex-Rosslyn Park & Dorking), locks Ashley Holland and Alan Symcox, powerful no 8 Frank Wragg and German international flanker Kain Rix. Their ranks were supplemented just before Christmas by the loan of the accomplished backrower from Doncaster Knights, Tom Carradine, formerly skipper at Rotherham and also previously at Nottingham.
Leading points scorer to date is Mark Ireland with 98, and top try scorers are Jamie Broadley (14), Henri Packard (12) and Pete Swatkins (9)
Fylde make four changes in their starting line-up. Injuries rule out Cameron Crampton, Chris Briers and Olli Parkinson from the squad that faced Leicester Lions last Saturday. They join Elliot Horner, Ben Vernon, Adam Joyner and David Fairbrother on the injury list. Ralph Dowds comes in at centre, Gus Warr at scrum-half, Nick Ashcroft at lock and Sam Dugdale at flanker.
Lex Botha is named amongst the replacements and may make his 1st XV debut at some time. South African wing or centre Lex joined the Club in the summer but has had to wait for a visa before being registered to play in the National League. He has impressed in a number of games for the Hawks and has also played for Sale Jets in order to get match fit.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Ralph Dowds, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Gus Warr; 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Ben O’Ryan, 7 Sam Dugdale, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Callum Ford, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Harlan Corrie, 19 James Bailey, 20 Lex Botha.
[Photo above: Harlan Corrie on the charge in the first ever game between Fylde and Sheffield Tigers at the Woodlands in September 2018.].