Fylde v Chester promotion battle at the Woodlands – match preview & team news

Fylde welcome Chester RUFC to the Woodlands for the first time ever in league competition on Saturday in a meeting of National Two North’s 2nd and 3rd placed teams (ko 15.00). For two well established North West clubs, it’s surprising that since the establishment of leagues that the respective 1st XVs hadn’t met before this season.

Fylde notched a notable 5-16 win at Hare Lane in November, the only defeat suffered there by the home team in a season and a half. [Photo above is the squad coming off the pitch at the end of the game]. Outstanding defence by the Lancastrians was the key to victory that day on the splendid 4G pitch and they will need to be equally vigilant on Saturday if they are to earn their 14th win in their last 17 fixtures. Fylde’s attack is in fine form, with 113 points scored in the last two games, against Stourbridge and South Leicester. But Chester have the division’s tightest defence, conceding marginally fewer points than Fylde’s.

In the period from 2002 until 2013, Chester were almost always competing in North One, level 5 in the RFU league structure. They had an outstanding campaign in 2012-13 when they finished as champions of National Three (North) and were promoted to National Two (North). They have performed very well since then, finishing 5th, 5th, 11th, 5th & 7th last season.

2018-19 has seen Chester upping the stakes with a fine opening to their campaign, earning nine victories in their first eleven fixtures, close on the heels of Hull Ionians with whom they have had two tight games with the honours shared. They wobbled somewhat in mid-season but have come strong again of late with four wins and a draw in their last six matches.

Chester’s Head Coach is the very well known and respected former player Jan van Deventer. His leading scorer is goal kicking centre James Robbins (103 points).

The power of the Chester pack is demonstrated by the three leading try scorers – back five forward Shay Owen (12), hooker Alick Croft (10) and flanker Mike Craven (8). Other leading try scorers are centre Macc van Sertima (6), winger Craig Ross (6) and no 8 Guy Ford (6). Ford is one of the most experienced and influential players in the squad and has made almost 150 appearances for the Club, was with Otley and Bradford & Bingley before that and was chosen in The Rugby Paper’s Team of the Season in 2017-18. A major contribution this season has come from lock or more normally no 8 Shay Owen who, interestingly, spent a few weeks in the autumn of 2018 playing international rugby with Croatia.

A major figure in their backline (and in Cheshire’s senior county line-up) in recent seasons has been centre or fullback Tom Foden. For four magic games either side of Christmas Chester also called on Tom’s brother, Ben, famous England international and former Sale Sharks and Northampton legend. He started his career with his local club Chester back in 2003 and his brief sabbatical this season preceded a move to the US.

Fylde are known to concentrate on try scoring rather than kicking penalties – Greg Smith has converted just 19 of them so far this season. However, Chester have only converted five penalties all season whilst rattling up 93 tries – so don’t anticipate a kicking dominated game!

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Fylde make three changes in their starting line-up, with Tom Grimes returning to his normal wing berth and, in the forwards, skipper Adam Lewis at tighthead prop and flanker Ben O’Ryan. Harlan Corrie and Ralph Dowds joins the replacements

This will be Ben Vernon’s 150th appearance and Ralph Dowds’ 50th for the 1st XV – many congratulations to both

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 (c), 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 Jacob Conner.

16 Callum Ford, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Matt Garrod, 19 Harlan Corrie, 20 Ralph Dowds. 

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