Fylde welcome league leaders Hull Ionians to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) in the latest of a long run of fixtures between the clubs, both in National Two (North) and in National One. Honours have been even in recent seasons, with four wins each in National One since the 2013-14 campaign but in the 20 matches since they first met in 2005/6, Fylde have the bragging rights with 13 wins, 6 defeats and a draw.
From a Fylde perspective, the most notable match was the 76-14 victory on the final day of their promotion campaign in April 2011, also Jason Robinson’s last ever competitive game. These matches have been free-scoring affairs with an average of almost 60 points per match and it’s hoped that Saturday’s fixture will be more of the same.
Both clubs were relegated from National One at the end of last season and are adjusting to life in N2N. Ionians are making the switch pretty effectively as the lead the division following some excellent victories. Home wins against Sheffield Tigers (35-33), Peterborough Lions (34-12), Wharfedale (20-12), Stourbridge (34-21) and Chester (25-24). Away victories at Tynedale (15-50) and South Leicester (12-24) were accompanied by Ionians’ only detback to date, 35-24, at fellow promotion chasing Hinckley.
Ionians are a very well established club that has rather yo-yoed between levels three and four. Following their last promotion back to N1 in 2015, they found the going tough, finishing in 12th, 13th and, last season, in 14th positions in the table.
Ionians 1st XV rugby is led by Director of Rugby Martyn Wood. He’s assisted by coaches Joe Makin and Paul Cook. Whilst a number or players have moved on, they have retained the backbone of their squad of recent seasons. These include veteran prop Dave Laverick and back five players Ed Falkingham, Joe Makin, James Newman and free scoring flanker James Sanderson. This group also includes accomplished flanker Mark Wigham, a stalwart of Ionians going back to the 2006-7 season, who has played few games in recent seasons but is back more regularly this campaign.
Regular backs include goal kicking scrum-half Isaac Green, experienced centre Lewis Minikin, versatile utility back Steve Slingsby, and dangerous winger/full back Sam Wilson. Perhaps the most influential is the much travelled centre James Tincknell, formerly at Wharfedale, Yorkshire Carnegie, Doncaster Knights & London Welsh.
Newcomers this season include utility back Jerry Turagabeci (ex-North Midlands U’20s & Yorkshire Carnegie), wing Toni Kuku (former Stowe School, England U16s & Wasps), flanker Ben Whyte (ex-Sandal) and Yorkshire U’20s scrum-half Sam Crane (ex-Bishop Burton College).
In the recent absence of Isaac Green, Lewis Minikin has taken over goal kicking responsibilities and is the leading points scorer with 52 points. Leading try scorer is Sam Wilson with five, closely followed by prop Ben Ball and Toni Kuku with four
Ionians have named their squad:
15 Samuel Wilson; 14 Toni Kuku, 13 Lewis Minikin, 12 Luke Thundercliffe, 11 Billy Hardy; 10 Tom Stephenson, 9 Adam Thomas; 1 Dave Laverick, 2 Benjamin Stephenson, 3 Ben Bell, 4 Joe Makin, 5 James Newman, 6 Mark Wigham, 7 James Sanderson, 8 Ed Falkingham.
16 Ben Carlile, 17 William Booth, 18 Alex Torkington, 19 Peter McGlynn, 20 Lewis Colledge.
Fylde make four changes in their starting line-up. Everyone is delighted to see Ralph Dowds returning at centre after 21 months out with injury, and Cameron Crampton starts at 9. Positional changes sees Connor Wilkinson drop back to fullback and Tom Carleton moving to the right wing. In the pack, Nick Ashcroft is named at lock and newcomer Jacob Conner is at no 8. Although David Fairbrother and Adam Lewis are still recovering from calf and knee injuries respectively, Ben Vernon is fit again and joins the replacements.
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Ralph Dowds, 12 Chris Briers (c), 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Alex Loney, 3 Adam Joyner, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Cal Ford, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Matt Garrod, 19 Ben Vernon, 20 Luke Fowden.
Referee: Ben Rayner; AR1 Jason Newell, AR2 Andrew Gill.