Fylde make their first ever visit to Silver Leys, the home of Hertfordshire club Bishop’s Stortford on Saturday (ko 3pm). BS will be looking to turn the tables on Fylde who beat them by 29-22 at the Woodlands in early December. This was Fylde’s last victory in National One and has been followed by 13 defeats, their poorest run in many, many seasons. They will hope to achieve only their second away victory of the season but it will be very tough.
BS is one of the new meritocrats in the National Leagues, having worked their way steadily up through the RFU league system. They have adapted incredibly well to life in National One, sitting comfortably in 8th place in the division, having won 13 games and a draw out of 26 fixtures.
They had a very successful first half of the season, winning ten out of sixteen fixtures before Christmas. Perhaps their most outstanding performance was a defeat, losing by just 30-27 at Coventry. They then had a run of six games unbeaten. The New Year has proved more difficult, winning three and losing seven since then. In particular, their away performances have been impressive, winning seven out of thirteen fixtures.
Founded a year later than Fylde in 1920, the rise of Bishop’s Stortford really got under way when league rugby became established in the 1980s. Ten years of gradual progress at level 5 (London One which became National Three London & SE) came to a head with promotion to National Two (South) in 2013. Four seasons in the that division resulted in promotion last season as clear champions.
Unlike a number of ambitious clubs, especially in London and the South East, this success has been achieved by a very stable squad of local players rather than importing journeymen from all over the globe. The great majority of the squad have spent all or most of their senior careers at BS and this makes their success this season even more outstanding.
Their Director of Rugby is the very experienced former England international hooker Andy Long who had a successful club career with Bath, Munster, Rotherham, Newcastle and Northampton Saints. He cut his coaching teeth at Cambridge in 2011 and moved on to Stortford two years later. Long has inculcated an attacking style of rugby based on a solid pack and a dynamic, running backline.
One very notable exception to the concentration on local players was the recruitment this season of the excellent lock or backrower Daniel Leo. The Kiwi born player has had a stellar career with Queensland Reds, Bordeaux Begles, USA Perpignan, Wasps, London Irish and London Welsh. Most notably, he is now playing a crucial role as advocate for Samoa and Pacific rugby more generally. Leo’s international career spanned 39 caps for Samoa over ten years and his belief in Pacific Island rugby has driven his campaigning work for greater financial support to recognise the tremendous contribution of these islands to global rugby. No doubt he is now bringing this experience to benefit Bishop’s Stortford in National One.
Leading scorer is influential fly-half and goal kicker George Cullen (ex-London Scottish & Tynedale) who has 214 points to date. Leading try scorer is fullback Nick Hankin with 10, closely followed by winger Chris Smith and front rower Will Roberts with nine and eight respectively.
Fylde make five changes to their starting line-up, with Chris Briers, Dan Richardson, Matt Garrod, Toby Harrison and Ben Vernon all starting. Connor Wilkinson switches to fullback for the first time for the Club. Adam McCarthy is named amongst the replacements.
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 Tom Carleton; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls; 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Tom Burtonwood, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Toby Harrison, 8 Ben Vernon.
16 Mark Irving, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Adam McCarthy, 20 Jake Foster.