One of the delights in Fylde’s National Two (North) season is the prospect of the trip to Threshfield, the most beautiful ground in England, to take on old friends and rivals Wharfedale (ko 15.00), especially on an early autumn day. ‘Prospect’ is an appropriate term as the reality has often proven rather different for the Lancastrians. With the home team playing downhill towards the River Wharfe and the noisy and passionate Green Machine’s supporters urging them on, Fylde’s collective nerve has often faltered. But this is just about the favourite away trip for Fylde’s supporters and it’s expected that a good number will make the 60 mile journey to the White Rose country.
Both Fylde and the Greens were involved in close games last Saturday, with the Lancastrians being pulled back by Preston Grasshoppers to draw 24-all, and Wharfedale losing at Sedgley Park by 17-14. The Greens opened the season with a close 15-8 victory over Yorkshire rivals Otley.
Fylde’s lost by 14-13 at Threshfield in March, in which there was a scoreless 2nd half. The earlier game at the Woodlands in December was as close, with Greg Smith’s last minute penalty winning the contest 20-17.
‘Dale enjoyed a glorious 20 season run in National One, a record which still stands, until their relegation in April 2016. They initially found it rather difficult in National Two (North), finishing 10th in 2016-7 and 13th just above the relegation zone in 2017-18, but improving to a comfortable mid-table 9th last season.
The first ever game between the clubs was in the 1995-6 season, just as the game was going professional. Since then, Fylde have won sixteen of the matches, Wharfedale six and one has been drawn. A number of these games have been extremely tight with just a few points separating them. A couple of exceptions were the first ever game when Fylde triumphed by 54-18 in December 1995 and in September 2000 when a weakened Fylde squad were overrun by a Wharfedale team inspired by England international flyhalf David Pears and were humiliated 72-10 at Threshfield.
The Green’s Director of Rugby is highly influential no 8 Rob Baldwin. Head Coach is Jon Feeley and he’s assisted by Jon Skurr.
‘Dale moved to strengthen their squad in the last couple of close seasons, with newcomers including former England U’20s flanker Chris Walker – ex-Otley, Doncaster Knights, London Scottish, Yorkshire Carnegie and Rennes (Fr), including a great deal of Championship experience – utility back Will Edwards (ex-Loughborough Students), fly-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards (ex-Darlington Mowden Park & Otley) and lock Ben Leacock (ex-Kendal) arriving last ahead of the start of last season.
This summer’s arrivals include very powerful prop Matt Beesley, returning from spells away at Northampton and Ealing, centre Jonny Moore, ex-North Ribblesdale, Will Smith – an exciting back row prospect from Wensleydale who was in last year’s England Counties 18 group squad, and Matt Speres – hooker/back row originally from Cape Town. He spent several seasons at the Sharks Academy in South Africa but is an adopted Dalesman having captained Skipton and recently turned out for North Ribblesdale.
The Greens’ pack is traditionally strong and the Fylde forwards will have to face difficult challenges in the tight and loose exchanges. There are some familiar faces likely to be involved on Saturday including prop Joe Altham, brother of former Fylde favourite Peter, hooker Dan Stockdale and lock George Hedgley. Wing Oliver Cicognini will be a constant danger as he proved in the equivalent game in March.
Interesting Wharfedale selections include two former Fylde players – hooker Tom Burtonwood and flanker Jamie Brookes. Both have recently moved from Blackburn to the Greens and are named amongst the replacements.
- M Beesley, 2. D Stockdale, 3. J Altham, 4. R Baldwin, 5. G Hedgley (c), 6. C Walker, 7. M Speres, 8. W Smith, 9. W Lawn, 10. J Blakeney-Edwards, 11. O Cicognini, 12. J Moore, 13. B Blackwell, 14. R Wellock, 15. H Bullough.
Replacements: – 16. J Hirst, 17. T Asejevs, 18. T Burtonwood, 19. J Brookes, 20. H. Macnab.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up, with lock Matt Garrod and flanker Ben Vernon returning to the XV.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Lex Botha, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Matt Garrod, 5 Jacob Conner, 6 Hal Chapman, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Matthew Ashcroft, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Ben O’Ryan, 19 Tom Forster, 20 Ralph Dowds.