Fylde face another tough challenge when they welcome National One’s 3rd placed club, Ampthill & District, to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) for only their 3rd ever visit.
The two clubs have only played each other on five occasions, with the Bedfordshire team winning all three home games (35-12 this season, 25-21 & 43-24) and one at the Woodlands (19-29). Fylde edged the game at the Woodlands last season with a tense 13-11 victory thanks to a last minute penalty by Greg Smith.
Ampthill have had another successful season, with 11 wins, 3 draws and just 5 defeats. Their home form has been exemplary, with eight victories and just one loss (7-8 v Cambridge). Only away from home against the promotion contending clubs have they slipped, at Plymouth, Blackheath, DMP and a heavy 63-14 beating at leaders Coventry. Whilst they are probably too far behind Coventry at 19 points in arrears to mount a promotion challenge this season, given the serious corporate financial support they receive then they may well be knocking on the Championship door in 2018-19.
Ampthill, or to give the club its full name, Ampthill & District, have risen extraordinarily quickly through the RFU league hierarchy, one of the many new ‘meritocrats’ in London, the South East and South Midlands regions. They were promoted to National One three seasons ago and settled in immediately, finishing 4th in 2015/6 and 3rd last season. Although much of this success has been built on a dominating pack, they also have very dangerous backs who can do much damage.
The Bedfordshire club is coached by legendary former Welsh international fly-half Paul Turner, formerly a coach at Sale, Gloucester, Saracens, Rugby Lions, Harlequins, Wasps and Newport Gwent Dragons. Turner again recruited strongly for this season.
Newcomers include prop Karl Garside (ex-Old Albanian), England Counties skipper and No 8 Billy Johnson (ex-Old Albanian & Bedford Blues), half backs Stef Liebenberg (ex-Cambridge, Bedford Blues & Old Albanian) & Lawrence Rayner (ex-Old Albanian, Plymouth Albion & Nottingham), centre Sam Sterling (Bury St Edmunds), hooker Josh Taylor (Old Albanian) & back row Simon Pitfield (ex-Loughborough Students & Birmingham Solihull).
Other summer recruits include prop Toby Trinder (dual registered from Northampton Saints), prop Jack Culverhouse (Bedford Blues), Wales U’20s backrower Syd Blackmore and, notably, Canadian international legendary full back and goal kicker James Pritchard (ex-Bedford Blues Coventry).
Ampthill have been known in recent seasons for a group of fine Tongan internationals. Three remain in the current squad, hooker or prop Aleki Lutui, lock Paino Hehea and the evergreen no 8 Maama Molitika.
Top try scorer is the ever dangerous winger Sam Baker with 14 to date, followed by flankers Joe Bercis and Sydney Blackmore with 8 and 7 respectively. James Pritchard leads the overall points table with 108. They have called on 44 players to date compared with Fylde’s 34.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up. In the pack, Dan Richardson is at loose head prop and Matt Garrod returns at lock. The back line is unchanged.
15 Alex Dolly; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 Tom Carleton; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls; 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Tom Burtonwood, 3 Mark Irving, 4 Matt Garrod, 5 Harlan Corrie, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Will Hopwood, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Adam Lewis, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Olli Parkinson, 19 Nick Ashcroft, 20 Jake Foster.