Fylde resume almost 100 years of local rivalry when Preston Grasshoppers visit the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00).
The last league game between the two clubs at the Woodlands was in September 2010, marked by the debut of Jason Robinson in front of a crowd of some 2,000. Since the Millennium there have been 15 league fixtures, with Fylde winning 11 and ‘Hoppers 4. The most recent match saw ‘Hoppers edge home by 18-15 at Lightfoot Green in September and Fylde will be keen to reverse this result in front of what is expected to be a big seasonal Christmas crowd on Saturday. Both teams are in fine form, with Fylde unbeaten in six National Two (North) fixtures and ‘Hoppers coming off the back of three successive victories. Fylde have climbed to 4th place in the division, ‘Hoppers to 7th, with just three points separating them. With the leading clubs slipping up in recent weeks then the leadership of N2N isn’t a done deal.
Games between the two clubs go back to early in the 20th century. Whatever the subsequent rivalries, it should be remembered that ‘Hoppers helped in the formation of their younger neighbours back in 1919 and the early, inexperienced Fylde officials at that time were extremely grateful. Both clubs are looking forward to important anniversaries in 2019-20, with Hoppers 150 years old and Fylde’s celebrating their centenary.
Since the formation of league rugby in the 1980s, both clubs have spent significant periods at levels 3 and 4 in the RFU hierarchy. Both have had ups and downs but still have important roles and represent strong ‘brands’ in Lancashire, North West and English rugby.
Two levels separated the clubs last season but ‘Hoppers outstanding promotion from North Premier (level 5) and Fylde’s disappointing relegation from National One (level 3) have brought them back together again. So local rugby supporters can once again enjoy derby matches, if rather differently scheduled than the famous Boxing Day ‘friendlies’ which are so affectionately remembered by players and supporters alike in this area of Lancashire.
Many players from both clubs have swapped allegiances over the years. ‘Hoppers’ Head Coach, Paul Arnold, played a major role in Fylde’s success for seven seasons as player and coach, and former Fylde players such as Peter Altham, Matt Lamprey and Oli Trippier are now playing important parts in the current Hoppers squad.
‘Hoppers, like Fylde, have had a very productive youth development system and talents in the Fylde squad such as Connor Wilkinson and Tom Grimes have benefitted from it. It was ever such.
‘Hoppers’ North Premier 2017-18 season was a very successful rebuilding job following their relegation the previous campaign. Not only did they cruise to the championship with 23 wins out of 26 games but they picked up 4 try bonus points in 22 of them and scored more points, 897, than any other club in the division.
Back in N2N this season, ‘Hoppers struggled at the beginning of the campaign, losing five out of their first six games. They soon acclimatised thereafter and have come strongly in late November/early December with four victories in their last five matches. Only once have they suffered a heavy defeat (49-5 at then 2nd placed Hinckley) but the following week they triumphed brilliantly (29-7) at home to leaders Hull Ionians.
They have found scoring easy, running up 59 tries (compared to Fylde’s 55) and this has contributed to the gathering of a massive 17 bonus points, more than any other team in N2N. One of their new recruits is goal kicking fly-half Tom Davidson who moved from Wharfedale along with versatile forward Adam Howard. Davidson is Hoppers’ leading scorer with 99 points. Their leading try scorer is another newcomer, winger Tyler Spence, formerly with Wigan St Pats RL & Wigan Warriors, who has 10, followed by outstanding no 8 Matt Lamprey (8) and centre James Fitzpatrick (formerly with Newcastle Falcons, Yorkshire Carnegie, Blaydon, Darlington Mowden Park & Westoe) who has 6.
15 Brad Cave; 14 Tyler Spence, 13 Matt Crow, 12 James Fitzpatrick, 11 Connor Trueman; 10 Thomas Davidson, 9 James Gough; 1 Oga Mabaya, 2 Oliver Trippier, 3 Peter Altham, 4 Luke Procter, 5 Chris Roddy, 6 Adam Howard, 7 Alastair Murray, 8 Matthew Lamprey.
16 Noah Miller, 17 Connor Johnson, 18 Jack Edwards, 19 Alex Hurst, 20 Alex Ward.
Fylde make one change from the starting line-up at Sedgley last week. Prop Jonny Wild suffered a head knock and is replaced by fit again Elliot Horner. Matt Ashcroft and fit again backs Ralph Dowds and Henry Hadfield are named amongst the replacements.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 James Bailey, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Alex Loney, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Matt Ashcroft, 17 Ben Gregory, 18 Nick Ashcroft,19 Ralph Dowds, 20 Henry Hadfield.