After taking over the leadership of National Two (North) following their victory against Chester last weekend, Fylde face the hardest challenge of all when they visit 2nd placed Caldy on Saturday (ko 14.15). The Cheshire club is generally recognised as promotion favourites and have a perfect 7-0-0 record to date this season. Their game at Sedgley Park on Saturday was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch and this gave Fylde a chance to take the top spot. Both clubs are unbeaten so this promises to be a tremendous game illustrating the best of National Two rugby.
Fylde have a mixed record at Paton Field and the bragging rights are shared equally in the ten games between the clubs with five victories each. The clubs were both in National One in 2017-18 and Caldy outplayed Fylde home and away with a 37-19 victory at Paton Field and 9-34 at the Woodlands.
That was their first season at the elevated status of Level 3 and they did well then. Last season reality caught up with them and they were very unfortunately relegated on the last day of the campaign, finishing in 14th place. So Fylde meet them back in N2N once more.
They started the campaign in the very best way with a 13-29 win at Hinckley and followed this with a 18-10 home victory over keen local rivals Chester. A strong performance at Sheffield Tigers (7-37) and an even better one at Loughborough Students (28-33) showed the battling ability of the squad away from home. Warming to their task, they hammered Luctonians (62-20) and Otley (50-12) at home and eased past Hull (17-31) in East Yorkshire. Only Sedgley’s waterlogged Park Lane pitch has held up their progress.
Their Paton Field Ground in West Kirby is perhaps the most beautiful of those in N2N other than Wharfedale’s.
Before the games in 2017-18, in March 2011 a Fylde squad, including Nick Royle (but excluding Jason Robinson who was injured), won by 55-29. Royle made 143 appearances for Fylde scoring an extraordinary 152 tries in the process. He joined Caldy in 2014 and has made 125 1st XV appearances and scored 114 tries for the Cheshire club. This extraordinary strike record must surely be unmatched in the National Leagues.
Under Director of Rugby Gareth Davies and new Head Coach Matt Cairns, Caldy have maintained a very stable squad, strong in both their forwards and backline. Players such as centre Gavin Roberts, tough props John Parker and Derek Salisbury, and backrowers John Collister and Jesiah (‘JJ’) Dickenson were in the line-up v Fylde back in 2010-11.
This loyalty and longevity of such players to the Club helps to explain their success and solidity. In the pack, England Counties U’20s prop John Whitaker joins Parker and Salisbury. Much admired England Counties flanker Nyle Davidson is an influential player and is joined by the return to the Club following a few seasons at Sale FC by backrower Adam Aigbokhae.
Other influential players include, in particular, playmaking Cheshire County fullback or fly-half Rhys Hayes (formerly with Chester RFC), prolific wing Ben Jones, durable lock Tom Sanders and mobile hooker Ted Stagg.
Their line-up is:
15 Rhys Hayes; 14 Nick Royle, 13 Gavin Roberts, 12 Mike Barlow, 11 Ben Jones; 10 Lewis Barker, 9 Cameron Davies; 1 John Whittaker, 2 Ted Stagg, 3 Derek Salisbury, 4 Jack Collister, 5 Tom Sanders, 6 Harrison Crowe, 7 Adam Aigbokhae, 8 JJ Dickinson.
16 Ollie Hearn, 17 Jack Parker, 18 Martin Gerrard, 19 Callum Ridgway, 20 Cameron Owen.
Fylde make two changes to their starting line-up, with the Sale Academy dual registered (DR) Joe Carpenter making his full debut in his specialist fullback position. Tom Carleton switches to the right wing. In the pack, injured Hal Chapman is replaced by Ben Vernon.
There’s a welcome return to the replacements for flankers Ben O’Ryan and Sale Sharks DR Sam Dugdale. Dugdale was a great success last season when he made 17 appearances and scored 7 tries.
15 Joe Carpenter; 14 Tom Carleton, 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 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Jacob Conner, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Alex Loney, 17 Matt Ashcroft 18 Sam Dugdale, 19 Ben O’Ryan, 20 Lex Botha/Tom Forster.