Fylde travel to Hare Lane on Saturday (ko 3pm) on a mission to rediscover consistency against Chester as they continue their challenge at the top of National Two (North). They have lost three games in the last seven, mixed in with some excellent big scoring victories.
This will be only the second ever time that the two clubs have met at the Cheshire club. For two well established North West clubs, it’s surprising that since the establishment of leagues that the respective 1st XVs hadn’t met before last season. Honours were even then, with Fylde winning at Hare Lane (5-16) and Chester reversing things at the Woodlands (19-27) in a crucial contest that helped the visitors secure 2nd place in N2N and, by the end of the season, a promotion place-off place. Fylde hold the bragging rights after a decisive 42-17 victory in late October at the Woodlands.
Fylde notched a notable 5-16 win at Hare Lane in November 2018, the first defeat suffered there by the home team in a season and a half. Outstanding defence by the Lancastrians was the key to victory that day on the splendid 4G pitch and it will need to be equally vigilant on Saturday if they hope to come out on top.
This season has been more of a struggle for Chester. They sit in 9th place in the division following 9 wins, a draw and 10 defeats.
An uncertain start of the season was quickly turned around following their defeat at the Woodlands. Five victories in the next six fixtures showed the form of last season. But more recently a run of five defeats in six games, including at Sedgley Park on Saturday, have been a setback.
In the period from 2002 until 2013, Chester were almost always competing in North One, level 5 in the RFU league structure. They had an outstanding campaign in 2012-13 when they finished as champions of National Three (North) and were promoted to National Two (North). They have performed very well since then, finishing 5th, 5th, 11th, 5th, 7th and 2nd last season. Runners-up status qualified them for a trip in the National Two play-off at N2 South runners-up Canterbury. Travelling away in a play-off is always very hard and despite a noble performance, the Kent club triumphed by 19-10 to earn the step-up to National One.
Chester’s Head Coach is the very well known and respected former player Jan van Deventer and he has a very stable squad of players.
The power of the Chester pack was demonstrated by the try scoring records of four principal forwards last season – back five forward Shay Owen (15), hooker Alick Croft (13), flanker Mike Craven (11) and no 8 Guy Ford (10).
Ford is one of the most experienced and influential players in the squad and has made over 170 appearances for the Club.
A major contribution last season came from lock or no 8 Shay Owen who, interestingly, spent a few weeks in the autumn of 2018 playing international rugby with Croatia. He’s a very versatile player who has switched easily to the backline this season. He caused Fylde all kinds of difficulty at the Woodlands in October, playing on the wing powerfully, scoring two tries and making a third.
A principal figure in their backline (and in Cheshire’s senior county line-up) in recent seasons has been centre or fullback Tom Foden, brother of famous England international and former Sale Sharks and Northampton legend Ben.
Another very influential back last season was the immensely powerful Cheshire centre Macc van Sertima, who has also had spells at Wharfedale and Caldy. He’s only played a few games this season.
Newcomers this season include fly-half and goal kicker Mike Dixon, formerly of Loughnorough Students and Caldy, and big lock Jimmy Lloyd, formerly a stalwart at Sedgley Park.
Fylde make four changes in their starting line-up. Lex Botha returns on the right wing, allowing Tom Carleton to switch back to fullback and Connor Wilkinson to centre.
In the pack, Olli Parkinson returns at lock after missing a series of games through injury, and is joined in the 2nd row by Jacob Conner. Ben Vernon is named at flanker.
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 (c), 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Jacob Conner, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Phill Mills, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Matt Ashcroft, 17 Drew Stephenson, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Hal Chapman, 20 Chris Briers.