Fylde welcome Chester to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) for only the second time ever in league competition in a meeting of National Two North’s 2nd and 9th placed teams. 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 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 maintain their unbeaten record so far this season.
This season has been more of a struggle for Chester. They opened with a defeat at Sheffield Tigers (25-19) and the following week at leaders Caldy (18-10). They had good wins at home to Loughborough Students (29-23) and Hull (14-5) and away at Luctonians (20-24). They have lost their last two games in the last few minutes of the contests, at Otley (18-17) and last Saturday at home to Sedgley Park (24-28).
Note the predominance of away fixtures, with the trip to Fylde being their fifth in eight games, a very hard way to begin the season. They are currently 9th in the division but it is very difficult to compare form with Fylde as the two clubs haven’t met any common opponents, another fixture curiosity.
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 almost 160 appearances for the Club. A major contribution last season came from lock or more normally no 8 Shay Owen who, interestingly, spent a few weeks in the autumn of 2018 playing international rugby with Croatia.
A major figure in their backline (and in Cheshire’s senior county line-up) in recent seasons has been centre or fullback Tom Foden. Tom’s brother, Ben, famous England international and former Sale Sharks and Northampton legend played a four game cameo last season before moving to the US.
Another very influential back is the immensely powerful Cheshire centre Macc van Sertima, who has also had spells at Wharfedale and Caldy. His clash with opposite number, Fylde’s Scott Rawlings, should make the Woodlands shudder!
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.
Leading try scorers this season are hooker Alix Croft (6) and experienced winger Harrison Vare (4).
Fylde will be looking to maintain their unbeaten form in their Centenary season following six victories and a draw. They make two changes in their starting line-up, with David Fairbrother returning at no 8 and Sale Sharks Academy and England U’18s cap Tom Roebuck making his debut in the right wing berth. He comes to the Club on a dual registration (DR) basis. He made his senior Sharks debut in the Premiership Rugby Cup last season and started and scored against Saracens at Allianz Park a couple of weeks ago. He is a product of Wirral Grammar School and, co-incidentally played age grade rugby for Chester RUFC.
A second young Sale Sharks DR talent, fullback Joe Carpenter, is named amongst the replacements. He is also an England U18s cap and came through the Yorkshire Carnegie Academy before joining the Sharks this season. He attended Lawnswood School, Leeds and played for West Park RFC in the city.
Both are very highly rated players with very bright futures in the professional game and once again illustrate the depth of youthful talent in the North of England.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Tom Roebuck, 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 Hal Chapman, 7 Jacob Conner, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Alex Loney, 17 Matt Ashcroft, 18 Ben Vernon, 19 Lex Botha, 20 Joe Carpenter.
Fly-half Greg Smith is in fine form and has scored tries in the last two games. He leads the N2N top scorers rankings with 86 points, made up from 29 conversions, 6 penalties and two tries.
The leading N2N try scorer is Stourbridge’s Dan Rundle (9) followed immediately by Tom Carleton with 8. Other Fylde players on their heels are Tom Grimes (7), Connor Wilkinson (6) and Ben Gregory (5).