Fylde travel to perhaps their least successful ground on Saturday when they take on N2N’s 5th placed Loughborough Students (ko 14.00). In nine visits to the University in the last eleven seasons they have lost eight times. Their only success was in 2012-13 when they won by 17-35 thanks to tries by Ollie Brennand, Cameron Thompson, Peter Altham and Ryan de la Harpe and 15 points from the boot of Chris Johnson.
The other games have included some very difficult afternoons, including defeats such as 43-0 (2009), 57-17 (2015), 46-17 (2016), 21-0 (2017) and, in Fylde’s otherwise superb promotion season in 2010-11, 44-22.
In the total of 19 matches between the two clubs in the last decade, the average points total per match is 54. The Students have had a rather up and down season but they are the third highest scorers behind Caldy and Fylde. So there’s every prospect of Saturday’s game being another points fest.
There is a particularly important co-incidence this season as both clubs are celebrating their 100th birthday.
The Students won promotion to National One at the end of the 2011-12 season, a year later than Fylde, and they enjoyed six years at that level before their relegation last season, once again 12 months after Fylde suffered the same fate.
Overcoming the Students on their home ground will be one again a very tough task for Fylde.
The conventional prediction of the Students’ season is that early on they struggle as they try to integrate the latest batch of players into the squad. Once this is sorted out they get stronger as the campaign progresses. This has proved to be true again in 2019-20 with a rocky start bringing three, albeit narrow, defeats in the first four matches including a fine performance at home to Caldy which they narrowly lost by 28-33. They stabilised and then won seven out of nine games before Christmas.
In the past couple of months, wins have been followed by defeats, rather like Fylde. Losses at Hinckley (15-9), Caldy (41-7) and Hull (33-20) have been interspersed with home wins againt Chester (64-31), Sheffield Tigers (36-24) and most recently Otley (47-33).
Loughborough has been a centre for high performance rugby for generations. They have superb physical and staffing infrastructure which is almost second to none, including excellent grass and artificial pitches, top quality coaching and medical support. They dominated university rugby for a long period but this scene has been much more competitive in recent years with the emergence of Hartpury College, Durham University, Leeds Beckett, Exeter and one or two others. However, Loughborough remains a hugely impressive rugby development system which is able to attract some of the best young talent who want a university education.
One of the great strengths of Loughborough’s set-up is the depth of player resources they can call on. There are squads for the BUCS (British Universities & College Sports) leagues as well as for their N2N campaign. They have called on some 55 players so far this season whilst Fylde have used 30.
Taming Loughborough’s very quick backline and athletic, mobile pack will be a serious challenge for the visitors on the artificial pitch. Fylde have flourished on such surfaces so far this season with impressive wins at Preston Grasshoppers (3-28), Stourbridge (12-64) and Chester (15-51).
Loughborough have developed another talented though relatively inexperienced playing squad this season. As is the nature of three year degree programmes, there is always a heavy turnover of students and the strength of the squad will obviously vary somewhat each year.
The Students backline features the outstanding goal kicking playmaker and fly-half Owen Waters who is in his third season in the squad. Last season he had a sabbatical at Esher in National One and was a regular at 10. He’s ranked 4th in the leading N2N points scorer ranking with 190, behind Fylde’s Greg Smith with 212.
Another very influential and experienced back is fullback Will Kaye, also in his third season in the squad. He is their leading try scorer with 14 to date. Bamidele Fadahunsi is an experienced and dangerous winger who has National One experience with Rosslyn Park and at level four with London Irish Wild Geese. Another very talented player with local connections is former KGS student and star centre Dan Kelly who made his Loughborough Students National League debut this season and is now in the current Ireland U’20s squad which gave their England equivalents a bloody nose last weekend.
The Students have a close relationship with Leicester Tigers who have provided a number of their players on dual registration, including prop Keston Lines, lock Tom Manz and winger Joe Browning.
In the Students pack, prop Lines has been joined by England U’20s tighthead Emmanuel Iyogun, now a fulltime member of the Northampton Saints Academy. Saracens dual registered lock Cameron Boon at 6’8″ is a towering figure in the Students’ lineout and has represented both Ireland and England at ’18s level.
Fylde name an unchanged starting line-up for the trip, with Tom Forster joining the replacements.
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory 3 Adam Lewis (capt.), 4 Nick Ashcroft,, 5 Jacob Conner, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Phill Mills, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Matt Ashcroft, 17 Drew Stephenson, 18 Matt Garrod, 19 Hallam Chapman, 20 Tom Forster.