Fylde travel to Otley on Saturday (ko 14.00) for only the second time since 1999. Last season’s final game was a low key 3-14 victory for the Lanastrians following up their opening day 24-14 win at the Woodlands.
Following their defeat at home to Hull last Saturday, Fylde sit in 2nd place in National Two (North) and Otley are in 10th spot with a 5-2-5 record. They had a faltering beginning with two draws (Huddersfield 15-all at home, 34-all at Tynedale) and two defeats (15-8 at Wharfedale and 27-31 at home to Stourbridge.
They picked up strongly from that point with five wins in the next six fixtures – 14-17 at Hinckley, 15-20 at Luctonians; home games 18-17 v Chester, 19-12 v Loughborough S & 27-23 against Hull. They have lost their last two fixtures, both away from home, at Sheffield Tigers (21-6) and at Sedgley Park (47-19). So it’s been an uneven season for the Club but there’s no doubt that, on their own turf, they will pose serious problems for Fylde in this latest of Roses battles.
Otley vies with Blackheath and Preston Grasshoppers for the status of England’s oldest club. It was founded in 1865 and has had a famous history since then.
Prior to last season, the most recent previous occasion that Fylde travelled to the famous old Cross Green ground was in September 1999 when they went down by 32-13. In that 1999-2000 season, Otley were on their way upwards through the leagues, whilst Fylde were slipping down. By the 2003-4 season, Otley were competing at level 2, Fylde at level 4. Seven seasons later, Fylde were promoted back to level 3 whilst Otley were relegated to level 4. So once again, the clubs avoided each other in league action. The first ever fixture between the two clubs was, however, 91 years ago, in 1928.
For Otley, life in National Two (North) has been rather up and down in the last seven seasons. They finished 5th in 2012-13, 11th, 12th and 8th in the last three campaigns. The Club’s Cross Green Ground is iconic, as a location for not only senior Yorkshire rugby but also even higher representative matches. Most famously, this included the North of England’s victory over the All Blacks in 1979 and again in 1988 when the Wallabies were the victims of a North XV. The Club is planning a new location and stadium in the borough.
Quoted in the local newspaper at the beginning of last season, Otley club chairman Paul Mackie said that their potential move away is an absolute no-brainer. “[Cross Green] is dilapidated and in need of constant repair and weekly maintenance. Planning permission is set to be simultaneously submitted to Leeds City Council for both the assisted living development at Cross Green by McCarthy and Stone and Otley RUFC’s new £3m-£4m premises to the east of the East of Otley relief road.”
Mackie added: “A new facility could deliver a clubhouse and sufficient pitches to secure senior rugby in Otley for the next 150 years. We are currently asset rich and cash poor. This could make us asset rich and cash comfortable. It is also very much part of the plan that we remain a National League rugby club, and it is hoped that we will be playing at our new premises for the start of the 2021-22 season.”
It is possible that the Club will have to play at a local ground temporarily for a season when they eventually vacate Cross Green and the completion of their new ground. As such, this could be the last time Fylde play at the old ground.
Otley’s Head Coach is Charlie Maunder and he has built a strong, stable squad, with a mix of experienced campaigners with Yorkshire County honours and young talent.
Their pack includes star former Newcastle Falcons hooker Joe Graham, lock Declan Dunn, experienced prop partnership George Burkinshaw and Jason Moss, lock Simon Willett, backrowers Brett Mitchell (who skippers the team), Jack Scott-Paul, Will Burns and former Huddersfield flanker Adam Malthouse.
The Otley backline features halfbacks, scrum-half Max Johnson and flyhalf and principal goalkicker Ben Smith, former Ilkley fullback Ben Magee, wing Paul Petchey and centre Jack Mackie. A major newcomer this season is centre Elliot Morgan, another former Ilkley star.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up with the two ‘Bens – Vernon and O’Ryan – returnng to the backrow. Hal Chapman is ruled out through injury and Jacob Conner switches to no 8. The most notable change is the return of Chris Briers after knee surgery in the summer.
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 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Jonny Wild, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Drew Stephenson, 19 Chris Briers, 20 Tom Forster.