[Photo above: Greg Smith kicks winning penalty at the Woodlands in December 2018]
One of the delights in Fylde’s return to National Two (North) this season is the prospect of the trip to Threshfield, the most beautiful ground in England, to take on old friends and rivals Wharfedale (ko 15.00). ‘Prospect’ is an appropriate term as the reality has often proven rather different for the Lancastrians. With the home team playing downhill towards the River Wharfe and the noisy and passionate Green Machine’s supporters urging them on, Fylde’s collective nerve has often faltered. But this is just about the favourite away trip for Fylde’s supporters and it’s expected that a good number will make the 65 mile journey to the White Rose country.
Fylde’s defeat at home to Chester last Saturday has certainly set them back in their promotion chase but they still be fighting hard for league points in the chase for one of the top two places in N2N. They dropped to 4th place in the division whilst ‘Dale are in a comfortable mid-table 10th spot. This will be the 23rd meeting between the two clubs and will be as keenly contested as ever.
Fylde’s last trip to Threshfield was in December 2015 when, after building a 12-32 lead in the 53rd minute, they faced a fierce Wharfedale comeback but ultimately came out on top by 28-32.
That season marked the end of a glorious 20 season run in National One, a record which still stands. Following Wharfedale’s relegation in April 2016, they found it rather difficult in National Two (North), finishing 10th in 2016-7 and 13th last season, just above the relegation zone.
This season they have fared better but, with the help of some fine wins mixed with disappointing defeats, ‘inconsistent’ might sum up their form. However, the Greens have been highly competitive in the great majority of their matches and there’s little doubt that Saturday’s game will be hard and close. In the game at the Woodlands in December, Fylde won 20-17 with the last kick of the game through a Greg Smith penalty
The first ever game between the clubs was in the 1995-6 season, just as the game was going professional. Since then, Fylde have won sixteen of the matches, Wharfedale five and one has been drawn. A number of these games have been extremely tight with just a few points separating them. A couple of exceptions were the first ever game when Fylde triumphed by 54-18 in December 1995 and in September 2000 when a weakened Fylde squad were overrun by a Wharfedale team inspired by England international flyhalf David Pears and were humiliated 72-10 at Threshfield.
The Green’s Director of Rugby is the recently retired, highly influential no 8 Rob Baldwin. Head Coach is Jon Feeley and he’s assisted by Jon Skurr. ‘Dale moved to strengthen their squad in the summer with a group of newcomers including former England U’20s flanker Chris Walker – ex-Otley, Doncaster Knights, London Scottish, Yorkshire Carnegie and Rennes (Fr), including a great deal of Championship experience – utility back Will Edwards (ex-Loughborough Students), fly-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards (ex-Darlington Mowden Park & Otley), lock Ben Leacock (ex-Kendal) and George Martin (ex-Sedbergh School and Huddersfield)
The Greens’ pack is traditionally strong and the Fylde forwards will have to face difficult challenges in the tight and loose exchanges. There are some familiar faces likely to be involved on Saturday including prop Joe Altham, brother of former Fylde favourite Peter, hooker Dan Stockdale, locks George Hedgley and Richard Rhodes, and very influential no 8 Josh Burridge.
Leading scorer is Blakeney-Edwards (149 points), with most tries by Rian Hamilton and Harry Bullough, each with nine.
Fylde make three changes in their starting line-up, with the return of prop Adam Joyner, lock Matt Garrod and flanker Harlan Corrie. This is a very welcome recall for Joyner who dislocated his knee against the Greens in December. Another player back after injury is fellow prop Elliot Horner who joins the replacements.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Bevan Rodd, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Joyner, 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Ben Vernon (c), 8 Jacob Conner.
16 Elliot Horner, 17 Alex Loney, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Ben O’Ryan, 20 Ralph Dowds.