Fylde make the long trip to North Herefordshire to take on Luctonians, only their second ever visit to Mortimer Park. Back in 2010-12, Fylde were beaten 26-19 at the well appointed ‘Lucs’ ground, one of only four defeats during that momentous promotion season. In the return fixture at the Woodlands in late March 2011, Lucs asked more questions of a Fylde squad that included Jason Robinson. The home side narrowly won by 34-29 with a last minute try by Callum McShane on their way to the championship of National Two (North). Lucs eventually finished in 9th place.
This time around, Fylde lead the table once more whilst Luctonians are down in 15th place. It’s been a tough start for the Herefordshire club which began in the best possible way with a 33-36 opening day victory at Tynedale. However, eight defeats, some by very narrow margins (23-17 at Hinckley, 20-24 at home to Chester, 33-36 at home to Loughborough Students and 15-20 at home to Otley), and a draw (3-all at Hull) have followed. Their only two heavy losses have been at home to Stourbridge (19-45) and at then leaders, Caldy (62-10).
Old Luctonians was formed in 1948 by former students of the nearby independent Lucton School. It subsequently dropped the ’Old boys’ prefix and has become a thriving community club operating a multi-sports function in the beautiful village of Kingsland, a few miles from the small town of Leominster. It is far more than the quoted description as “a humble village team from the outback of Herefordshire”. Mortimer Park now embraces archery, cycling, rounders, cricket, running and golf. Their progress up the RFU league structure has been gradual and after nine seasons in what is now the Midlands Premier League (level 5) they won promotion to National Two (North) at the end of the 2009-10 season. They also have a large and healthy mini-junior section which is an important pipeline to senior rugby up to the 1st XV.
For eight seasons they established themselves as very competitive and worthy at this level before they suffered relegation at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. They bounced back immediately last season with some outstanding results, scoring 960 points in total and failing by just a couple of points to take the championship and with it automatic promotion. This meant that they had to take on runners-up in North Premier, Blaydon, in a play-off match at Mortimer Park and they deservedly won by 31-17 in front of a large, noisy and eventually delighted home crowd.
Head Coach Ryan Watkins is well established and has built a stable squad despite the physical isolation away from large metropolitan centres. The core of last season’s promotion squad has remained and this has been strengthened by judicious recruitment.
Newcomers include tight-head prop Ryan Smeilus who has joined from Bridgnorth and the highly experienced former London Welsh Premiership and Birmingham Moseley scrum half Rob Lewis. Meanwhile, up and coming player Max Hill, brother of England and Worcester Warriors star Ted Hill, re-joins after graduating from Loughborough University with National One experience in their Students team. A setback is the recent injury to the influential centre Josh Watkins (ex-Rosslyn Park, Worcester Warriors & London Welsh) which rules him out of action until the New Year.
Goal kicking responsibilities have been shared between young fly-half Josh Phipps and highly experienced halfback partner Louis Silver (ex-Coventry, Doncaster, Bristol & Stourbridge). The loyalty of some players to the Lucs cause is illustrated by skipper Mat Hackley who is in his 9th season at the Club.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up for the trip. Lancashire U’20s prop Matt Ashcroft makes his third starting appearance for the Club packing down with his brother and lock forward Nick. Adam Lewis takes a bit of a break as he joins the replacements. Hal Chapman comes into the XV at blindside flanker. Also joining the replacements is backrower Ben O’Ryan.
Skippering the squad for the first time is no 8 David Fairbrother. ‘Fairy’, reflecting on this honour, said: “Fylde have been led by Adam who’s been an amazing skipper this season. I’m delighted I’ve been given the opportunity to lead from the front and take the role at Luctonians when he’s having a rest!
“The young boys have been amazing so it’s quiet simple really … give them clean ball and do the simple things right all the time. If we can do that then we will come back with another five points.
“Greg struggled with his kicks last week so we could do with scoring a few under the sticks!” he joked.
15 Joe Carpenter; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Matt Ashcroft, 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Nick Ashcroft, 6 Hallam Chapman, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother (c).
16 Adam Lewis, 17 Drew Stephenson, 18 Jacob Conner, 19 Ben O’Ryan,
20 Tom Forster.
Chris Farrow’s photos from March 2011, Fylde v Luctonians
How times have changed – Sam Beaumont’s tacklers were legal!
Head Coach Mark Nelson and Coaching Consultant Brian Ashton.