Fylde welcome Loughborough Students to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) for what will be, if the game resembles those in previous seasons, an exciting spectacle of open, attacking rugby to start the new season at the Woodlands.
Everyone associated with the Club will be hoping that the Fylde Coast public and beyond turn up at the Woodlands in big numbers to cheer on the team in the early stages of their National Two (North) campaign.
In the 20 matches between the clubs since 2008 an average of 54 points have been scored. On their penultimate visit to the Ground in April 2018, the teams shared 114 points – unfortunately a rather one sided 33-81 defeat for Fylde, the biggest home loss that anyone could remember!
There was a particularly important co-incidence in the last (2019-20) season that both clubs celebrated their 100th birthday. The two games between the clubs in that campaign finished like so many in the last fifteen years, with Fylde winning at home (33-7) yet losing at the University Stadium (32-30).
Overcoming the Students has proved a very tough task for Fylde since the clubs re-started regular fixtures in 2008-9. Loughborough shade the bragging rights, with eleven wins compared to Fylde’s nine. Twelve of these twenty matches occurred in National One between 2012 and 2018, the rest a level lower in National Two (North).
Fylde have generally dominated games at the Woodlands but have won just once in ten attempts at the University Stadium. So the Students certainly qualify as one of Fylde’s bogey opponents.
The conventional analysis of the Students’ season is that early on they rather 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. Whilst this has often been proved by the statistics, in their opening game of this season last Saturday they travelled to Blaydon and edged home by 23-27 for an excellent victory at an always tough location. Fylde also put down an early marker in the North East with a fine 24-48 win at Tynedale.
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 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 highest level players in National Two (North).
Taming Loughborough’s very quick backline and athletic, mobile pack will be a serious challenge for the home side on the big Woodlands pitch.
With the early abandonment of the 2019-20 season and the demise of the 2020-21 season due to the pandemic, there is great uncertainty in the National Leagues about the relative strengths of the 47 competing clubs. To an external eye, the Students’ position is even harder to predict given the nature of three year degree programmes and the consequential turnover of students compounded by the loss of a whole season.
However, given the nature and resourcing of Loughborough’s rugby development system, the smart money says that they will have another talented though relatively inexperienced playing squad this season.
A few of the squad members at Blaydon were in the Students’ ranks in 2019-20 but, as far as we can see, only a handful. The goalkicking playmaker is fly-half Charlie Titcombe, a former member of the Leicester Tigers Academy who was Man of the Match at Blaydon. Given the proximity of the University and the Tigers, and a long standing relationship between them, this is a frequently route for players.
The squad is:
15 Reece Malone, 14 Sam O’Leary-Blade, 13 Nathan Pope, 12 Josh Lewis, 11 Dan James, 10 Charlie Titcombe, 9 Iwan Burquin, 1 Bryn Davies, 2 Nathan Langdon, 3 Mink Scharink, 4 Alex Wardell, 5 David Douglas Bridge, 6 Dan Cuthbert, 7 Henri Lavin, 8 Tom Bloomer. Reps: 16 Archie Bourne, 17 Jack Rowntree, 18 Benedict Smith, 19 Matteo Petrozzi, 20 Ollie Smith.
Referee: James O’Brien; AR1 Ben Moore, AR2 Tim Brown.
Fylde make two changes to their squad for the game. Henry Hadfield has recovered from injury and takes his starting berth on the right wing in his 50th appearance for the Club. Congrats Henry! Fellow Cumbrian Harlan Corrie is named among the replacements on his return to the Club.