Fylde welcome Luctonians to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 15.00) for only their second ever visit to the Ground. It’s a very important game for both clubs as Fylde pursue a National Two (North) promotion play-off opportunity and the North Herefordshire club look to climb the table and escape from relegation worries.
Fylde edged to a 25-27 victory at Mortimer Park in mid-November and will no doubt find their opponents as gritty and determined at the Woodlands on Saturday.
‘Lucs’ had a very tricky first half of the season when, despite winning their opening game at Tynedale, they then lost nine matches plus a draw running up to mid-November and the visit of Fylde. They then pulled things together in impressive fashion by winning eight of the next twelve fixtures before and after Christmas. This includes three victories in the last four games including an excellent 22-13 win against Sedgley Park last Saturday. They sit in 11th position in N2N in a clutch of five clubs sitting above the relegation zone.
In Lucs’ only other visit to the Woodlands in March 2011, Fylde, on their way to the championship of the division and including Jason Robinson, were fortunate to edge the game 34-29 thanks to a last minute try by Callum McShane.
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 utility back Rob Lewis. Meanwhile, up and coming player Max Hill, brother of England and Worcester Warriors star Ted Hill, re-joined after graduating from Loughborough University with National One experience in their Students team. Hill joins the increasingly praised Worcester Warriors Academy forward Owien Herriott-Davis in the Lucs pack.
Amongst the Luctonians back line, fullback or centre Josh Watkins (ex-Rosslyn Park, Worcester Warriors & London Welsh) is very influential along side free scoring winger Frank Kelly who, with 14 tries to date, is in the top ranking of N2N try scorers. The half-back combination is most often English Counties fly-half Will Burton and highly experienced halfback partner Louis Silver (ex-Coventry, Doncaster, Bristol & Stourbridge).
The principal goal kicker is Louis Silver.
The Lucs squad is:
15 Josh Watkins; 14 John Morris, 13 Drew Cheshire, 12 Rob Lewis, 11 Frank Kelly; 10 Will Burton, 9 Louis Silver; 1 Connor Deignan, 2 Callum Young, 3 Joe White, 4 Owien Harriott-Davis, 5 Conor Turner, 6 Cameron Tawfik, 7 Seb Robinson (c), 8 Sam Jones.
16 Guy Kirkby, 17 Tom Furnival, 18 Ryan Smeilus, 19 Conor Geraghty, 20 Owen Randell.
Fylde make four changes in their starting line-up, with Lex Botha coming onto the wing, and in the pack, Matt Ashcroft at tighthead prop, Matt Garrod at lock and Hal Chapman at blindside flanker.
15 Tom Carleton; 14 Lex Botha, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Adam Lewis (c), 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Matt Ashcroft, 4 Jacob Conner, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Hal Chapman, 7 Phill Mills, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Drew Stephenson, 17 Elliot Horner, 18 Nick Ashcroft, 19 Ben Vernon, 20 Chris Briers.