Following their defeat at Coventry, a somewhat chastened Fylde welcome Hull Ionians to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm) for a very important National One fixture. It is important for both clubs for somewhat different reasons. Fylde have thoroughly tested all but one of their ten opposing teams so far this season and have shown that on their day they can beat the best in the division. But they need a victory to maintain a competitive position in the division and to improve on their 7th place. Newly promoted Ionians have to date generally struggled in the step up to N1 rugby. They are in bottom place but will take much confidence from an excellent home win last Saturday against Worthing Raiders and will be determined to earn their first away win of the campaign, indeed their first ever win at the Woodlands.
In fact, there's evidence that the Ionians are getting to grips with N1 as some hefty early defeats (12-41 v Coventry, 19-40 v Doncaster, 7-31 v Cinderford, 25-41 v Richmond) are being overtaken by much improved performances and tighter contests (25-32 v Wharfedale, 21-32 at Blackheath). They are re-discovering their excellent form of last season when they stormed through National Two (North) to become champions with a 17 match unbeaten run after Christmas.
Fylde have had a distinct advantage over Hull Ionians in the 12 games they played between 2005 & 2011, winning all the matches at the Woodlands and losing just two at Brantingham Park. The last time Ionians visited the Lancashire Coast was in April 2011 when Fylde celebrated receiving the National Two (North) championship trophy by beating Ionians by 76-14. All present that day will remember the final of Fylde's 12 tries, by Jason Robinson in his last senior game in a glittering career. Click here for a video of Fylde's superb tries that day, five of them by Oli Brennand.
Ionians was formed in 1989 by the merger of Hull and East Riding (established in 1906) with Ionians (1926), a club named after the ancient all conquering tribe based in the Greek Islands. Leagues in rugby union had started two seasons earlier with Hull and East Riding playing in North One and Ionians in Yorkshire Three, six levels lower at that time. The new club took on the old Hull and East Riding fixture list and adopted the Elloughton ground as their home, the freehold property then owned by Ionians.
At this stage, Hull and East Riding were down to a small first XV squad without ownership of their own ground or clubhouse. Ionians owned their ground and clubhouse had a thriving mini/junior section that was developing many excellent young players, but a first team that required more experience in order to retain them. The merger was therefore a perfect arrangement and proved to be just that immediately. The new 'Hull Ionians' had a brief flirtation with national rugby in 2002/3 but were relegated immediately. But two seasons later they were back in National Three (North), this time through the play-off route beating Kettering in April 2005. Ionians had eight seasons at level four but in December 2011 they were bottom of the division and relegation looked certain.
A local businessman came to their assistance and injected some funds for squad strengthening. A number of players were brought in and they helped to turn the season around with a good run of victories which resulted in the safe position of 11th in the division. The following season was a quite different affair with the squad delivering so productively.
Ionians' Head Coach is Gary Pearce and he has built a good and stable squad. A combative pack is founded on a front row including props David Laverick, highly experienced Yorkshire (& former Cleckheaton) cap Steve Johnson & new recruit from Hull RUFC, Adrian Longbone. The pack is anchored by skipper and talented lock Joe Makin (ex-Doncaster) and another Hull recruit this summer Alex Campbell. Other powerful back five players include Joe Sanders, Alex Torkington, newcomer Max Argyle (ex-Sheffield Tigers & Rotherham), and the very experienced pair of Mark Wigham & Danny Hague.
The backline includes last season's leading scorer, fullback Chris Reakes, wingers Jon Steel (ex-Scotland RU & RL cap & Northampton Saints), newcomers Steve Slingsby (formerly with Hull) & Danny Smith (ex-Otley) & centres Joe Martin & Sam Forbes. A leading playmaker is new fly-half Lloyd Hayes who made his name with Chester before signing for Rotherham Titans in the summer and being loaned to Ionians. He is a dangerous runner and very prolific goal kicker. His half-back partner is most likely to be scrum-half Isaac Green.
The match squad will be:
15 Chris Reakes; 14 Jon Steel, 13 Sam Forbes, 12 Joey Martin, 11 Steve Slingsby; 10 Lloyd Hayes, 9 Isaac Green; 1 Dave Laverick, 2 Ally Forth, 3 Steve Johnson, 4 Joe Makin (c), 5 Alex Campbell, 6 Joe Sanders, 7 Alex Torkington, 8 Mark Wigham.
Replacements: 16 Toby Williams, 17 Tom Rice, 18 Max Argyle, 19 Richard Fletcher, 20 Adam Thomas.
Fylde make two changes to their starting line-up as Scott Barrow returns after injury to the centre and Tom Burtonwood comes in at hooker. Simon Griffiths is named amongst the replacements.
15 Ben Rath; 14 Warren Spragg, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Scott Barrow, 11 Oli Brennand; 10 Chris Johnson, 9 Ryan De La Harpe; 1 Dan Birchall, 2 Tom Burtonwood, 3 Peter Altham, 4 Paul Arnold, 5 Gareth Gore, 6 Joe Robinson, 7 Evan Stewart, 8 Sam Beaumont.
Replacements: 16 Adam Lewis, 17 Mark Rylance, 18 Simon Griffiths, 19 Tom Webb, 20 Stephen Briers.
Referee: Andy Rawson; AR1 David Edmunds, AR2 Steve Halliday
Fylde v Hull Ionians, April 2011