Fylde RFC player-coach Paul Arnold is urging his players to aim high in the closing two months of the season – as high as eighth place.
Fylde, who are without a fixture on Saturday, have helped their fight to stay in National League One no end with three bonus-point wins out of three in February; so much so that the threat of relegation is now no more than a distant memory as they would appear to have reached a place of safety after too many weeks of uncertainty.
The latest win over Blaydon last Saturday lifted Fylde into 11th position in the table and only five points adrift of Old Albanians, who are currently eighth.
The top seven have pulled away from the rest and it is left to the other nine to have a fight of their own.
Arnold said: “There are, in effect, two mini-tables now. I have told the players I have split the table into two and we now want to be top of that second group.”
The Fylde player-coach believes that is an entirely achievable objective, with several teams clustered together.
Fylde centre Sam Bedlow, who has been playing this season on a dual registration from Premiership Sale Sharks, says the prospect of relegation was furthest from the minds of all those in the dressing room at the Woodlands.
Bedlow said: “I never thought the club would get relegated. I just didn’t think it was ever going to happen,
“There may be less pressure on us now, but you can’t ease off and sit back now that we know we are not going to go down.
“You have to keep going and you have to keep working.
“The league is in two halves, with the top half so far in front, but we have to try to be top of the second half of the table, as the coach says.
Bedlow has formed a fine centre partnership with teenager Connor Wilkinson, the pair combining for one of the tries in Fylde’s latest 26-17 win over Blaydon at the Woodlands.
Fylde shrugged off a worrying start to that game, going down 14-0 early on.
Bedlow said of that match: “For the first 20 minutes we didn’t do justice to ourselves and we played into their hands.
“We learned from that at the back end of the first half. We started to attack them out wide and that paid off.”
Bedlow, who has played in the Premiership with Sale this season, has found playing the Fylde way in the third tier to be different from the style his parent club adopts in the top tier.
He has found it something of a culture shock, saying: “You get to throw the ball a bit more and there is a lot less structure.
“It is tough to switch over from such a structured way of playing in the Premiership.
“At Fylde you get the chance to play a far more expansive form of rugby.”
Sale make regular checks on all their players at Fylde, looking at videos of the National League One matches in which they appear as a way of monitoring their progress.
Bedlow’s contract with Sale is up at the end of the year.
He said: “I am not too sure what will happen next. I will have to wait and see. I want to carry on being a professional rugby player.”
Fylde’s next fixture is on Saturday week, when they travel to third-place Ampthill and District.
The bulk of the teams in National One have an afternoon off on Saturday but there are exceptions – and both matches are intriguing in their own way.
Third-bottom Blaydon are at home to Birmingham-Moseley, while second-bottom Hull Ionians take on basement club Macclesfield, who look to have limited means of escape.
It is looking increasingly likely that it is a straight fight between Blaydon and Ionians to see who goes down with Macc.
n Fylde and Sale front row Jake Pope is missing from the England Under-20 squad to take on their counterparts from Italy at the Northern Echo Area, home of Darlington Mowden Park, on Friday night (kick-off 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports Mix).
Pope appeared as a replacement in the opening win over France, but he was ruled out of the next game against Wales because of an ankle injury.
Pope suffered a dead leg in the win over Blaydon last Saturday.
Matt Rogerson, his Sale and Fylde colleague, also sustained a similar injury against the North East club.
EnglandUnder-20s make eight changes for the visit of Italy. Zach Mercer will captain the team following Ben Earl’s knee injury, which ruled him out of the Six Nations tournament.
For the first time in several seasons, Fylde will be without a player in the England Counties squad to face a Scotland Club XV in a representative match at Birmingham-Moseley on Friday evening.
Fylde forward David Fairbrother had been considered a contender but suspension ruled out any chance of him appearing.
Friday's match is the first for England Counties this season. They are set to play an Ireland Club XV on March 17 in Cork followed by a three-match tour in June.
Fylde winger Oli Brennand is unable to put a time on his return to action after a spell out with a hamstring strain. He has been undergoing yoga sessions in an attempt to alleviate the problem.