No let-up after Fylde handed lifeline

Fylde face tough trip to the South West
Fylde face tough trip to the South West
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Fylde RFC players and officials can have every reason to feel a hefty weight lifted off their shoulders after being handed a potential get-out-of-jail card to ward off the spectre of relegation.

The Woodlands club find themselves in a whole heap of trouble fourth bottom of National League One without an away win for 12 months – but the pressure has eased more than somewhat with the announcement that only two clubs, not three, will be relegated at the end of the season.

This comes in the wake of the demise of Championship club London Welsh, who have gone into liquidation as a result of their parlous financial situation.

It still means one club will go up to the Championship to replace London Welsh, but the number for the drop has been reduced by one.

As things stood before, going into Saturday's tough trip to Plymouth Albion, Fylde were only seven points clear of third-bottom; now there is a 12-point buffer between Fylde and Blaydon, who are currently second-bottom.

But Fylde, who have played one match more than the teams below them, still know that they are not out of the woods and still have plenty of work to do in order to consolidate their status in the third tier of English rugby.

It is a young-looking pack that Fylde will field at Plymouth. Lancashire under-20 skipper Ben Gregory has been named at hooker, while county vice-captain Matt Garrod locks the scrum.

With Jamie Brookes, another up-and-coming player named in the back row, it will be a huge test in the West Country, but Garrod for one is convinced that Fylde have the potential to escape from the danger zone.

Garrod said: “We have to make sure we win all our home matches and start picking some away wins along the way.”

And he admitted: “It has been frustrating. We showed how well we can play in attack against Hartpury College, but our defence has to be tighter and a lot more sound.”

Saturday's trip to Plymouth will be Garrod’s third appearance since returning from what he describes as a rewarding period on loan at Preston Grasshopers.

He says that the experience at Lightfoot Green has been a massive help to his development.

Garrod said: “It has helped me improve as a player and a person. The major difference between National One and National Two is that it is a lot more physical (at the lower level).

“The game in National Two is a lot slower and the ball is out of play a lot more with players kicking to the corners, for instance, whereas at Fylde, with their open style of play, we are running all the time; the tempo is quicker and the skills are a lot better.”

Garrod had the chance to join Preston on a permanent basis in the summer, but he decided to stay at Fylde, but instead moved to Hoppers when a loan move became available.

He is committed to the Fylde cause and is firmly convinced that maintaining National League One status will be achieved.

Garrod said: “The lads have loads of potential; we have the ability to stay up, no doubt about it.”

The fixture-planners have not been kind on Fylde, with January providing a punishing schedule.

So far this month they have lost three matches on the trot, Blackheath (47-14) Hartpury (57-31) and Esher (42-29), picking up two losing bonus points during that sequence.

Not for the first time this season, a poor start proved costly for Fylde at Esher.

Player-coach Paul Arnold said: “We started slowly and conceded four early scores and then we woke up.

“There were some harsh words and home-truths said at half-time. We came out fighting, but another interception pass took the game away from us.

“The forwards, who worked hard all game, battled to help us secure a four-try bonus. We know we are in a dogfight and only we as a group can get out of it.

“We gifted Esher 28 points with two interceptions and conceded two scores from first phase scrum moves which is not acceptable.

“There are no easy games in this league and Plymouth away is as tough as it gets, but we have to get something out of the game.

“Two wins and you’re up to ninth or 10th, so we have to believe in each other and work hard to get us out of trouble.

Fylde (36 points) will have every excuse for keeping an eagle eye on what has happened beneath them after the final whistle on Saturday.

Bottom club Macclesfield (17 points) are away to second-placed Ampthill & District. Blaydon (24) have a difficult fixture at home to Blackheath, while Hull Ionians (29) host runaway leaders Hartpury College

For the trip to Plymouth, Greg Smith, Greg Nicholls,and Matt Rogerson are unavailable. Scott Armstrong is injured.

There’s a return for full-back Warren Spragg, with skipper Chris Briers at fly-half, partnering Conor Dever, the scrum-half.

Ralph Dowds was a late cry-off from the replacements bench after being injured in training, so Tom Carleton, son of England international John, comes in for a first team debut.

It means there are nine former Kirkham Grammar Schools students in the match-day 20.

Oli Brennand comes back on the wing.

Fylde: Spragg; Bailey, Wilkinson, Bedlow, Brennand; Briers, Dever; Griffiths, Gregory, Lewis, Gray, Garrod, Turley, Brookes, Fairbrother. Replacements: Pope, Burtonwood, Lamprey, Blackwell, Carleton