Underdogs Fylde face runaway leaders

Fylde v Hartpury College
Fylde v Hartpury College
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Fylde RFC are the latest side to try and halt the Hartpury College promotion juggernaut at the Woodlands on Saturday.

At this stage of the season, Fylde need every point they can muster given their precarious position too close to the National League One relegation-zone for comfort.

So a clash with Hartpury College is a daunting assignment as Fylde take on a side who have won all 17 matches out of 17 so far this season and are runaway leaders, looking well on their way to attaining Championship status.

Fylde go into the match in 12th place, just seven points off the relegation places and with the tallest of orders confronting them on Saturday.

Not that their rivals in and around the danger zone have it easy by any means.

Blaydon, in 15th place, are at home to second-placed Birmingham Moseley.

There are also a couple of dog-eat-dog scraps.

Cambridge are at home to Darlington Mowden Park, a match featuring two sides who are not out of the woods.

Hull Ionians meet Macclesfield in a game featuring two clubs currently stuck in the relegation places.

Esher, two points and one place worse off than Fylde in 13th spot, face a tough trip to Plymouth Albion.

Oli Brennand is not included on the wing for the visit of Hartpury College as the wide spots go to James Bailey and Anthony Bingham.

Brennand is unavailable for the crunch clash at Esher the following week, so he has been omitted from Saturday’s team.

Another absentee is George Nott, who has been recalled for the weekend by his parent club Sale Sharks.

Another Sale player missing from the pack is prop forward Jake Pope, who has a prior commitment with the England Under-20 squad.

Matt Garrod, who until recently had been on loan at Preston Grasshoppers, locks the scrum with Nick Gray

Hartpury started the New Year in emphatic style with a 66-24 drubbing of Esher last Saturday.

As a result, Fylde player-coach Paul Arnold has given his team the underdog tag.

He said: “The fact that they have won 17 out of 17 speaks for itself and they are obviously a quality side and they are already champions-elect at this early stage of the season.

“We have shown that we can beat the league winners like we did against Jersey, admittedly a while back now, but we have to go into the match with the belief that we have the ability to beat them.

“We are playing like two different sides at the moment; we can perform and produce wins at home, but we struggle away and the way we played against Blackheath last Saturday was unacceptable.

“We know it is going to be very hard on Saturday, but I have challenged the team to produce a performance.”

Arnold has revealed that he does not intend to play over the next month or so and will be solely concentrating on his coaching role.

One of the players called upon to fill his boots in the second row berth is the recently recalled Garrod.

Expanding on the choice, Arnold said: “Preston have been struggling this season, but from the reports I have had he has been performing well for them and been one of their better players.

“Now he gets the chance to show what he is all about, but I certainly will not be judging him on one match against a side as strong as Hartpury.”

Though the likes of Evan Stewart and Ben Vernon are out injured, Fylde are able to recall the likes of Adam Lewis and Jack Turley to the side.

However, Sam Simpson’s second spell has come to an end as he returns to Eccles RFC to play and coach.

Arnold paid tribute to Simpson’s contribution over the first half of the season.

“He helped us out when we needed him and he did a good job in passing on his experience to some of the younger players in the side,” he said.

“One of the reasons for coming back to Fylde was his son was at Kirkham Grammar School and he could watch him play in the morning and make himself available for us in the afternoon.

“But Leon, his son, has left Kirkham now and is playing for Eccles, so Sam has gone back to help them out on the playing and coaching side.”

Fylde (provisional: Briers; Bailey, Armstrong, Bedlow, Bingham; Smith, Nicholls; Griffiths, Burtonwood, Lewis, Gray, Garrod, Fairbrother, Turley, Rogerson. Replacements: Wild, Gregory, Lamprey, Brookes, Dowds. Kick-off 3pm.

n Six Fylde RFC players have been named in the Lancashire under-20 squad for a warm-up match against Nottingham, Lincoln and Derbyshire at Chesterfield Panthers’ ground on Sunday.

Woodlands hooker Ben Gregory is the Red Rose skipper.

Squad: Morgan Channell (Tyldesley) Ben Gregory (Fylde, captain). Matthew Woodward (Sedgley Park and Kirkham Grammar) Matt Garrod (Fylde and Preston Grasshoppers) Nick Ashcroft (Kirkham Grammar) David Hassall (Sedgley Park) George Blackwell (Fylde) Hall Chapman (Sedgley Park) Ruairidh Swan (Myerscough) Will Hunt (Preston Grasshoppers).

James Ratcliffe (Firwood Waterloo) Conor Cosh (Sale FC & Myerscough) Lewis Pattison (Fylde) Jake Foster (Fylde & Myerscough) Tom Carleton (Kirkham Grammar) Tom Egerton (Sale FC) Alex Preston (Kirkby Lonsdale) Henry Williams (Tyldesley and Lancaster University.) James Robinson (Preston Grasshoppers & Leeds Beckett University )James Robins and Jonathan Roberts (Firwood Waterloo) Andy Hulme (Preston Grasshoppers & Loughborough University) Kleh Duke McKenna (Liverpool Collegiate) Adam Joyner (Fylde). Conner Scrivens (Edge Hill College)