FYLDE RUFC coach Mark Nelson refuses to commit himself to any predictions about how his side will fare as the new season gets under way – but he is perfectly prepared to make one pledge.
He said: “The aim this year is just to be competitive, but if I was a spectator or club member, I would be excited about this season because there are so many good players in National League One and so much high-quality rugby to watch.”
Fylde start their campaign with as tricky assignment as possible as they take on Esher, newly-relegated from the Championship, at the Woodlands tomorrow.
Nelson said: “It is going to be incredibly tough against Esher and it will be a real challenge for us.
“They spent a year in the Championship, and they will be able to draw on that valuable experience.
“It seems as though they have kept all their best players and have added to their squad by signing Kris Chesney from French club rugby in Toulon.”
Chesney, a powerful 6ft 6in lock, arguably has the best pedigree of any player in National League One.
He made his name with Saracens, appearing over 300 times for them before going to Toulon three years ago.
It will be a big step-down from Toulon to the third tier of English rugby, underlining Esher’s statement of intent in aiming to bounce back to the Championship at the first attempt.
Fylde will point to the fact that they overcame Jersey in the first match of last season before the islanders went on to be handsome winners of the title and thus securing promotion.
They will be without one of their summer signings Warren Spragg, who is away on a sports science degree course.
Nelson said: “We knew some time ago that we would be without Warren and we have been able to plan accordingly.”
Steve McGinnis will be missing from the Fylde pack as he is away on honeymoon, but may not have recovered from injury in any event.
Nick Royle is another absentee – the free-scoring wing has been consulting a specialist in London this week over a fracture he suffered to his hand.
Nelson said: “It is not healing as fast as we thought.”
Martin Wallwork starts at scrum-half, with Namibian World Cup player Ryan De La Harpe, a recent recruit, named on the replacements’ bench.
There is no place in the 20 for prop Pete Altham, but Nelson insists that the front-rower is still a major part of his plans.
Nelson needs to rotate his squad, and added: “I expect Pete to be part of the squad for the match at Wharfedale the following week.
“Nathan Fowles was not considered – he will be playing for Sale second team until the end of September or early October before joining us on loan.
“We have chosen Josh Beaumont to play alongside Paul Arnold in the second row, subject to final permission coming from his parent club Sale.”
In the eventuality of Beaumont not being released by Sale, Roger Banks would probably step up from the bench.
Evan Stewart is expected to have recovered from shoulder surgery to skipper the Fylde side from No.8.
Nelson’s opposite number in the Esher technical area is former England and Leicester Tigers centre Ollie Smith, at 30 one of the youngest coaches in National League One.
He had to curtail his playing career on account of a serious knee injury.
Smith is adamant and unswerving about his priority for the 2012-13 campaign.
He said: “I want to get Esher back into the Championship and make them sustainable so we can consistently provide a good level of rugby for players who don’t want to play full-time.”
Fylde: C Briers; Viney, S Briers, Barrow, Brennand; Johnson, Wallwork; Birchall, Roddam, Lavelle, Arnold, J Beaumont, Vernon, S Beaumont, Stewart. Replacements: Loney, Livesey, Banks, De La Harpe, Kenyon (kick-off 3pm)