Lancashire challenge set ‘Fair’

Fairbrother - played in frontm of record crowd
Fairbrother - played in frontm of record crowd
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Lancashire embark on the Twickenham trail on Saturday with their opening match of rugby union’s County Championship campaign against Northumberland at Fylde’s Woodlands Memorial Ground.

It is the start of an arduous task for the Red Rose county in getting back to Twickenham in an attempt to retain the Bill Beaumont Cup they won last year.

But one new member of the Lancashire squad has already experienced the thrill of playing at Twickenham - Fleetwood RFC’s Dave Fairbrother has been there already this month.

And he played in front of a British record crowd in the process.

Fairbrother, a corporal of eight years’ service in the Royal Marines, played for the Navy in last weekend’s representative match against the Army in front of 80,000 spectators, a record for an amateur match in this country.

The only downside was that his Navy side lost 30-17, but for Fairbrother it was very much an occasion to cherish and savour.

The call-up to Lancashire caps an outstanding season for Fairbrother.

He was also picked for the Royal Navy first XV against Marine Nationale in Toulon, France.

Looking back on the experience of playing at Twickenham for the Royal Navy in such a prestigious clash, Fairbrother, 26, said: “It meant the world to me.

“It was a massive occasion.

“In the first half, we thought we had the Army, but they brought on some of their quicker lads in the second half and they made the most of the space outside.”

Fairbrother was watched by over 30 friends and family who travelled south from Fleetwood to witness his big day.

He said: “I thought I did all right, though I am still feeling some of the physical effects now!

“Playing against international players, I had to ramp up my game a notch, but I enjoyed it.

“It has also opened up a few doors for me.

“I have already had a phone call from a couple of clubs, one in National League One and the other in the Championship.”

Fairbrother is proud of the fact that he came through the Fleetwood mini-junior ranks, and he will always be grateful for that.

He remarked: “I started playing rugby at Fleetwood almost as soon as I could walk.”

Lancashire coach Mark Nelson said: “The county selectors have had Dave on their radar for some time.

“If he does get to Twickenham, then he can already say he has played there on the biggest stage possible in front of 80,000 spectators.”

Looking ahead to Saturday’s match, Nelson said: “The first game is crucial, and Northumberland will be a very tough game.

“The lads played very well in the first match at Durham last year, and that could have gone either way.

Northumberland will be strong, with lads from Tynedale and Blaydon, both good sides, and they will be looking to get their campaign off to a good start.

“That is all we are focussed on at the minute.”

A run of five consecutive final appearances has led many to consider Lancashire as favourites once more to progress to Twickenham, but Nelson spoke firmly of the dangers that the North group poses this time around:

He said “I think that this campaign will be the hardest one. I look at the squads at Northumberland, Yorkshire and Cheshire, and any one of us could be at Twickenham.

“Unfortunately any one of us could be relegated as well.

“My primary driver is that we have got to stay at this level.”

Lancashire squad: Arnold, Birchall, Brennand, C Briers, De La Harpe, Gore, Griffiths, Johnson, Lewis, Rath, Rylance, Spragg, Vernon, Stewart (Fylde) Black, Collins, Lamprey, Matthews, McGowan, Riley (Sedgley Tigers) Fairbrother (Fleetwood) Ranaboldo (Broughton Park) Taylor (Preston Grasshoppers) Rawlings (Longton).