World Cup call-ups bring pride to Fylde

Kieran Brookes

Kieran Brookes

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Fylde RFC could be excused for basking in reflected glory when the World Cup gets under way.

The England squad to take on Fiji in the Twickenham includes two products of Fylde’s successful supply-line of talent from the mini-junior programme.

Scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth and prop forward Kieran Brookes both cut their rugby teeth as youngsters at the Woodlands.

The programme has been going for over 40 years and is still flourishing. Indeed, it could be said to be better than ever, with 250 youngsters aged six to 16 regularly turning up to train or play on a Sunday.

There is no shortage of helpers, among them former Fylde captain Matt Filipo getting down on his hands and knees to help the youngest get to grips with some of the basic skills of the game.

With no degree of over-statement, Fylde officials describe the mini-junior section as a “phenomenon”. They reckon it is one of the biggest youth sport ventures, if not the biggest, on the Fylde coast.

The programme was set up in 1974, led by such club servants as Jack Quarmby, Peter Makin and Allan Townsend.

The first chairman of the mini-junior section was Bob Barclay, still heavily involved at Fylde. Only 30 boys were involved in the first intake. The mantra then and now is teaching teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship.

Current mini-junior chairman Jeff Gould said: “New players are always welcome, no matter how experienced or inexperienced.

“We have more than 40 dedicated coaches and team managers who give up their time freely to provide training, development and playing opportunities for local children.”

Brookes, who is set to complete his move to Northampton from Newcastle after the World Cup, and Saracens’ Wigglesworth are not the only former Fylde mini-junior players who have gone on to play elite-level rugby.

Second row forward Christian Day, formerly with Sale Sharks and now at Northampton, has represented England Saxons and became chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association.

Josh Beaumont, now with Sale Sharks, is being tipped to become a full international, while a steady stream of other former mini-juniors have progressed to National League rugby,including Ian Barclay, Oli Brennand, Adam Lewis and Tom Lavelle.

Wigglesworth, who has won 23 England caps, and Brookes (12) have been named on the bench for the Fiji game.

They attended Kirkham Grammar School and former Fylde head coach Mark Nelson, who has coached both as adults, said: “It is always great to see players you have had a part in coaching reach heights in the game.

“Everyone involved with Kieran and Wiggy will be delighted they are part of the England World Cup squad.

“Richard was part of the Premiership-winning Sale Sharks team when I was their backs coach. He was a very talented, committed and professional player.

“His career has blossomed in the subsequent years and this selection is just reward for his dedication.

“Kieran played for me at Fylde and Lancashire, and you could tell even at that age that he had an ‘X Factor’.

“The time he got up from a scrum to chase down the opposition winger for a try-saving tackle was evidence he was something special.

“His journey from Newcastle to Leicester and back, then on to Northampton Saints, has brought him to the fore as a leading front rower in the England set-up.

“Both of them had excellent schooling at KGS and were part of the excellent Fylde mini-junior section.

“Ultimately, the player gets to the top of the game on his own merits but they all need help and support throughout their journey to the top.”

Brookes and Wigglesworth still have strong family connections to the Fylde coast, with Kieran’s parents, John and Karen, living in Lytham, close the Fylde ground.

Nurse Karen said: “We are very proud and are looking forward to attending the opening ceremony and the Fiji game.”

And the Brookeses have an important job at home, looking after one of Kieran’s dogs. “His French bulldog, Freddie, is with us. We have two greyhounds, so we hope they will get along,” Karen said.

“Kieran was born in Stoke but brought up here. Thank goodness for the opportunity he got at Kirkham Grammar and with Fylde mini-juniors.”

Mark Nelson added: “All players who reach their potential at whatever level will have been helped by committed parents, coaches and teachers. ”