Young Fylde centre gets international call

Fylde face Ampthill on Saturday
Fylde face Ampthill on Saturday
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Fylde RFC centre discovery Connor Wilkinson has earned an England call.

The teenager, a candidate to be Fylde’s young player of the year due to a series of eye-catching performances in his first season of senior rugby, has been named in the England Students’ seven-a-side squad to play against Scotland, Wales and Ireland on April 10-11.

On Saturday Wilkinson takes his place in the Fylde side that travels to take on third-placed Ampthill & District in National League One.

He will partner Sam Bedlow in the centre, with skipper Chris Briers moving operating at last line of defence.

Jake Pope and Matt Rogerson have both recovered from ‘dead’ leg injuries that they picked up in the recent home victory over Blaydon, a win that eased off the pressure of relegation for the Woodlands club.

Pope starts in the front row and Rogerson will be at number eight.

Ben Vernon starts in the back row, with Matt Lamprey dropping down to the replacements bench.

It’s a case of back to business for Fylde on Saturday after a week’s break from action.

There was last-second drama when Fylde and Ampthill & District sparred at Ansdell back on November 5.

It was a closely-contested affair throughout - indeed, it was so hard fought that the scores were locked at 0-0 at half-time in an entertaining affair.

It was nip-and-tuck for most of the 80 minutes until Fylde fly-half Greg Smith clinched victory with a penalty, the last kick of the match, as Fylde secured a valuable win as they prevailed by 13-11.

Fylde’s gap from the relegation places was reduced from 19 points to 14 as a result of wins on Saturday by both Hull Ionians and Blaydon.

Those two struggling sides took advantage of picking up bonus points in the games in hand they had on the rest of their relegation rivals.

There are seven matches remaining this season in National League One, three of those being at home for Fylde and four away.

Fylde (v Ampthill & District) Briers; Armstrong, Bedlow Wilkinson, Bingham; Smith, Nicholls; Pope, Burtonwood, Lewis, Gray, Turley, Vernon Rogerson, Stewart,. Replacements: Wild, Gregory, Lamprey, Blackwell Spragg, Dever.

Saturday's National League One fixtures: Loughborough Students versus Birmingham-Moseley; Old Albanian v Blackheath; Blaydon v Coventry; Ampthill & District v FYLDE: Cambridge v Esher; Darlington Mowden Park v Macclesfield; Plymouth Albion v Hull Ionians; Rosslyn Park v Hartpury College.

*The Woodlands Memorial Ground will host Lancashire’s opening match in the County Championship on May 6 when the Red Rose county take on Northumberland on May 6.

It comes in a year when the competition, which culminates in a final for the Bill Beaumont Cup at Twickenham, is undergoing a re-structure.

The number of teams competing nationally is rising from eight to 12.

Organisers say this reflects the ever-increasing popularity of the Championship.

Mark Nelson, who will again coach the Lancashire team, said: “The standard of competition is rising year-on-year.

“Many of the sides involved in the tournament would comfortably be competitive in National One.

Nelson continued: “We had our first selection meeting at the end of February and there is a tremendous interest from players to be selected in the senior squad.

“As ever, this season will be very challenging and we will be focusing on developing the squad in preparation from early-April.

“Last season the attendance numbers at the games were higher than many National League games and, in some cases, rivalling those in the Championship.

“This is another performance-indicator as to the popularity of the competition.

“We are delighted to be playing our home game at Fylde and plans for the event are well under way.”

Lancashire hold the record for the most number of Championship wins, 23.

They failed to reach the final for the first time in 2009 last year when Cornwall beat Cheshire in the decider at rugby’s headquarters.

The Lancashire v Northumberland match on May 6 will kick off at 3pm.

It will be preceded by a women’s match between the two counties, kicking off at 12.30pm.

*Fylde are already planning ahead to 2019 when they celebrate their centenary.

Allan Foster, head of media and communications, is working on a history of the club, concentrating on the last 50 years and there will also be celebratory match, featuring the Barbarians to take place some time in the 2019-20 season.