Griffiths ready for Fylde’s college examination

Simon Griffiths
Simon Griffiths
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Forward Simon Griffiths has passed a fitness test and returns to the Fylde RFC starting line-up for the opening match of 2016 tomorrow against promotion-chasing Hartpury College at the Woodlands.

But Griffiths will not be playing in his accustomed position at prop for this National League One clash.

Instead he will be locking the scrum with Gareth Rawlings.

Player-coach Paul Arnold has named himself among the replacements as he pursues a policy of four forwards and one back on the bench.

Griffiths returns to the fray after being sidelined with an ankle injury.

He will take his place in a Fylde pack that has been functioning well in recent matches.

The forwards have been very much on their game of late and made their presence felt in the heroic 34-34 draw against Blackheath at Rectory Field, and contributed in full in the 32-28 victory at Wharfedale, never an easy place to chisel out a win, when Fylde last played a fortnight ago.

Fylde’s forwards were particularly efficient at the breakdown against the Yorkshiremen.

On half a dozen occasions, they won turnover ball, which proved of paramount importance in the final analysis, with hooker Alex Loney being effective in this aspect of the forwards’ battle.

Loney, who has been brought into the side at this comparatively late stage of the season, has been in particularly good form, not just in the breakdown area but with his lineout throws.

Loney has had bags of experience at Championship level and has brought much of that to bear recently on his return to the first team, having been unavailable previously due to school duties.

The big hope for the club is that they can recapture the kind of home form that in days gone by made the Woodlands ‘Fortress Fylde’.

They have lost four matches at home so far this season and three away, and it takes a long memory to recollect when that last happened.

One of the problems for Fylde on home soil has been slow starts, so the imperative is to be on their game from the word go.

That is easier said than done against opposition of the calibre of Hartpury College.

Tomorrow’s clash promises to be one of Fylde’s hardest assignments of the season.

The home side go into Saturday’s match with a score to settle, having been on the wrong end of a 39-12 reverse at the hands of Hartpury in Gloucestershire in September.

Hartpury go into the match in third place in the table. Fylde are ninth and have had a decent run of late, garnering eight points from their last two fixtures.

Hartpury led the National League One pack for a significant spell but have slipped a couple of places, losing their latest match at home to Plymouth Albion, so they will be looking to get back on an even keel.

That loss to Plymouth was their first on home territory this season.

It was an uncharacteristic display by Hartpury College, containing a number of tactical errors.

It turned out to be an expensive loss for Hartpury as results went against them elsewhere.

That same afternoon, promotion rivals Richmond enjoyed an excellent away win at Rosslyn Park, while Blackheath won another derby match against Esher.

In charge at Hartpury is Alan Martinovic, who is the director of rugby.

He is a former technical director and academy manager at Bath Rugby and also was the prime mover behind Colston’s Schools rise to a position of pre-eminence in national schools rugby.

Fylde v Hartpury will be the fourth meeting the two clubs. Last season, Fylde won the away fixture by 32-24 but were on the wrong end of a 35-12 defeat in the reverse clash at the Woodlands.

Wing forward Ben Vernon has completed his suspension following the red card he received in the win at Henley Hawks and is set to play for the Fylde Hawks’ second team, who have a home match against Sale FC tomorrow.

Fylde could boast a strong line-up for that fixture, with Joe Robinson, Ralph Dowds and Tom Burtonwood all possibles, along with Sam Beamont, who is on the comeback trail after an ankle injury.

The Hawks match against Sale FC kicks off at 2.15pm.

Fylde team (v Hartpury College): Dorrington; Bingham, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, Nicholls; Birchall, Loney, Lewis, Griffiths, G Rawlings, Goodman, Stewart, Fairbrother. Replacements: Lavelle, Mills, Moon, Arnold, Spragg. Kick-off 3pm.

Tomorrow’s National League One fixtures: Blaydon v Ampthill & District; Cinderford v Blackheath; Coventry v Loughborough Students; Esher v Wharfedale; FYLDE v Hartpury College; Henley Hawks v Darlington Mowden Park; Hull Ionians v Richmond; Rosslyn Park v Plymouth Albion.