Several changes to Fylde's squad at Plymouth: match preview
Fylde take on one of their biggest challenges of the season when they make the long overnight journey to Plymouth Albion, 3rd placed in National One, on Saturday (ko 3pm). Albion have won nine of their games at Fortress Brickfields, losing just one, a very narrow 24-27 defeat by Hartpury College. They are the only team to have got anywhere near beating the runaway leaders. One of their five losses away from home was at the Woodlands when Greg Smith marked the highlight of Fylde's season so far when he scored a splendid last minute try to win the game by 39-37.
After a ten year gap, the clubs met each other last season and the Devonians won both games, 31-24 at Brickfields, 38-26 at the Woodlands.
Plymouth Albion was founded in 1876 by a group of apprentices from the Devonport Royal Navy Dockyard. Perhaps the 'glory days' of the Club were between the World Wars when they contributed sometimes four of the England pack. The beginnings of league rugby saw them at level three, along with Fylde, and they moved between levels three and four until 2001/2. Under inspirational player-coach Graham Dawe who took up the coaching reins in 1999, they built a solid and thriving level two club which vied with Exeter Chiefs to be Devon's top club. Earlier financial difficulties saw Dawe stand down from the Club in 2011 only to return in 2014/15.
Prior to last season, Fylde last entertained Albion at the Woodlands in 2005 in a 5th round Powergen National Trophy tie. The clubs were two divisions apart at that time and Albion made their class tell with an overwhelming 37-0 victory. Before the September 2015 match at Brickfields, the previous time the two clubs faced each other in level three league action was in the 2001/2 season and at their old Beacon Park ground at the end of which Albion were promoted to level two. The results that season went according to the form book and Albion won by 20-0 at the Woodlands in November 2001 and 28-5 at Beacon Park early in the New Year, 2002. Fylde finished in 5th place in the division but were relegated to level four the following season in 2003.
In all, the clubs have met just nine times in their long histories with the Devonians winning seven of them.. They were both instrumental in the move to establish truly national rugby as founding members of National Three in 1985/6.
Plymouth Albion maintained level two status for 14 seasons before their 'annus horribillis' in 2014/15 which ended in relegation from the Championship. Almost all of their full-time squad departed and, under Director of Rugby Graham Dawe, they re-built pretty much a new group of players.
Their fortunes took another turn for the worst when they hit financial problems after Christmas last season. The Club went into administration and new owners, former players David Venables and Bruce Priday, moved in to purchase it. A 30 point deduction by the RFU had little affect on their future as they had already secured enough points to keep well clear of the relegation zone. Apart from any creditors, another casualty of the new management was Graham Dawe who left the Club.
With a new coaching grup, the new owners moved to establish a close relationship with Exeter Chiefs which has seen an influx of young Chiefs players either on dual registration, loans or straight signings. The group includes: back five forward Sam Skinner, scrum-half Jack Maunder, winger Harrison Cully, centre Joe Simmonds, props Will Norton and Billy Keast, and centre Harry Strong.
Other influential newcomers include Tom Cowan-Dickie (ex-Chiefs, Redruth, Cornish Pirates), elder brother of England international Luke, and player-coach and fly-half Kieran Hallett (ex-Bedford Blues, Nottingham & Cornish Pirates).
A powerful pack includes lock/flanker Nile Dacres (ex-Moseley), lock Dan Collier (ex-Ealing Trailfinders, Esher & Plymouth A) and flanker Dan Williams (ex-Gloucester, Moseley & London Welsh). Perhaps their star forward is skipper and no 8 Michael 'Herbie' Stupple. Fylde's Royal Marine & Royal Navy squad no 8 David Fairbrother may well meet up with one of his Navy team mates in Albion colours, winger or backrow, Seti Raumakita. A more familiar figure to most of the Fylde squad is lock Todd Prisk, the young England Counties cap who spent a short period at the Woodlands at the beginning of last season.
Their backline includes versitile Cornwall County scrum-half or fullback Matt Shepherd, free scoring winger Robin Wedlake-Millecham and centre Dean Squire.
Leading try scorers are Dan Williams and Robin Wedlake, each with ten to date. Leading scorer overall is Kieran Hallett with 129 points.
The squad to face Fylde is:
15 Shepherd; 14 Crosscombe, 13 Strong, 12 Powell, 11 Wedlake; 10 Squire, 9 Setter; 1 Norton, 2 Freestone, 3 Nixon, 4 Holmes, 5 Dacres, 6 Cooper, 7 Mills, 8 Williams.
16 Pullinger, 17 Cowan-Dickie, 18 Stupple, 19 Daley, 20 Hallett.
Fylde make seven changes in their starting line-up. Unavailable players include Greg Smith, Greg Nicholls, Matt Rogerson and George Nott. The injury list includes Anthony Bingham, Jordan Dorrington, Scott Armstrong, Ralph Dowds, Evan Stewart and Ben Vernon.
Nevertheless, Head Coach Paul Arnold has named a talented and youthful squad to make the trip. Amongst the backs, Warren Spragg returns at fullback, Oli Brennand on the wing, Connor Wilkinson at centre and Connor Dever at scrum-half. In the pack, hooker Ben Gregory and flanker Jamie Brookes make their starting 1st team debuts whilst Nick Gray returns to lock the scrummage.
Two more former Kirkham Grammar School products - Manx backrower George Blackwell and wing/fullback Tom Carleton - are named for the first time amongst the replacements. Tom's father is the former England international and British Lions wing John.
15 Warren Spragg; 14 James Bailey, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Sam Bedlow, 11 Oli Brennand; 10 Chris Briers (c), 9 Connor Dever; 1 Simon Griffiths, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Gray, 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Jack Turley, 7 Jamie Brookes, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Jake Pope, 17 Tom Burtonwood, 18 Matt Lamprey, 19 George Blackwell, 20 Tom Carleton.