Hoppers eye sixth win on the bounce

Sean Long
Sean Long
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Preston Grasshoppers and Vale of Lune both head for Cheshire tomorrow, with the Lancaster club – complete with new signing Nick Royle from Fylde – facing, on paper, the tougher challenge.

Hoppers visit Stockport, the next-to-bottom club in National League Two North, while Vale make the trip to Sale FC for a clash of the top two in North One West.

Stockport have had a difficult start again after finishing 10th in Two North last season, losing all eight games to date – four of them at home.

They have collected five bonus points to keep them ahead of Huddersfield, but were leapfrogged by Westoe last Saturday when the North Easterners won their first fixture of the campaign.

Hoppers are seeking a sixth successive victory and their third in a row away from home. They remain fifth, level on points with Sheffield Tigers and only two behind third-placed Darlington Mowden Park. In total, they have won six out of eight and lost once in just three games on the road.

They won 30-20 at Stockport last season before completing the double with a 29-13 scoreline at Lightfoot Green on their way to a third-place finish.

There will again be a late fitness check on Sean Long, who missed last week’s game. If he returns at fly-half, Karl Fitzpatrck will revert to centre and Phil Baines to the wing.

Skipper Dominic Moon is back at No 8 after injury, with Conor Murphy switching to flanker. The game kicks off at 2pm.

Sale FC have been flying high since last year’s promotion to North One West, running neck and neck with Vale.

Both sides won their first six games, then lost two Saturdays ago before getting back on track last weekend.

Vale’s extra bonus point – seven to Sale’s six – keeps them in top spot, and they have the edge too on the scoring front; Vale have run up 344 points and conceded 108 while Sale have a tally of 309 for and 124 against. Tomorrow’s hosts have won two out of three at home while the visitors have the same record on the road.

Vale completed the signing of former England Sevens star Royle is midweek and the free-scoring back goes straight into the side at full-back. Jonty Higgin is home from university to take his place at centre and Sam Wallbank resumes in the back row after injury.

Of the 18-man squad, Sam Moorby, Josh O’Donnell and Andrew Garnett are likely to be the benchmen.

Kendal slipped to third-from-bottom of National Three North with just 13 points following their fourth successive defeat last weekend. But tomorrow’s hosts, Birkenhead Park, are in an even more parlous position, bottom of the table with only three bonus points from their eight defeats in a row.

Three of those losses have come at home, while Kendal’s away record is also three straight defeats in an overall total of two wins out of eight.

If Park are getting cut adrift, only four points cover the five clubs above them, so a win for Kendal could move them back up the table.

Hoppers: Taylor; Elliott, Fitzpatrick, Ward, Baines; Long, Kindrred; Gale, Mills, Madden, Gore, Steel, Murphy, Webster, Moon.

Vale (from): Royle; Hodder, Powers, Higgin, Dorrington, Moorby; Moore, Wilson; Hesketh, O Cowey, A Cowey, Turton, Fellows, Wallbank, Lin, Tudor, O’Donnell, Garnett.

Fylde welcome old and distinguished rivals Coventry to the Woodlands tomorrow for what promises to be a very competitive, high quality National One game.

Both clubs are locked together on 23 points, Coventry in seventh, Fylde a place lower.

And both clubs are gradually stepping up their campaigns after some slip-ups in the opening weeks of the season.

This is the top game in the North West this weekend so Fylde are hoping for a healthy crowd to support live rugby in the region.

Fylde and Coventry have enjoyed regular fixtures for more than 50 years but up to last season there had been a gap of 12 years since their last meeting, in the Allied Dunbar Premiership Second division, one of Fylde’s two traumatic seasons at level 2.

Although Fylde won only a handful of matches in 1998/9 and were relegated at the end of it, they did beat Coventry at the Woodlands by 27-22 after suffering a 9-64 trouncing in Coventry earlier in that campaign.

Apart from league and cup wins on the Coventry ground in 1994/5, Fylde had never won at their old and famous Coundon Road ground in 50 years of trying and last season was no better when they lost 26-39 at Cov’s new Butts Park Arena.

Fylde’s record at the Woodlands is much better, including a 45-14 victory last season, and they will hope to extend this tomorrow.

One of Coventry’s few long standing players is the very influential and durable No. 8 or flanker Brett Daynes. Other important backs include winger Heath Stevens, ex-England Under-21s fullback and former skipper Ben Russell (formerly with Saracens) and centre Callum McBurnie (Moseley).

Fly-half or centre Luke Myring, who has substantial Premiership experience at Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints before spending three seasons in the Italian Serie A division with L’Aquila & Capitolina, is also likely to be in the Coventry line-up.

Fylde will check on the injured Beaumont brothers, Sam & Josh, hooker Jonny Roddam and the availability of flanker Steve McGinnis and front rower Alex Loney.

Fylde: C Briers; Viney, S Briers, Johnson, Brennand; Barrow, de la Harpe; Birchall, Loney, Lavelle, Arnold, Banks, McGinnis, Stewart, Vernon.