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Leicester Lions v Fylde match preview
1:10pm Thursday 11th September 2008 in Fylde RUFC
Fylde make their first away trip of the new season when they travel to the Midlands on Saturday to face one of the likely promotion contenders, Leicester Lions (ko 15.00).
The Lions were the surprise package in the division last season and were in prime position to finish runners-up and earn a play-off place before slipping in the final weeks.
In last Saturday's opening of the 2008/9 season they re-stated their ambitions with an excellent, narrow 19-16 win at neighbours Nuneaton.
This will be a severe test for Fylde and the game will act as useful benchmark for their early championship pretensions.
The Lions club was formed in the summer of 1999 by the amalgamation of Westleigh RFC (founded in 1904) and Wigston RFC (founded in 1946), both clubs with proud traditions.
The aim of the merger was to provide Leicestershire with a second senior club playing the national leagues, in addition to Leicester Tigers.
The Lions achieved national league status for the first time in the 2005/6 season and struggled to adjust to the standard of play as they finished just one place above the relegation zone in 11th.
In 2006/7 they were 7th and last season finished one place behind Fylde in 4th.
So they'll be looking to take that gradual improvement another stage further this time.
The last game between the two clubs was in February, a thrilling 34-all draw thanks to a last minute penalty kick by the Lions.
The Lions appear to put most of their resources into their playing budget.
With Leicester Tigers a few miles away, it's not too surprising that they attract small crowds, an average of around 120 last season.
On the other hand, they benefit from close ties with the Tigers who act as a source of young development players to bolster their ranks.
Much of the credit for the Lions' last two seasons' achievements goes to former Tigers No.8 Chris Tarbuck who was appointed as Director of Rugby in the summer of 2006 but who surprisingly left the Club at the end of May 2008.
The rugby management is now in the hands of Director of Rugby Glyn Evans and player-coaches Jon Russell, Jon Bowden and Richard Moore.
The Lions' most influential signing last season was former Doncaster fly-half Jon Boden.
He is both a very accomplished goal kicker as well as a fluent launcher of his backline.
Boden was the division's top scorer by a country mile last season, with 282 points and a kicking success rate of 70 per cent.
Another acute danger in Lions' backline is fullback Gavin Collins, one of the highest try scorers in the division last season and perhaps the best 15 seen at the Woodlands during that campaign.
They have now recruited talented newcomers in Leicester Tigers Development wing Karl Pallas, Nuneaton scrum-half Alex Wright and the Fijian, Royal Navy & Bridgwater winger Manoa Satala. But perhaps their principal newcomer among the backs is the veteran former Nuneaton & Moseley centre Jody Peacock.
They have a tough, competitive pack featuring lock David Bennett, two durable and forceful hookers in John Williamson and Dale Ager, lock or backrower Junior Fagalilo (ex-DMP), flanker Marc Howgate and prop Stuart Pearman (both formerly with Nuneaton), and the very promising Leicester Tigers Development no 8, Jeremy Saxon who scored two tries in the Lions game at Nuneaton last Saturday.
To emphasise the intentions of the Lions, they have also announced a clutch of new players who are yet to feature in league action including former Tigers young fly-half Billy Blair, who has been making a name for himself in Australian club rugby in Perth, and New Zealand prop Karl Truijens.
Fylde will check on injured fullback Mike Waywell, who was troubled by a foot injury in the win against Huddersfield, and prop Adam Lewis who damaged a finger.
Fylde Director of Rugby Mark Nelson said: "We are facing one of the hardest away fixtures of the season - and only in the 2nd week.
"This will be a very big test for the squad.
"The Lions had a very good start with their win at Nuneaton and will really be up for this game. The equivalent match last season was my first back coaching the club following six years away and I remember it very well.
"We were naive on the day and will want to show that we've moved on since then.
"The Lions ground is rather exposed and in inclement weather can be a hostile environment. We haven't played an away pre-season game this summer so our last trip away from the Woodlands was against Tynedale on the final day of last season.
"Leicester Lions were a very well balanced side last season and I expect no less this time.
"For our part, we'll be trying to build on the positives from our clear home win against Huddersfield and sorting out some of the weaker areas of our play."