Close contest but ultimately a damp squib for brave Fylde

Fylde 7 Caldy 15

Storm Dennis – and Caldy – ultimately got their way in this top of the table National Two (North) battle. As it transpired, the match had considerable similarities with the clash between the clubs at Paton Field in November – wet conditions and a narrow though deserved win by the Wirral side.

Despite games throughout the National Leagues being called off from the promise or reality of gales and driving rain, this match started in dry, not too breezy conditions on the usual high quality Woodlands pitch albeit after another wet week which had preceded it.

Fylde played with the wind in the 1st half but struggled to take much advantage of it. As matters turned out, they had the worst of the conditions as they played the second 40 minutes into a stronger wind and by then driving rain.

In the 6th minute Caldy worked the ball right and, inevitably, it ended in former Fylde star winger Nick Royle skinning a defender on the touchline and racing clear to score in the corner. Royle’s exploits at Fylde are legendary – 152 tries in 148 appearances following his debut in 2005 – and he once again retraced so many of his tries down that right touchline. Goalkicker Gavin Roberts was unable to make the very difficult conversion from the touchline into the wind.

Fylde had their moments but it was Caldy who dominated the first quarter. Fylde continuity was affected by all action no 8 David Fairbrother’s missing ten minutes as he was forced off with a cut head. Overall, there were some brutal collisions as each pack of forwards tried to establish control.
Although most of the play was in the Fylde half, the home defence was both determined and effective. Caldy’s backs weren’t able to capitalise on the work of their forwards against fierce Fylde tackling.

When Fylde attacked, small errors of handling meant they were unable to unleash the strike power of their backs. Fly-half Greg Smith kicked well for territory but the Caldy lineout was generally reliable whilst the scrummages were evenly contested.

Fylde’s cause wasn’t helped by losing flanker Phill Mills to the sin bin after an adjudged high tackle in the 17th minute. Whilst Caldy pressed deep inside the Fylde half following a series of penalties against the home side, they were unable to break down the Fylde defence and benefit from the extra player.

With Mills back in the action, Fylde exerted their own pressure near the Caldy line. Otherwise impressive Caldy scrum half Cam Davies had a clearance kick charged down and as the ball bounced back over the try line, a visiting defender just beat a Fylde player to the touch down and the danger was cleared. As the teams trouped off to the changing rooms at half-time, Royle’s try still separated the teams at 0-5. With the prospect of playing into the worsening conditions, Fylde clearly had everything to do to force a shock victory.

The Caldy pack is a mixture of grizzled, hard and very experienced players and younger but powerful operators. Their backrow featuring the excellent flanker Adam Aigbokhae made life difficult for Fylde halfbacks Adam Lanigan and Greg Smith who were always under pressure, especially as the rain began to fall in sheets. This made handling tricky for both teams yet Caldy managed to retain possession with a shade more accuracy than Fylde.

It was just a minute into the 2nd half when Caldy struck a crucial blow. The ball was recycled 30m out from the Fylde line when Aigbokhae burst a couple of tackles to race through for the touchdown to the right of the posts. Centre Roberts made the conversion and Caldy had a 0-12 lead. The battered Fairbrother left the action and was replaced by Matt Garrod.

Fylde heads didn’t drop and they enjoyed their best period of the game as they pressed deep inside the Caldy half. One sustained attack saw the ball moved sharply left along the backline before Royle tried a desperate intercept or block. The ball was knocked forward and although the referee went back for an earlier offence and awarded Fylde a penalty, the winger was very fortunate to avoid a sinbinning. Almost immediately afterwards in the 54th minute, as Fylde continued their pressure near the line, Caldy centre Mike Cartmill wasn’t as fortunate and was shown a yellow card.

Fylde continued to pound the Caldy line and at last their pressure paid off as lock Jacob Conner, who had a very positive game throughout, forced his way over in a pile of bodies under the posts. Greg Smith added the straightforward conversion and the home side was right back in the contest at 7-12.

By conceding further penalties, Fylde lost territory and were forced back into a defensive mode. In the 65th minute another Fylde offence was straight in front of their posts and Roberts stroked home the kick to take his side eight points clear. As hard as Fylde tried to drive forward, with replacement Hallam Chapman and Mills prominent, and to pass their way out and get back into the Caldy half, the conditions and continuing handling issues thwarted them. As the apocalyptic rain bashed down, so did Fylde’s chances of challenging Caldy’s lead disappear down the drain. Two of the three top try scorers in the division were pretty much underemployed, bar Royle’s 6th minute effort, whilst Fylde’s Tom Carleton saw very little of the ball all afternoon.

But Fylde continued to defend and make the most of their hard earned possession. The final whistle signalled the end of the game in which the best team, just, won but for Fylde they were even denied a deserved losing bonus point. Caldy’s procession to the championship of National Two (North) continues whilst Fylde’s battle for a play-off place wasn’t helped by this defeat. They now have a deserved week’s break and continue their campaign at Loughborough Students on 29th February.

Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “We were up against a good team today, undefeated all season, very accurate with what they do and on wet day in which they can physically dominate opposition – scrummaging, kicking to the corners, mauling. This was a real test of character for our forwards and I thought that we matched them very well.

“We did commit quite a few handling errors but, certainly in the 2nd half, we had to play from deep as we weren’t going to get much joy from a kicking game. We want to stay true to our values in playing a running, attacking game but this was very hard and energy sapping in these conditions. We found where they were vulnerable and I thought we did pretty well.

“I’m looking at our performance positively and am proud of the lads. We have no game next Saturday so we’re planning just one training session on Tuesday, going out for a Chinese meal together, get closer and tighter as a group and the lads will be champing at the bit to get back to it at Loughborough Students. No big stress, no big dramas, just keep moving forward, doing what we do.”

Click here for Chris Farrow’s action photographs.

FYLDE: 15 Wilkinson; 14 Carleton, 13 Briers, 12 Rawlings, 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; 1 Horner (Ashcroft M 64), 2 Gregory (Stephenson 77), 3 Lewis, 4 Ashcroft N, 5 Conner, 6 Vernon (Chapman 41), 7 Mills, 8 Fairbrother (Garrod 46).

CALDY: 15 Hayes; 14 Royle, 13 Roberts, 12 Cartmill, 11 Cornall; 10 Barker, 9 Davies; 1 Whittaker (Parker 58), 2 Hearn, 3 Salisbury (Whittaker 65), 4 Gerrard (Crowe 58), 5 Sanders, 6 Crowe (Collister 48), 7 Aigbokhae (Davidson 72), 8 Dickinson. Non-playing replacement: Ainscough.

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