Preston Grasshoppers 3-28 Fylde[Photo above courtesy of Preston Grasshoppers’ Mike Craig]
Fylde travelled the short distance to Lightfoot Green looking to put the defeat at Sheffield Tigers last week behind them and to finish off the decade in a positive fashion against their oldest opponents. It proved to be a decisive victory against spirited opponents who couldn’t match the pace and precision of the Fylde backs and were rather one dimensional against an excellent Fylde defence.
It was a fine, sunny winter’s day and a very big crowd had gathered in anticipation of another close contest between the clubs, both celebrating historic anniversaries this season. This pre-Christmas fixture isn’t quite the Boxing Day clash of days of old but it has become pretty close to it. A year ago at the Woodlands almost 2,000 people watched the encounter and this crowd was as big, if not bigger.
When the ‘Hoppers scrummage caused early damage earning a penalty as a reward, it looked as though it might prove a demanding day for the visitors’ set piece. Gradually, the Fylde pack established parity in the scrummages and edged the lineouts as the game progressed. In the 8th minute a slashing Fylde attack down their right was halted illegally and fly-half Greg Smith kicked the penalty to the corner. The subsequent driving maul was convincing and hooker Ben Gregory was the beneficiary to claim the touchdown. Smith’s conversion was well struck and his side had an early 0-7 lead.
The muscular Hoppers pack then warmed to its task and forced Fylde back into their half. They earned a kickable penalty in the 11th minute but fly-half Tom Davidson mishit it and the chance was gone. Not too long though as a Fylde forward offended again in the 16th minute. Once again, the penalty attempted drifted wide.
It was to be third time lucky in the 21st minute when Fylde offended again in front of their posts and Davidson opened his side’s account with a straightforward kick for a 3-7 score line.
Within five minutes Fylde extended their lead. They attacked once more down their right through their dangerous backline and winger Tom Carleton received the ball 30m out from the Hoppers line. He stepped off his right foot to go inside the defenders and in a demonstration of strength and determination for a relatively small player he drove and twisted over the line. There was some argument about whether he had grounded the ball but referee Ben Davis was on the spot and awarded the try. Smith added the extras for a 3-14 advantage.
The Fylde backline looked in fine shape as, in combination with their forwards, they began to run the ball from their own half. On the half hour they attacked once more down the right and Carleton raced clear down the touchline from halfway. As he approached the final defender he passed accurately inside to his old Kirkham Grammar School chum, centre Connor Wilkinson, who raced clear to score a lovely try near the posts. Smith added the conversion and Fylde were stretching clear at 3-21 up.
There was enough time in the dying minutes of the 1st half for Preston to launch a powerful attack down their right side and the rampaging former Fylde no 8 Matt Lamprey burst clear. With another former Fylde player, flanker Toby Harrison, outside him and just one defender to beat it looked a certain try. However, Lamprey’s overhead pass was forward and the golden chance was gone. Fylde cleared the ball from the ensuing scrummage to end the half.
The early part of the 2nd half was more of the same, a fair amount of midfield battling with Hoppers unable to capitalise on plenty of possession and territory. Fylde battled into the Hoppers half and forced two penalties in the 44th and 55th minutes. Greg Smith opted for kicks at goal but both from 40m out drifted wide.
Replacement prop forward Oga Mabaya was shown a yellow card at the start of the final quarter but Fylde’s numerical advantage was very short as their no 8 David Fairbrother followed him three minutes later. Fylde debutant, flanker Phill Mills made a promising return to the Club on loan from Rossendale and was replaced by Ben Vernon who had recovered sufficiently from a hand injury to take part in the match.
Although there seemed little chance of Fylde spurning their 3-21 lead, they still needed another try for an important bonus point. It came in the 65th minute when the visitors ran the ball through their backs from well inside their own half. The ball reached Tom Carleton and with a scintilla of space on the right touchline he skipped past a couple of defenders and raced clear to score a fine try in the corner. Greg Smith converted very well from the touchline to extend the lead to 3-28.
Hoppers battled to the end but had no more luck against a determined Fylde defence as the final whistle blew. This was a deserved victory for the visitors who maintained their challenge at the top of the division with their 7th win away from the Woodlands in 9 fixtures. Although Tom Carleton was the standout player for the visitors, this was far more than a one man display, especially in their excellent defence against consistent Hoppers pressure during periods of the game.
Many congratulations to Preston Grasshoppers for the excellent staging of the game with such a large crowd to service.
Fylde will enjoy the Christmas break, lick their physical wounds and look forward to another traditional fixture in 2020 when Wharfedale visit the Woodlands on 4th January.
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I was really proud of the ways the lads prepared for the game and kept their composure for 80 minutes. Preston were physical and committed, but we were clinical with the limited possession we had. Millsy put in a great performance on his first game back at the club and Tom Carleton lit up the game with some of his footwork. We’ll have a bit of time away from each other over the next week to enjoy Christmas then get back into it for Wharfedale which will be another tough test.“
PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS: 15 Gregson; 14 Stott, 13 Davidson W, 12 Fitzpatrick (Spence 52), 11 Spence (Jordan 40); 10 Davidson T, 9 Gough; 1 Blanchard (Mabaya 52), 2 Taylor (Trippier 66), 3 Miller (Blanchard 60), 4 Murray (Naylor 66), 5 Howard (Dorrington B 40), 6 Wallbank, 7 Harrison (Miller 64, Harrison 70), 8 Lamprey.
FYLDE: 15 Wilkinson; 14 Carleton, 13 Briers (Botha 66), 12 Rawlings, 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; 1 Horner (Ashcroft M 77), 2 Gregory, 3 Lewis, 4 Ashcroft N, 5 Parkinson, 6 Conner (O’Ryan 70), 7 Mills (Vernon 53), 8 Fairbrother.