FYLDE 42 CHESTER 17
Fylde went top of National Two (North) with a clear 42-17 victory over Chester at the Woodlands, with six tries to three fairly reflecting their superiority. Whilst Fylde’s tries were superbly executed, the game was fractured by penalty decisions which spoilt the continuity of both teams. Chester had 50% of possession, retained the ball well and the home team found turn-overs hard to execute but the visitors were unable to break down the Fylde defence sufficiently.
The game kicked off in bright sunshine following 24 hours of heavy rain. The excellent surface at the Woodlands was a great credit to the drainage, soil conditions and the dedicated attention of the groundsman.
Chester started positively but after a brief defensive spell Fylde were soon on the attack. In the 5th minute a loose kick out of defence by the visitors was gathered inside their half by no 8 David Fairbrother who shipped it to centre Scott Rawlings. The big man put in an inch perfect chip to the right and it bounced kindly for debutant winger Tom Roebuck who strolled over for the opening try. The England U’18s and Sale Sharks Academy dual registered player couldn’t have asked for a better start for his new club. Greg Smith was unable to nail the conversion but Fylde had a 5-0 lead.
In the 13 minute, Fairbrother made a superb break centre field and freed Chapman and Lanigan before the ball reached centre Connor Wilkinson. He stepped past the first defender and raced clear for a fine try. Smith converted and Fylde had a 12-0 advantage.
A minute later after the re-start, a Chester defender offended and Greg Smith kicked a straight forward penalty to extend the lead.
Chester responded in the best possible way when in the 21st minute they turned pressure into points. They attacked down the right and no 8 turned winger Shay Owen muscled through a couple of tackles and passed inside to scrum-half Tom Holloway who outpaced the Fylde defence to score. The conversion attempt by Mark Dixon was wide of the posts but the deficit had been reduced to 15-5. Fylde replaced the injured Jacob Conner at openside flanker with Ben Vernon.
Fylde’s response quickly followed when, from a ruck just inside the Chester half, fullback Tom Carleton made an arcing break down the right which took him through the vestiges of the visitors’ defence before a sharp inside pass gave Greg Smith a free run to the line to score under the posts. He converted his own try for a 22-5 lead
From the re-start, Fylde attacked immediately and 30m out from the Chester line the try scorer turned creator when Smith delicately chipped over a flat defensive line and the ball was athletically taken by Wilkinson who dived over for the bonus point 4th try. Smith’s conversion was wide but a 27-5 lead looked very convincing.
It was time for the visitors to press deep in Fylde’s half. In the 34th minute after several phases the Chester backs went left and the ubiquitous Owen dived into the corner to score. The attempted conversion from the touchline was wide. 27-10
The Cheshire side had the bit between their collective teeth now and were back pressurising the home defence. Desperate Fylde defence in the 39th minute cost them a yellow card for Fairbrother but the 14 men held out until the halftime whistle.
When the 2nd half started Chester were in no mood to waste their man advantage. They attacked down their right and a loose ball was gathered and a phase or two later Owen drove over for his second try. Dixon slotted a good conversion to get within ten points of the home side.
Head Coach Spragg rang the changes by bringing on the experience of Alex Loney at hooker and the youth of newcomer Joe Carpenter, another England U’18s international and part of the Sale Sharks Academy, who replaced colleague Tom Roebuck.
It was time for Fylde to consolidate pragmatically and in the 56 minute when a Chester player offended Smith kicked the penalty to take his side further ahead at 30-17.
In the 60th minute a serious injury to Chester’s Mike Craven held up play for 20 minutes. He received careful on field attention before, eventually, being stretchered off and taken to hospital by ambulance. Everyone at Fylde wishes him a speedy recovery.[Update: Mike Craven recovered and was discharged from the Blackpool Victoria Hospital late on Saturday evening.]
Fylde didn’t let the delay affect their intensity and dominated the last 20 minutes. Sustained attacking inside the Chester half saw them extend their lead in the 65th minute. Following a ruck the ball was moved left and Rawlings drove through a tackle to offload to lock Olli Parkinson who in turn neatly offloaded to Greg Smith and the fly-half scored his 4th try in three matches. He converted it for a 37-17 lead.
The final act was in the last minute when in the best move of the game, Fylde ran the ball from deep inside their own half – Fairbrother made the half break, on to Rawlings who linked with Carleton who raced clear from 35m out. Smith’s conversion was wide but the Lancastrians were happy to end their 7th victory out of 8 games and retain their unbeaten record in their Centenary season. Smith collected a personal haul of 22 points and their man of the match nomination was hard working prop Elliot Horner.
Fylde will go to deposed leaders Caldy – their game at Sedgley fell foul of a waterlogged pitch – next Saturday for what should be a real test of their ambition and quality.
Warren Spragg said: “I’m happy with today’s win. We made a strong start to the season in September but I was a little nervous about what we were up against in October. The lads have done extremely well in terms of results. It was a poor quality game at Hinckley last week and today it was again rather stop start, a frustrating match. We’ve got 40 points and top the division but looking back on the eight games there are loads of areas in which we can improve. Scores are good, results are good but If we hold ourselves responsible for our expected standards then we’re not where we need to be at the moment.
“Scoring early is a mixed blessing. It’s great to get points on the board but it can lead to players switching off a bit, believing the job is done, losing some intensity at the tackle breakdown and in the speed of support play. Then, conceding points gives the opponents momentum – very important in rugby – and nerves come into it. This has let us down a few times in the past. Fortunately, today Chester didn’t really threaten us enough and we had enough quality to break through to score and win convincingly.”
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton; 14 Tom Roebuck (Joe Carpenter 51), 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes (Lex Botha 60); 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis (Matt Ashcroft 70), 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Hallam Chapman (Alex Loney 51), 7 Jacob Conner (Ben Vernon 22), 8 David Fairbrother.
CHESTER: 15 Sean Green; 14 Shay Owen, 13 Andrew Oakden, 12 James Hattersley (Sam Farrar 58), 11 Dan Pemberton; 10 Mark Dixon, 9 Tom Holloway; 1 Colin Campbell (Scott Robson 67), 2 Scott Robson (Alick Croft 35), 3 Rhodri Parry (Alex Reed 30, Rhodri Parry 67), 4 Kyle Joseph (Jonny Charmley 48), 5 Rik Cottrell (Jimmy Lloyd 30), 6 George Baxter, 7 Mike Craven (Rik Cottrell 62), 8 Guy Ford.
Photos by Chris Farrow