Tenacious Fylde defence secure a bonus point win

Fylde 24 Wharfedale 17

This was the 25th meeting of the two clubs, a series of fixtures going back to 1995. Fylde have a mixed record at Wharfedale’s beautiful Threshfield ground but at the Woodlands it’s been a different story. Fylde had won all the previous 12 matches at home but were literally inches away from losing that record on this occasion in the most dramatic fashion at the end of the game.

Sitting on a comfortable 17-3 lead at half-time it looked a straightforward afternoon for the home side but ‘the Green Machine’ battled back in the 2nd half and launched a furious assault on the Fylde line in the final 20 minutes, assisted by a two man advantage as Fylde were reduced to 13 players. The fact that they survived this onslaught was an extraordinary testament to their defensive qualities but ‘Dale were justifiably distraught to come away with just a losing bonus point whilst Fylde took the maximum five to maintain their challenge in 2nd place in National Two (North). They didn’t help their cause as with four sin bins they were a man down for a total of 40 minutes.

An excellent crowd bolstered by a substantial number of Wharfedale supporters gathered to watch the match on a quite excellent Woodlands pitch in fine mid-winter weather.

The visitors had the best of the opening exchanges and it was no surprise when, following a Fylde offence in the 5th minute, fly-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards converted the subsequent penalty for a 0-3 lead.

This spurred Fylde on and they soon hit their straps with a fluent backs movement. In the 12th minute quick possession was secured and the backs moved the ball speedily down their right hand side. Fullback Connor Wilkinson, making his 100th appearance for the Club, came into the line and raced clear to score an excellent try in the corner.

Fylde’s other centurion of the day, fly-half Greg Smith, was unable to add the conversion from the touchline but Fylde had a lead they were never to relinquish.

Fylde continued to probe for gaps in the Greens’ defence. In the 20th minute a neat break down the left with winger Tom Grimes making strong inroads led to a penalty to the home side, followed by another and then ‘Dale’s impressive flanker Matt Speres being shown a yellow card following a lineout and driving maul. Fylde tried again and this time, with a man advantage, no 8 David Fairbrother broke clear and drove over the line from 5m out. Greg Smith made the conversion and Fylde had a deserved 12-3 lead.

Two minutes later Fylde extended this advantage with another attack down the left. Once more Tom Grimes was the creator with good footwork and a neat pass to Nick Ashcroft lurking along the touchline. The tall young lock pinned back his ears 40m from the Dale line, handed off a defender and sprinted clear for his 2nd try of the season. Smith was again unable to make the conversion as his kick drifted wide of the posts.

Some of the gilt came off the gingerbread on the half hour when, during a period of Wharfedale pressure, Fylde centre Chris Briers was adjudged to have high tackled a Greens player and he was sent to the sinbin by referee Andrew Wigley. Although pinned back inside their 22m line and having to defend grimly, Fylde withstood the assault and, with a devastating scrummage fracturing the visitors’ pack, went to the half-time break without conceding any further points.

Only four minutes into the 2nd half and the complexion of the match changed. The Greens forced Fylde back deep in their half and a series of drives by their forwards finished with villain-to-hero Speres getting the touch down. Blakeney-Edwards converted well and reduced the deficit to 17-10.

Fylde replied in the best possible way by pressing the visitors back inside their 22m line. One attack near the Wharfedale line was thwarted when the ball was turned over and cleared. But in the 51st minute Fylde attacked again through their forwards and a neat short pass by scrum-half Adam Lanigan put David Fairbrother through a gap and the no 8 burst 20m to score under the posts, the bonus point-earning fourth try. Greg Smith added the extras and Fylde were clear once more at 24-10.

Once again, the character of the game changed as Wharfedale hit back strongly. Their backs attacked down their right and winger Rian Hamilton kicked ahead deep into the Fylde half. As he chased his kick, referee Wigley decided that Tom Grimes had blocked Hamilton’s run and he was despatched to the sinbin.

This time, being a player down did have consequences. As the Greens upped their efforts, in the 64th minute they broke out of defence down their left. Fullback Verity ran strongly before putting winger Oli Cicognini clear down the touchline who outran the undermanned Fylde defence to make the touchdown in the corner. Once again, Blakeney-Edwards converted well from wide out and his side was once again within a converted try of the hosts.

This prompted a furious last 20 minutes when Wharfedale spent all the period inside the Fylde half. The home side conceded a series of penalties as they defended grimly. From a Greens lineout 5m out from the Fylde line, flanker Jacob Conner was penalised and shown a yellow card. The Fylde defence battled hard but it seemed inevitable that the incessant pressure would lead to a try for the visitors.

This was accentuated when hooker Ben Gregory, who had an otherwise excellent game, joined Conner in the sinbin. Conner returned for the last couple of injury time minutes and did his bit in the continuing defence on the Fylde line. Most of this pressure was under the Fylde posts so the inevitable try, as it seemed, would have certainly earned Wharfedale an equalising score.

Time and again, the Greens pack drove for the line. Deep in injury time, the referee awarded a penalty to Fylde and the ball was kicked out to end the game. It was a hard outcome for the visitors who, despite scoring only two tries to Fylde’s four, did enough to earn a draw. The penalty count in the 2nd half was 2 for Fylde, 10 for Wharfedale.

Fylde move on, still pursuing seemingly untouchable unbeaten league leaders Caldy, and they face another tough challenge when they visit Huddersfield on Saturday. The coaches and players will have to address their schizophrenia as this match was just the latest in a series of 1st half performances which then lead to poor 2nd halves ending in the squad hanging on, relying on their excellent defence to get them out of trouble. As their defeats by Hull and Sheffield Tigers illustrate, this won’t always work.

Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “That was a highly charged final 20 minutes! There’s something about Fylde v Wharfedale games that sets them apart and go beyond even the more recognised local derbies against Preston Grasshoppers or Sedgley Park. The Greens are vocal on the touchline, they have passionate supporters and the coaches really care about the club. The players never give up. You might think that you’re clearly ahead but often you’re not. I thought we were going to lose that game with 15 minutes to go.

“Our support play in attack was poor, and Dale earned penalty after penalty. Their coaches were very frustrated that they didn’t get the rub of the green. I was happy that our lads stayed in the fight, kept in front and managed to prevent them scoring at the end. Wharfedale had many opportunities to score in the last 20 mins but didn’t because of our defensive efforts. I’m really proud of that resilience.

“But in terms of our tactics then we weren’t how we needed to be in the last 20. We have to be smarter in the future but full credit to the lads for defending so passionately. Dale are a team towards the bottom of the table but, as I said after the game at Threshfield, that they are a good side, maybe a couple of players short and a few injuries away from being up there with the top handful of clubs in the league. We’ve notched 10 points in the two games against them and I’m more than happy with that haul and we’ll look forward to playing them again next season.”

Click here for Chris Farrow’s 129 action photos. http://bit.ly/2sF6dtP

FYLDE: 15 Wilkinson, 14 Carleton, 13 Briers, 12 Rawlings, 11 Grimes (Stephenson 80), 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; 1 Horner, 2 Gregory, 3 Lewis ©, 4 Ashcroft N, 5 Parkinson (O’Ryan 50), 6 Conner, 7 Vernon (Chapman 40), 8 Fairbrother.

Non-playing replacements: Ashcroft M, Botha.

WHARFEDALE: 15 Verity, 14 Hamilton, 13 Canny (Blackwell 54), 12 Moore, 11 Cicognini (McNab 70); 10 Blakeney-Edwards, 9 Gaudie; 1 Beesley (Asejevs 72), 2 Stockdale, 3 Altham (Dickenson 72), 4 Borrill, 5 Hedgley (c), 6 Brookes (Walker 57), 7 Speres, 8 Burridge (Brookes 68).

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