Fylde well beaten at Hartpury
Hartpury College 39 Fylde 12
A series of hold-ups on the M6 & M5, and a consequential late arrival and a delayed kick-off at Hartpury College, were just the beginnings of a bad day for Fylde. Whilst the brief pre-match preparations were hardly ideal in these circumstances, the squad didn't do themselves justice against a highly motivated College team bolstered by the usual quota of dual registered Gloucester Rugby players.
Right from kick-off, the visitors looked like they were still on the coach. Hartpury pressed deep in Fylde territory and in the 5th minute from a lineout catch and drive debutant flanker James Stephenson, a dual registered player on loan from Bristol, got the touchdown. The attempted conversion by fly-half Gareth Thompson drifted wide but his side had a 5-0 lead.
As Fylde struggled for anything like equal possession and territory, they didn't help themselves in the 10th minute when a missed tackle in midfield saw Hartpury winger Mark Harrison break through the middle before freeing Thompson who raced away from 25m out to score. He added the extras for a 12-0 lead.
Fylde battled hard but their forwards could produce no sustained platform to enable their dangerous backs to attack. A Thompson penalty in the 20th minute extended the home lead to 15-0.
On the half hour things got much worse for the Lancastrians when replacement lock Joe Robinson was shown a straight red card for alleged foul play. The burden on a struggling pack which was then down to seven players was very tough. Added to their other difficulties, their line-out malfunctioned throughout, as it did the previous week against Loughborough Students, and Hartpury took due advantage. The teams went into the changing rooms at half-time with a 15-0 scoreline.
Just before the interval Fylde started to get a foothold in the match, though this was never secure and they rather forced their play and made mistakes. But the natural order of the game was restored immediately after the break when, from turnover ball, Hartpury centre Leonard created space with a break and handed on to USA international scrum-half Robbie Shaw to score a good try for a 20-0 lead.
However, a minute later arch opportunist Oli Brennand once again spotted a rather loose student pass and picked an interception out of the bag to open Fylde's scoring. Chris Johnson was unable to convert the try but at least the scoreboard was moving for the visitors at 5-20 down.
This was as good as it was going to get for the Lancastrians as Hartpury took control once again. From another catch and drive by the College forwards, no 8 Will Safe touched down and Thompson added the extras for a 27-5 advantage.
Fylde continued to work hard in a losing cause. In the last ten minutes Hartpury added two further tries. Steve Leonard, who had a fine game, finished off by scoring in the 72nd minute and replacement wing Jack Evans gathered a grubber kick by fly-half Jacob Perry to score under the posts.
But Fylde kept at it and full-back Warren Spragg notched a consolation try in the last minute, converted by Chris Johnson, to reduce the final deficit to 12-39.
Hartpury's blindside flanker Jake Polledri, an Italian Under-20 international also new to the College, was named as man of the match after an outstanding individual effort in both attack and defence.
Skipper Chris Briers was pragmatic about the defeat after the game: "Hartpury had 80% of possession during significant periods of the game and without the ball we struggled to play anything like our normal running game. Our lineout malfunctioned and that contributed to our lack of possession. This can be corrected on the training pitch and we'll be doing just that in the coming week. Going down to 14 men early in the game didn't help either.
"Assimilating new players into the squad, some of whom are young and relatively inexperienced at this level, was always going to be challenging. Losing the experience of former skippers Evan Stewart and Sam Beaumont through injury has been a blow and we've also missed the physical presence of David Fairbrother and Simon Griffiths in this game. But it's up to the remaining senior players to give leadership and help the younger guys and I'm sure they will in the coming weeks starting with the home match against Richmond on Saturday at the Woodlands."
Photo courtesy of The Gloucester Citizen.