Fylde opened their 2018-19 season with a hard earned victory over a gritty Otley squad at the Woodlands. They started the game like a million dollars, scoring four excellent tries in the first quarter. This was going to be an easy, relaxed afternoon for the good crowd who were purring at this early quality. But Otley worked out a response, slowed the game down and played to their forwards strengths. The 2nd half was similarly one-sided but with the Yorkshiremen camped in Fylde territory to such an extent that the home side rarely got over the half-way line. But Fylde defended with vigour and deserved their bonus point victory for that glittering first 20 minutes.
From the kick-off on a still, pleasant afternoon, Fylde attacked. No 8 David Fairbrother soon got his hands on the ball and combined with flanker Ben Vernon to create space down the centre of the pitch. Quick passing right enable centre Luke Fowden to make the line with ease for the opening try after just 39 seconds. With normal fly-half Greg Smith missing, young scrum-half Cameron Crampton carried the goal kicking responsibilities. He’s left footed and struck the ball cleanly but the attempted conversion drifted just wide.
From the restart, Fylde attacked once more. New flanker Ben O’Ryan looked hungry and sharp as he broke forward and stand-in fly-half Chris Briers was, as ever, keen the run the ball at any opportunity. The home backs moved right and centre Connor Wilkinson found enough space to set free winger Henry Hadfield along the touchline. The Cumbrian raced clear and just beat the last defender to score half way between the posts and corner flag. This time Cam Crampton curled his conversion nicely to take his side 12-0 up.
From an Otley knock on centre field in the 11th minute, Fylde’s scrummage allowed a pick up from Fairbrother who fed the speedy Crampton. He linked in turn with Wilkinson who made the crucial break before passing to fullback Tom Carleton. The former Kirkham Grammar star raced down the right touchline before finding his old school chum with an inside pass and Wilkinson finished off a lovely move without a hand laid on him. Crampton converted once again for a 19-0 advantage.
There was no let up in the general direction of play. Fylde were playing cavalier rugby, fast and loose, and willing to attack from anywhere. Opposing teams kick infield at their peril as the Fylde backs enjoy the opportunity to run back at them from broken field positions. In the 19th minute, Carleton was on the ball 10m inside the Otley half. With the visiting defenders lying flat, he put a delightful grubber kick down the left touchline. Wilkinson was alive to the move and it was a matter of whether he would beat the covering defender, Otley centre Tom Casson, to reach the ball first. He did and skilfully caught it on the bounce to leave Casson grabbing at thin air before scoring his second try of the afternoon. Crampton’s attempted conversion was wide but Fylde led by 24-0 in what was up to then one-way traffic.
An early injury casualty was Ben O’Ryan who limped off with a dead leg to be replaced by Tom Burtonwood.
Otley are too good a side to not adapt their play to events and opposition tactics. Their big pack started to establish parity of possession and territory and put the home forwards under pressure. From a penalty in midfield they set up a lineout and a driving maul ended with hooker Joe Graham the last man up. Fly-half Ben Smith converted to reduce the deficit to 24-7.
Fylde continued to attack when they had opportunities and a couple of runs by winger Tom Grimes down the left looked very dangerous but were repelled. The teams trotted off for the half-time break.
The 2nd half was a different story. Otley dominated possession and territory and hammered away through their pack, with the big and powerful lock Simon Willet always prominent. Errors crept in to Fylde’s game and they struggled to regain the early fluency.
In the 56th minute the visitors earned a reward for the pressure inside the Fylde half. The pack drove forward and the back line moved left before replacement winger Ollie Goss picked a low pass off his toes and dived into the corner for a well constructed try. Smith’s conversion from the touchline was excellent and Otley were right back in the contest.
Otley struggled subsequently to convert their dominance into points with their back line rather too inaccurate with distribution. But it has to be said that the Fylde defence was tenacious and they repelled the visitors with strong and committed tackling at the breakdown. By now, most of the replacements on both sides had been drafted into action and the play lacked continuity and fluency. Fylde were happy to play to the final whistle with a 10 point buffer proving decisive.
Otley were unlucky to come away with no reward from a gritty 2nd half performance. Fylde deserved the win due to their startling first 20 minutes. After a run of 17 successive defeats to finish their National One season in 2017-18, the win was the crucial outcome that Warren Spragg and his squad had been looking for. They will go into the game against Preston Grasshoppers with confidence but also a realisation that National Two (North) isn’t going to be a stroll in the park.
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I was really pleased with how we started. Lots of the things we’ve been working on in training came off early on. We were clinical, moved the ball quickly and it was an exciting start. Then we got into a real fight. Otley are a good side and we learnt a lot about what N2N will be like this season. They countered us by slowing the ball down, were decent at the breakdown and caused us some trouble. But credit to our lads, they kept their heads, discipline was good and defence was pretty solid. Our penalty count around the ruck was OK. But we were very pleased about the win and we move on to next week’s challenge.”
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Luke Fowden (Tom Forster 59), 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Chris Briers, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Alex Loney (Ben Gregory 46), 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Matt Garrod (Olli Parkinson 55), 5 Nick Ashcroft, 6 Ben O’Ryan (Tom Burtonwood 21), 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother. Non-playing replacement: Adam Joyner.