Wharfedale 14 Fylde 13
Fylde’s promotion hopes suffered an almost fatal blow when they lost a hard fought battle at Threshfield against a very competitive Wharfedale squad. There is always something special about games between these old rivals, especially at the beautiful Dales location. With a large crowd of passionate Greens supporters supplemented by a many Fylde supporters who had made the 65 mile trip, the atmosphere was superb on a fine day for running rugby.
Fylde’s build up to the match was hardly ideal. Skipper Adam Lewis was unavailable and fellow prop Adam Joyner selected to replace him pulled out through injury late on. This allowed youngster Matt Ashcroft to make only his second starting appearance in a very young front row. In the warm up, no 8 Jacob Conner was injured so Ben O’Ryan stepped up from the replacements bench. With no other registered replacement to hand, Head Coach Warren Spragg came onto the bench. Ben Vernon skippered the team for the 3rd time.
The opening of the game was dramatic as Fylde conceded an early penalty which resulted in a yellow card for flanker Harlan Corrie. From the resultant kick to the corner, the Wharfedale pack set up a driving maul which rumbled over the try line with hooker Dan Stockdale the last man up. Fly-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards converted well and the Greens had a 7-0 lead.
Referee Phil Davies continued to impose his early control of the match. With Corrie back in the action, a Fylde attack was stopped illegally in the 13th minute and fly-half Greg Smith happily converted the penalty to reduce the deficit.
It was a case of ‘more of the same’ in the 17th minute when Smith kicked a second penalty for a 7-6 score line. The physical battle was intense as each side tried to secure decent possession and territory. Whilst the Fylde lineout was productive, they struggled to hold the powerful Wharfedale pack in the scrummages. Despite Fylde switching around their five front row players, ‘Dale controlled this aspect of the tight exchanges throughout.
However, whilst the dangerous Fylde backline had limited chances to test the Wharfedale defence, when an opportunity arose in the 22nd minute, they took it with aplomb. Fylde stole a home lineout on halfway and they went through 14 phases before winger Henry Hadfield squeezed into the right corner for a very good try. Greg Smith kicked a beautiful conversion from the touchline to add the extras for a 7-13 lead.
Wharfedale came back strongly and took the lead a couple of minutes later. From the re-start kick, ‘Dale forced a turnover and as winger Oli Cicognini danced through the Fylde defence with superb footwork leaving a number of the visitors’ defenders grabbing at thin air. He went under the posts and Blakeney-Edwards added a straight forward conversion to retake the lead at 14-13.
In the 31st minute Fylde suffered another injury blow when lock Olli Parkinson limped off to be replaced by Nick Ashcroft. At the same time, Elliot Horner, back after a long injury break, replaced loose head prop Bevan Rodd.
In the final minutes of the 1st half Fylde attacked vigorously. Greg Smith missed a kickable penalty and they then had a glorious opportunity to score their second try but rather butchered the chance and Wharfedale cleared downfield. The halftime whistle blew with Wharfedale holding the narrowest of leads.
The 2nd half was a battle royal as both teams searched for the killer blow. Wharfedale shaded possession and territory but Fylde had their moments. By the 56th minute Spragg had thrown on Alex Loney from the bench and Bevan Rodd also returned to stiffen up the front row.
In the earlier clash between the two clubs at the Woodlands in December, a nerveless Greg Smith kicked a last minute, far from easy penalty to snatch victory from the Yorkshiremen. In the 51st minute in this game, Smith had a penalty opportunity more or less in front of the posts to take the lead. Sadly for the visitors the ball glanced off a post to the surprise of most people in the almost 800 person crowd.
Play went to and fro in the final quarter and, although the Fylde defence was under pressure, they held their ground. However, they in turn were unable to break the deadlock at the other end of the pitch. At the final whistle, Fylde had earned a losing, consolation bonus point but this was disappointing in the wider context of their promotion challenge. It was very unusual to see a scoreless 2nd half but it was very far from dull as both teams battled for supremacy. The legendary ‘Adge’, Wharfedale’s colourful PA announcer and sage, said in the Clubhouse afterwards that his side had asphyxiated Fylde in the 2nd half and that was pretty accurate.
As the results from elsewhere in National Two (North) came through, it was confirmed that victories for Hull Ionians and Chester had strengthened their position and they look bankers to finish in the top two positions by the end of April. Fylde’s one point from the game lifted them to 3rd in the table
Warren Spragg said: “It was the first trip to Wharfedale for many of the lads and they gave us exactly what we expected. It was physical, uncompromising and competitive in all areas. I was actually really pleased with how we responded to an early yellow card to get ourselves in front, but we let them score both tries far too easily and ultimately that let us down.
“There were a lot of sore bodies and frustrated lads in the changing room who will be looking forward to getting to Huddersfield next week and fighting to stay above them in the league. I just hope our medical team can work some magic to get some broken bodies fixed in time!”.
WHARFEDALE: 15 Rian Hamilton; 14 Ralph Wellock, 13 Harry Bullough, 12 Chris Walker, 11 Oli Cicognini; 10 Jack Blakeney-Edwards, 9 Sam Gaudi; 1 Toms Asejevs, 2 Dan Stockdale, 3 Reece Ward (Jack Hirst 56), 4 George Hedgley, 5 Ben Leacock, 6 Ken Houghton (Elliot Stockton 41), 7 James Tyson, 8 Rob Baldwin. Non-playing replacements: George Altham, Will Edwards, Tom Mann.
FYLDE: 15 Carleton; 14 Hadfield, 13 Briers, 12 Wilkinson, 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Crampton (Dowds 69); 1 Rodd (Horner 31), 2 Gregory, 3 AshcroftM (Rodd 56), 4 Garrod, 5 Parkinson (AshcroftN 31), 6 Corrie, 7 O’Ryan (Loney 48), 8 Vernon.