Former Fylde favourite Johno snatches late draw for Huddersfield

Fylde 20 Huddersfield 20: report by Simon Taylor

 Fylde stretched their unbeaten run to 5 games but had to settle for a draw this week as former Fylde fly-half Chris Johnson capped a kicking master class with a late penalty to give Huddersfield a deserved share of the points. This was the second successive wet and windy Woodlands War of the Roses in eight days and it had looked like being exactly the same score-line as the previous week until Johnson’s late intervention. Having nicked the win with the last kick of the game the week before even the most die-hard Fylde would have found it hard to deny that the visitors deserved to go back home with their hard fought two points as due reward, especially as they did so despite being on the wrong end of a 15 to 6 penalty count.

With Adam Lewis at his wife’s side as she had gone into labour, Ben Vernon took over the captaincy for the first time and it was all change in the prop department with Bevan Rodd and Cal Ford starting in place of the injured pair Adam Joyner and Elliott Horner. Ben O’Ryan and Jacob Conner came into the back row and there were welcome returns for Alex Loney and Jonny Wild on the bench. Despite looking like they aren’t old enough to have started shaving yet, both Tom Carleton and Ben Gregory were making their 50th first team appearances, showing just how experienced some of these talented young players already are.

On a grey day it at least remained mostly dry for most of the first 40 minutes as Fylde kicked off towards the clubhouse. In only the second minute Connor Wilkinson cut inside as the ball was moved left and showed a clean pair of heels as he arrowed toward the line from 25 metres out, beating the converging defenders to score a fine try which Greg Smith converted to give the home side an early 7-0 lead. Huddersfield then shook off the bus journey and Chris Johnson showed just how well he manoeuvres a team around a pitch with a mix of clever passing and astute kicking that is second to none. He treated the Fylde faithful for four seasons when he wore their colours and it was hard not to admire it again even though he was doing it for the opposition this time. 

On 12 minutes a high tackle by Fylde allowed Johnson to put the opposition into Fylde’s 22 and from a scrum their strong running number eight Richard Piper got them over the gain line. Quickly recycled ball found prop Alex Battye on the charge and as he was not held in the tackle he was able to use a second movement to dot down for the try. Johnson slotted the conversion as the first of what would be 15 points on the day for him and a 100% day with the boot as he didn’t miss any of his attempts at goal and it was all square at 7 points apiece.

A feature of Huddersfield’s play was their ability to retain possession and build pressure with patient multi-phase play. This was aided by a high level of accuracy in their passing and excellent handling with very few errors despite the conditions, especially later in the second half when the heavens opened. In the 20th minute, after numerous phases where Fylde could not force an error or the turnover, they worked their way close to the line and Johnson showed he is a dangerous runner as well as everything else he has in his locker as he took the last pass and crashed over, adding the conversion to take the visitors into a 14-7 lead.

Back came Fylde after a Smith line break and support from winger James Bailey took them close to the opposition try line and forced a scrum. However, the Huddersfield eight produced a mighty shove to win the ball against the head and clear their lines. They did, however, give a penalty away at the next breakdown and Smith slotted the kick to bring the score back to 10-14.  Three further penalties on the trot to Fylde followed with the last allowing another shot at goal but that one drifted wide. Back came Huddersfield with some good pressure in the Fylde 22 only for Bevan Rodd to force a turnover penalty and allow Fylde to clear. Right on the half time hooter Fylde were penalised for pulling down the maul and Johnson kicked the penalty to allow Huddersfield to take a 17-10 lead into the warmth of the changing room.

The first ten minutes of the second half saw Fylde force three penalties allowing them to kick for touch and pin Huddersfield in their own 22. A misfiring line out and then a knock on after an attempted chip through meant these chances came to nothing and Fylde appeared to be a bit flat and lacking inspiration. The weather gods then decided to make up for the relative lack of rain in the first half by sending down relentless and torrential sheets of the wet stuff. Coach Warren Spragg decided it was time for changes and brought on Alex Loney, Matt Garrod and Gus Warr for Ben Gregory, Nick Ashcroft and Cameron Crampton.

Loney’s first contribution was unfortunately a crooked throw in to the line out but he quickly redeemed himself at the resulting scrum as he and his young charges forced Huddersfield to pop up and concede the penalty. This one was within kicking distance but the attempt by Smith again drifted wide and Fylde remained frustrated in their attempts to get the scoreboard moving again. Johnson continued to use the boot wisely and get Huddersfield out of the danger zone and Fylde continued to force turnovers and get back down into that danger zone.

On the hour mark an excellent penalty turnover at the tackle by Loney saw Fylde back on the attack and, just when it looked like momentum had stalled, Wilkinson took control with a muscular break in heavy traffic. How he managed to make the next 20 yards to the line with tacklers all around him is testament to his strength, pace and tenacity and make it to the line he did for the second of an excellent brace of tries. Smith converted and it was 17 each.

The last twenty minutes was to be a real good hard battle that the rugby purists love – how to get possession in challenging weather and keep it long enough to try to get into scoring positions.  On 69 minutes Fylde forced yet another penalty in the tackle area this time in a much easier position for Smith and he kicked the penalty to take Fylde into the lead again at 20-17 just as he did last week.

The problem this week was that there were still 11 minutes to go and that was going to be a long time to try and deny Huddersfield another scoring opportunity. Huddersfield rolled their sleeves up and got down to some hard graft in more multi-phase play creeping close enough to force a Fylde error or a penalty in kicking distance. It was the latter as Fylde went off their feet at a ruck on 78 minutes. Up stepped the man who once won so many league points for Fylde to now become the man who would deny them all four as he knocked over the kick to restore symmetry to the scoreboard at 20 apiece.

Fylde had a few minutes to see if they could nick it for the second week running and threw Jonny Wild on to see if he could make a difference. His first action was an outstanding penalty turnover in the tackle area as he stayed on his feet and got his hands on the ball, the ball carrier not releasing. With the elements against him there was no chance of a pot at goal from so far out so Smith kicked for touch. The line out was secured and Fylde inched their way left and right hoping to force a penalty out of Huddersfield.

The visitors kept their discipline and with play camped on the 22 Smith decided a drop goal attempt was the answer. The kick was charged down and now it was a case of whether Huddersfield be able to kick through and nick the game themselves. Carleton scrambled back, there was a knock on in the melee that ensued and that was it as the referee called a halt to proceedings.

The second half in particular was played in dreadful conditions but despite this the handling and ball retention from both sides was excellent. Huddersfield shaded the contest in that area although Fylde definitely had the upper hand at the breakdown as evidenced by their much higher penalty count. A draw was a fair result and both teams should be proud of their performance. There isn’t much to separate them in the league table with Huddersfield in fourth and Fylde in fifth and there was certainly nothing to separate them on the day.

Fylde’s man of the match was the excellent Connor Wilkinson who has performed at a high level consistently this season and Huddersfield’s man of the match was Lewis Bradley, although only because Fylde coach Warren Spragg couldn’t bring himself to hand over the case of beer to his old team mate Chris Johnson. Everyone watching would have admired the veteran number 10’s excellent all round display on his return to The Woodlands – this reporter certainly did being a fly-half himself in a different century.

We must pass our congratulations on to Adam Lewis and his wife Sophie on the arrival of their son. It was also good to see Adam Joyner walking around at the club the week after his bad kneecap dislocation and the news is favourable as he could be back playing in 6 to 8 weeks.

Fylde have two mouth watering ‘Lancashire fixtures’ to follow when they travel to Sedgley Park next Saturday and then entertain old foes and rivals Preston Grasshoppers in a Christmas Derby at home on the 22nd, definitely not a fixture to miss

Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “A draw was probably a fair result, taking everything into account. I was really happy how our scrum went, especially in the 2nd half, featuring our young props, Bevan Rodd and Cal Ford, who played virtually all 80 minutes. This was a real test for them against a very solid Huddersfield pack. Alex Loney came on as a replacement and brought extra physicality to help us dominate the scrums in the 2nd half. I was disappointed that we didn’t make more of the tactical superiority we had. Our kicking and territorial game was better in the last 40 minutes but we came up short in certain skill areas.

“Overall, I was very happy with the performance. We got ourselves into a position to win the game with smart play at the end to get to the middle of the pitch and looking for a winning drop goal. Some days crucial kicks go over like last week against Wharfedale, some days they don’t.

“Connor Wilkinson doesn’t look like the kind of inside centre that we see around the National Leagues. He isn’t built like Scott Rawlings or Wharfedale’s Rhys Lovegrove. But he takes the ball to the line, has a real go and he’s difficult to tackle. He’s in a confident frame of mind at the moment and is in a good run of form. He was our Man of the Match today, without doubt.”

Click here for Chris Farrow’s photographs.

Teams:

Fylde:  15 T. Carleton, 14 J. Bailey, 13 R. Dowds, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11 T. Grimes, 10 G. Smith, 9 C. Crampton, 8 J. Conner, 7 B. O’Ryan, 6 B. Vernon, 5 N. Ashcroft, 4. O. Parkinson, 3 C. Ford, 2. B. Gregory, 1 B. Rodd

Replacements: J. Wild, M. Garrod, A. Loney, G. Warr, L. Fowden

Huddersfield: 15 T. Hodson, 14 K. Stewart, 13 L. Workman, 12 J. Maplesden, 11 E. Knight, 10 C. Johnson, 9 J. Green, 8 R. Piper, 7 L. Bradley, 6 L. Parfitt, 5 N. Sharpe, 4 G. Borrowdale, 3 A. Battye, 2 F. Entressengle, 1 H. Whitfield

Replacements: A. Blades, M. Chivers, J. Davies, R. Sykes, R. Pollard

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