Fylde extend unbeaten run to six games at the Tigers

Sedgley Park 14 Fylde 22

Fylde extended their unbeaten run to six games in National Two (North) with a hard earned 14-22 win at Sedgley Tigers’ Park Lane Ground. They outscored their hosts by three tries to two and in doing so lifted themselves to 4th in the table, closing in on the three leading clubs who all slipped on away from home. These bare facts hide a great deal about a blood and thunder clash between these Lancashire friends and rivals.

Storm Deidre did it’s worst, bringing bitterly cold weather and constant heavy rain to a large part of the UK. The North West caught its fair share – Whitefield in North Manchester seemed to the hardy supporters at the game to be in the eye of the storm. One of the very experienced Assistant Referees officiating at the match tweeted afterwards “”This was perhaps the coldest I’ve ever been officiating a game of rugby.” This was the third very wet Saturday in succession.

National League pundits generally recognise that the principal strength of the Fylde team is its talented running backs. They are certainly very dangerous but, obviously, flourish best on firm pitches and in good weather. In the past few weeks it has been the Fylde pack which has battled away to secure territory and possession in really difficult conditions.

In such dire weather, it was hardly surprising that, despite a few instances of glittering movement, this was a game for rugby aficionados rather than casual spectators. 40 players fought hard in a highly competitive exchange to wrestle control and, ultimately, vital league points from the fixture. The win could prove costly for Fylde as they lost five players through injury during the 80 minutes. Their injury list – already featuring David Fairbrother, Elliot Horner and Harlan Corrie – will test the depth of the squad available to Head Coach Warren Spragg and his fellow coaches. As it was, a late change saw fit again centre Chris Briers step up from the replacements bench in place of Ralph Dowds who was struck down overnight through food poisoning.

Sedgley kicked off with the strong wind and rain at their backs. The ball reached fullback Tom Carleton and the Club’s speedster raced 80m through a startled opposition for an extraordinary opening gambit, in 15 seconds surely the fastest try in English senior rugby yesterday. With fly-half Greg Smith kicking the conversion, Fylde had a 0-7 lead in the first minute.

The players in both squads know each other very well. The Sedgley starting XV included the familiar faces of hooker Danny Maher, flanker Mark Goodman and fly-half Steve Collins. Fylde had four former Sedg players in their ranks – Chris Briers, Greg Smith, Adam Lewis and Olli Parkinson. One of them, skipper Adam Lewis, back in the visitors’ ranks following the birth of his son last Saturday, was next on the scoresheet when he drove over for his 2nd try of the season in the 7th minute following numerous phases and good work from his pack. Smith again converted and Fylde had a 0-14 lead.

The Tigers soon got a foothold in the game in the 10th minute when N2N’s leading try scorer, centre Matt Riley, crossed the line. Collins converted to reduce the deficit to 7-14.

Fylde suffered serious blows in the 22nd minute when, defending Sedgley pressure, both winger Tom Grimes and scrum-half Cameron Crampton were injured. They were replaced by, respectively by Luke Fowden and Adam Lanigan. It was fortunate that late bench replacement Lanigan, a talented young scrum-half who developed through the Club’s M-Js and Colts, was able to slot in to the Fylde line-up without significant disruption.

With the two players still receiving treatment and before the replacements had entered the fray, Sedgley exploited their two man advantage and no 8 Jimmy Lloyd powered over the line for the 2nd try. Once again, Collins’s conversion kick was successful and he levelled the scores at 14-all.

Despite this set back for Fylde, they were shading the 1st half, with their scrummage causing Sedg difficulties. In the 33rd minute the visitors regained the lead with more opportunism by Tom Carleton. This time he received the ball just inside the Sedgley half, put in a neat grubber kick behind the home defenders and beat two of them to the line to get the touchdown. This time Greg Smith was unable to add the conversion but Fylde had a useful half-time lead of 14-19.

If Fylde shaded possession and territory in the first 40 minutes then the Tigers reversed this in the 2nd half despite playing into the wind and rain. Fylde tighthead prop Jonny Wild retired injured at the break and was replaced by Bevan Rodd. Lock Nick Ashcroft replaced Matt Garrod early in the 2nd half.

Conditions were fast deteriorating in the Stygian gloom but the Fylde defence was effective against the home side’s pressure. Flanker Ben Vernon was withdrawn in the 65th minute but made a swift return in place of the next Fylde casualty, Ashcroft, a few minutes later.

The crucial moment was in the 70th minute when the excellent Fylde backrow trio won a penalty within kicking distance. Smith stepped up and converted it to take them more than a converted try ahead. The final whistle blew to end the rain drenched arm wrestle. It was tough on Sedg to not come out of the game with a bonus point. However, this was a hard working display by Fylde who have shown in recent weeks a real steel in their play and the ability to win tight games on home and foreign soil.

With Preston Grasshoppers also in excellent recent form, the clash of the oldest of rivals at the Woodlands next Saturday should be a very tasty Christmas prospect!

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Warren Spragg said: “I thought the lads were excellent in expressly difficult circumstances. The weather was horrendous and it could have easily been an occasion where the players just didn’t turn up. However, we played with a real aggression in defence and some clever attack that I was very happy with. Sedgley Park are a strong team with some quality players who play with a lot of passion for their club, so it’s not an easy place to go and pick up a win.

“Our focus now clearly shifts onto next week and preparing well for the ‘Hoppers game. They are also on a good run of form and I know that coaches, players and supporters from both sides will be hoping to go into Christmas with a derby win under their belts. Let’s just hope it’s a little bit warmer next week and there is a bumper crowd to cheer the lads on at the Woodlands!”

FYLDE: 15 Carleton; 14 James Bailey, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes (Luke Fowden 22m); 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton (Adam Lanigan 22m); 1 Adam Lewis, 2 Alex Loney, 3 Jonny Wild (Bevan Rodd 40), 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod (Nick Ashcroft 48m), 6 Ben Vernon (Ben Gregory 65), 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 Jacob Conner.

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