Fylde 40 Huddersfield 10
When Huddersfield last visited the Woodlands in December 2018, it was a damp winter’s day and the visitors arm wrestled Fylde to a 20-all draw. This time it was a damp, depressing early autumn day but Fylde put on a sunny display of running rugby against a game Yorkshire outfit. Whether it was the weather or a surfeit of World Cup rugby on terrestrial TV, the size of the crowd was disappointing – this young and talented squad deserve more local support to cheer them on.
Whilst the wet ball was a problem for both teams, Fylde’s ambition and technique was unmatched on a pitch which, despite the very heavy rain for 24 hours, was in tip top condition. The pack worked hard throughout and the back line posed a constant danger to ‘Fields’ defence. Six tries for and one against was the measure of difference but credit is due to the injury hit visitors who battled through the 80 minutes and scored a gritty consolation try to close out the game.
Three North West clubs headed National Two (North) before Saturday – Caldy in 1st place with Sedgley Park and Fylde in hot pursuit. Sedgley slipped up at home to Fylde’s next opponents, Tynedale, and Fylde climbed into 2nd place in consequence, narrowing the gap at the top to one point behind Caldy.
Fylde sprinted out of the blocks in the opening minutes. Flanker Ben Vernon made a fine, penetrative midfield break in the 2nd minute and a few phases later skipper Adam Lewis drove over the Huddersfield line for his first try of the season. A quite out of character mishit conversion by Greg Smith sneaked over the bar and Fylde had a 7-0 lead.
Five minutes later the home side attacked down their left and with neat passing put winger Tom Grimes away along the touchline. He was tackled but managed to offload to fullback Tom Carleton who needed no second invitation to speed through a gap to score his 5th try of the campaign. This time Smith’s attempted conversion drifted past the posts from wide out, his only kicking failure of the afternoon.
Huddersfield gradually warmed to their task and thanks to a Fylde knock on in the opposition half cleared well down field. The home defence was stretched to keep them out as they gave away a couple of penalties. ‘Field fly-half Will Milner kicked the second one for goal in the 18th minute and opened his side’s account to reduce the deficit to 12-3.
Play went to and fro as Fylde’s admirable ambition sometimes exceeded their ability to control the ball in the prevailing conditions and they were unable to exploit fully their dominant possession. However, in the 30th minute Fylde attacked down the right from well inside their own half. Winger Lex Botha outpaced the ‘Field defence along the touchline in a 40m burst. His inside pass went to ground but Greg Smith tidied up and fed the fast supporting hooker Ben Gregory who scored near the posts. Smith added the extras for a 19-3 advantage at half-time.
The 2nd half was dominated by Fylde as they strangled Huddersfield of possession and territory. 10 minutes in the home side attacked down their right and centre Connor Wilkinson broke a couple of tackles and raced 40m for a fine trademark try. Smith added the conversion.
Huddersfield battled back but were rather one dimensional, using their pack to batter away whilst their backline seemed underemployed. In the 70th minute the Fylde pressure told as they attacked down the left touchline through Tom Grimes. He put in a neat grubber kick behind the visitors’ defence and the fast supporting Wilkinson adroitly gathered the kick to score from 20m out. Smith converted for a 33-3 advantage.
By this time, both Head Coaches had flooded their teams with replacements. The rolling substitutes regulations in the National Leagues allows ten interchanges of players per team and 17 were enacted in this game, the most that can be remembered at the Woodlands since the practice was introduced some years ago. The comings and goings were supplemented by two yellow cards dished out by referee Woods in the last ten minutes. In the 72nd minute replacement ‘Field halfback Josh Hinchliffe was sinbinned for an offence near the Huddersfield line. From the subsequent penalty, Fylde set up a rolling maul and replacement hooker Alex Loney broke off the side to plunge over for his first try of the season. Greg Smith again converted well in the deteriorating conditions and his side had hit the 40 points mark.
But Huddersfield did not give in and battled their way inside the Fylde 22m line in the 79th minute. In the ensuing rucks and mauls, Fylde prop Elliot Horner was adjudged to have committed an offence and joined Hinchliffe in the sin bin. The visiting pack drove forward and prop Callum Thompson forced his way over for the visitors’ consolation try, converted by Will Milner as the final whistle blew.
Fylde can look back at their performance with pride. They certainly made a number of handling errors and were guilty of insufficiently looking after the ball at a couple of lineouts and rucks. Given the weather this was hardly surprising. However, the pack once again had the measure of their opponents in the tight exchanges and worked hard to provide sufficient ball for their dangerous backs to flourish. The new centre partnership this season combining the bludgeon (and subtle handling) of Scott Rawlings and the rapier of playmaker Connor Wilkinson is giving the back three of Tom Carleton, Tom Grimes and Lex Botha plenty of attacking and scoring opportunities. The team averages 37 points per game in the first four matches of the campaign. Greg Smith’s 80%+ goal kicking has taken him to the top of the N2N scoring chart.
Fylde have usually struggled at old friends and rivals Tynedale over many seasons but they will make the long trip to Corbridge, almost on the Scottish border, with confidence that they can maintain their unbeaten record in the Club’s Centenary season.
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: We struggled against Huddersfield last season and they were up at the top of the league. We were stuck in a dogfight against them here at the Woodlands in December and we couldn’t find a solution. Today we were much more clinical although perhaps we over played it in the last ten minutes. But generally we were quite pragmatic, pretty skilful and when we moved the ball into spaces then we were always dangerous.
“I was really pleased again with our scrummaging against one of the traditionally strong scrummaging clubs. Our lineout movement was good although we were a bit sloppy there and at one or two rucks. So we’ve got to sort out our discipline in these areas. But, overall, I’m very happy. To score 40 points against a team like Huddersfield, a good club who will be fighting throughout the season, is excellent.
“We’ve now one of the biggest tests of the season coming up. We’ve struggled at Tynedale over the seasons. They always play really well against us, do their homework in advance very effectively and have worked us out tactically. I’m delighted to finish September unbeaten and we’ll try to rip into October as we have a number of tough games coming up.”
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton (Lex Botha 74); 14 Lex Botha (Ralph Dowds 47), 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings (Tom Forster 62), 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner (Matt Ashcroft 47), 2 Ben Gregory (Alex Loney 40), 3 Adam Lewis (Elliot Horner 67), 4 Parkinson (Hal Chapman 69), 5 Matt Garrod, 6 Hal Chapman (Jacob Conner 40), 7 Ben Vernon (Ben Gregory 67), 8 David Fairbrother.
HUDDERSFIELD: 15 Tom Hodson; 14 Kian Stewart (Cail Cookland 58), 13 David Martin (Jack Maplesden 74), 12 Tom Owen, 11 Elliot Knight; 10 Will Milner, 9 Jack Maplesden (Joel Hinchliffe 72); 1 Callum Thompson (Josh Crickmay 34, Callum Thompson 53), 2 Ross Thornton (Liam Stapley 69), 3 Reuben Pollard (Josh Crickmay 74), 4 Guy Borrowdale, 5 Nick Sharpe (Tor Borrowdale 69), 6 Harvey Keighley-Payne, 7 Lewis Bradley, 8 Dicky Piper.
Photos Courtesy of Chris Farrow