Fylde 17 Esher 32
This was another disappointing result for Fylde at the Woodlands, this time against a good Esher outfit, but the squad showed plenty of guts and promising signs for the future as they contemplate the prospect of life in National Two (North) next season. The home side led for a substantial part of the 1st half and were very much in the contest at the interval. Two Esher tries in the opening minutes of the 2nd half were crucial in determining the final result.
Esher came in to the game still potentially under threat of being pulled in to the National One relegation dogfight. They started off with high energy intensity and pushed Fylde back inside their own half. Fylde conceded successive penalties and the visitors were camped inside the home 22m line. A casualty was winger Henry Hadfield who was sent to the sin bin for an offence. In the 8th minute, the reduced Fylde defence desperately tried to stop the Esher advance but the visitors moved the ball through their backs and winger Joe Beckett scored easily on the wide right. The former Oxford University fly-half, the 6’5” fly-half Basil Strang, was unable to add the conversion.
Fylde took control and set up camp in the Esher half. As the visitors started to offend, a series of Fylde penalties put them in poll position. In the 14th minute fly-half Greg Smith kicked to the corner and from the ensuing lineout the Fylde pack drove towards the Esher line. As it looked inevitable that they would get over the line, the maul was collapsed and referee Calum Sharp awarded a penalty try as well as showing lock Liam Edwards a yellow card.
Fylde continued to dominate territory as their pack at least matched the bigger Esher eight. David Fairbrother and the rest of the backrow worked busily and the scrummages and lineouts were evenly contested with Olli Parkinson and Nick Ashcroft securing their own ball athletically. A startling 40m break downfield by fullback Tom Carleton was stopped by the resolute Esher defence but the visitors continued to give away penalties. From another Smith kick to the corner, there was another driving maul from the resulting lineout in the 24th minute. This time the maul was stopped legitimately but no 8 Fairbrother was sufficiently alert to go on the blindside from close range and swivel over for a well taken try in the left corner. Smith was unable to convert from the touchline but Fylde had a useful 12-5 lead.
Within three minutes, it was time for a Fylde player to stray offside and Strang kicked a straightforward penalty in front of the posts, 30m out, to reduce the deficit. Things were even better for the visitors two minutes later. A Fylde player lost the ball at the tackle breakdown and the turnover was eagerly exploited as Esher broke deep inside the Fylde half with the sweeping move ended with a strong dodging finish by scrum-half Niall Saunders near the posts. Strang converted for a 15-12 lead at the interval. There was no sense that Fylde were out of this evenly contested game.
Esher came out at the start of the 2nd half like men possessed. They threw themselves into the fray and two minutes in centre Dan Rowland found space in the Fylde defence and scored a neat try down the left. Within three minutes they effectively settled the fate of the game when they attacked down their right and powerful flanker Cameron Gentiles forced his way over in the corner. Strang kicked a fine conversion from the touchline to stretch his side’s lead to 12-27.
Fylde heads didn’t drop, as they haven’t right through this difficult season. There were numerous muscular bursts from wingers James Bailey and Henry Hadfield, and Tom Carleton looked dangerous but had little room in which to work. As the half progressed, no doubt with one eye on the young players involved in Lancashire U’20s game less than 24 hours later, Head Coach Warren Spragg replaced hooker Ben Gregory, lock Nick Ashcroft and fullback Tom Carleton with Alex Loney, Matt Garrod and Jake Foster. Additionally, David Fairbrother picked up an injury to be replaced by Toby Harrison and Dan Richardson took over in the front row from Mark Irving.
If Fylde had visions of threatening Esher’s lead then they were dashed, literally, by the livewire Saunders in the 59th minute. He dodged his way past a couple of home defenders just inside the Fylde half and broke fast downfield to score with hardly a hand laid on him for his second try of the afternoon. It was unconverted but Esher had a commanding 12-32 lead.
In the 69th minute, a dust up between Fylde centre Luke Fowden and Esher replacement forward Olli Mines resulted in both cooling their heels in the sin bin more or less for the rest of the game.
Fylde battled until the end but found it very hard to break down the Esher defence. Errors of commission and omission had undermined a number of promising moves. Somehow, many of them ended by knock-ons or faulty passing. They paid a very high price for this inaccuracy. They carried on taking the game to the Surrey club and gained a consolation score in the final moments of the game. Once again, the forwards battered their way inside the Esher 22m line and from a pile up near the line, Alex Loney found enough space to get the touchdown in the right corner. Greg Smith was unable to add the conversion from the touchline and the game ended at 17-32 to the visitors.
Warren Spragg saw some encouraging signs in his team’s performance: “Our attack was probably more effective and dangerous than of late. We had a number of opportunities to score tries which we left out there on the pitch. But there was definite progress on the areas which we’ve worked on in training.
“We’re getting better and that’s what we have set out to achieve in these final games of the season. We’ve set out certain targets and we’ve seen some of these achieved today. Our lineouts were good, and I was please that we capitalised on territorial advantage with two driving maul tries. This gives the whole squad confidence. But there were too many defensive errors, either through bad organisation or we fell off tackles. But, overall, we are making progress.”
15 Tom Carleton (Jake Foster 66); 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 James Bailey; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Greg Nicholls; 1 Adam Lewis, 2 Ben Gregory (Alex Loney 46), 3 Mark Irving (Dan Richardson 60), 4 Nick Ashcroft (Matt Garrod 46), 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Tom Burtonwood, 8 David Fairbrother (Toby Harrison 55).