Fylde 14 Leicester Lions 13: report by Simon Taylor
Fylde stretched their unbeaten run to 9 games with victory over Leicester Lions at the Woodlands on Saturday. After racing into a 14-0 lead within the first 15 minutes they were in the end perhaps somewhat fortunate to limp over the line by a single point as they lost their shape and struggled for fluency. Only a penalty miss that would have given Leicester the lead and the fact Fylde defended like men possessed and found some semblance of their former selves in the last 10 minutes enabled them to see the game out and add another ‘W’ to the form guide.
Matthew Francis Garrod was the latest young gun to be making his 50th first team appearance and this popular local lad proudly led the team onto the pitch. Leicester kicked off towards the clubhouse and immediately Fylde number eight Jacob Conner picked a great line to burst through the away defence. That attack was snuffed out but a minute later the ball was spun wide and Connor Wilkinson put in a deft chip over the away back line. Try machine Tom Carleton sped through, toed the ball onwards and won the race to the touchdown to notch his fourteenth try of the season. Gregg Smith converted and Fylde had the early lead at 7-0.
Fylde could not secure the re-start and the Lions had their first real pressure of the day forcing a 5 metre line out only for the home defence to stand firm. Leicester seemed happy to kick a lot of possession deep which was an odd tactic given the strength of Fylde’s back three of Hadfield, Grimes and Carleton in returning these with interest. In the 11th minute prop Bevan Rodd charged down one such kick and was tackled without the ball as he pursued it. Smith’s penalty kick to touch gave Fylde a great attacking opportunity on the Lions 5 metre line. Garrod secured possession majestically and the driving maul was set up. Just when it looked like the Lions had dealt with this, skipper Adam Lewis caught them unawares by breaking off and he carried the last defender over with him to touch down for the try. Smith again converted and Fylde were scoring at better than a point a minute and 14-0 up.
The next ten minutes belonged to Fylde as they looked to be on a roll. Another excellent line break by Conner led to neat hands with Chris Briers and Olli Parkinson before a knock on halted the momentum. A midfield high ball then caused chaos until Tom Grimes tidied up and after some good play stretched the away defence Grimes was again on hand to take the final pass 5 metres out only to lose the ball when a try looked highly probable.
It seemed Fylde had the Lions stretched and on the rack and a further score was inevitable. However, Fylde gave their first penalty of the day away at the resulting scrum and the Lions were able to clear to near the half way line. Suddenly Fylde’s play became unstructured, rather aimless and all their fluency seemed to desert them. Between the 29th and 33rd minutes Fylde gave 4 penalties away allowing the Lions to camp out on the Fylde line. Although the Lions had to settle for Harry Key kicking the last of these penalties to get the away team on the board at 14-3 down this period of play was the start of a long and turgid spell for Fylde who just could not seem to get going again. A meandering period of play ensued with Fylde ball carriers being caught flat footed, kicks being charged down and unforced knock-ons all allowing the Lions self-belief to grow exponentially. The half ended with the Lions pressing on the home line only to knock on and Fylde were glad to get into the sheds and look to re-group.
With Head Coach Warren Spragg absent on the day due to duties elsewhere it was down to the coaching duo of Alex Loney and Dan Orwin to attempt to re-install Fylde’s focus. One concerning statistic of the first half was the penalty count being 6 to 1 in the Lions favour. This could have had something to do with not as many natural breakdown penalty winners being in the Fylde pack as there usually is due to injuries and unavailability. Whilst the defence had been sound and ball-carrying options were good it is essential to have those two or three players who will regularly get over the tackled man and win the decision from the referee. It was perhaps no surprise then that Loney’s first act was to introduce himself to the fray as Conner made way having taking a knock in the first half. With no natural back rower on the bench Ben Gregory moved from hooker to wing forward and Harlan Corrie from there to number eight.
Fylde’s search for fluency was not helped when Olli Parkinson was stretchered off with a knee injury only three minutes into the second half. Parkinson has been a very consistent performer all season and a real workhorse. That was almost immediately compounded by scrum half Cameron Crampton having to retire for the day due to a tight hamstring. Nick Ashcroft came on to replace Parkinson and a major back line re-shuffle took place as Tom Carleton moved to scrum half, Ralph Dowds came on at centre and Wilkinson moved to full back. Much of this Ranieri-esque tinkering was due to dual registered players Sam Dugdale and Gus Warr having to be withdrawn from the squad late on. These players would have slotted in seamlessly meaning no need for major re-shuffling of the deck.
In the circumstances it was perhaps no surprise that Fylde struggled to re-establish their own brand of play or properly impose themselves on the game, however hard they tried. On 52 minutes Fylde were penalised for not releasing in the tackle and Key kicked the resulting penalty to claw the lead back to 14-6. Then on 56 minutes a Fylde line out throw went horribly awry and the Lions spun the ball wide quickly. With the Fylde back line not adjusting from an attacking set up to defensive mode in time space was created for the Lions very impressive winger Devon Constant. He nonchalantly strode around one and through another defender and raced round to the posts. Key converted and suddenly Fylde’s lead was down to a single point with nearly half an hour left.
Attempts to get the attack going for Fylde were just not paying dividends and some ill advised offloads were only inviting pressure and keeping Fylde camped in their own half. On the hour mark another Fylde indiscretion this time a high tackle gave Harry Key the chance to nudge the Lions in front. However, having been flawless from the tee up to this point, his fairly simple 40 yard attempt drifted wide. Things were getting rather desperate and Fylde’s single and simple focus was now just to win the game. If you can’t get your attack going you have to rely on your defence and this was tested to it’s limits, sometimes steadfast, at other times scrambling.
Fylde’s defensive efforts were sufficient to frustrate any further clear scoring attempts for the Lions and as the game entered the final ten minutes the pressure told on the away team with knock-ons affecting their fluency as well. On 71 minutes a crucial quality breakdown penalty win by Ben O’Ryan meant Smith could kick Fylde out of their own half for once. Another excellent line out catch by Garrod and clever kick by Wilkinson took Fylde deeper into the Lions half and the away team were penalised again allowing Smith to pin them into their own 22 metre area. Cal Ford and James Bailey came on for Bevan Rodd and Henry Hadfield and Fylde sought to keep the Lions under the whip in their own den. Finally some sort of attacking structure, belief and purpose re-appeared and neat line breaks by Carleton and Wilkinson and sustained phases of meaningful possession took valuable time off the clock in the right area of the pitch for Fylde. Another penalty to Fylde led to a 5 metre line out and although the maul was halted and scrum awarded to the Lions they now had only 2 minutes to go 95 metres if they were going to get that match winning score. They secured ball and went through six phases inching their way closer to half way only for one last knock on to bring the game to an end.
This was an unusual game to say the least and how Fylde went so badly off the boil for such a long spell in the game after racing to a 14-0 lead was a real head-scratcher for the fans and no doubt the players and coaching staff as well. This was one they could easily have lost and could not have complained had they done so. Having said that, any league win is a good one and sometimes you have to win ugly, and this was as ugly as both of the pantomime sisters put together. It is to their credit that they found a way to dig deep and win, it would have been a shame to have had the unbeaten run end at home in such fashion.
Ben O’Ryan was named man of the match although Matt Garrod on his 50th appearance had a stormer and must have been in the running with Ben Gregory also mentioned in dispatches. Fylde remain in third place 10 points behind leaders Hull Ionians and next week travel to Sheffield Tigers, who they owe one after losing to them at home to the last kick of the game earlier in the season. A win there and taking the unbeaten run to double figures is something worth aiming for.
Assistant Coach Dan Orwin said: “I thought we made very hard work of it. We got off to a very good start with a brilliant first twenty minutes but then we struggled to get field position, any sort of cohesion and ball retention. It was a real battle for us, to be honest. Early on we realised we had the advantage around the edges, we moved the ball well and we made a lot of line breaks. The Lions adapted very well. They upped their line speed, pressurised us very well and we struggled to find those edges after that. We struggled with our pods and often seemed to be going backwards.
“Injuries didn’t help. We made three changes within about five minutes after halftime. Cameron Crampton had to come off and that meant Tom Carleton had to go to 9, not his chosen position. Then our backrow was disrupted when Jacob Conner had to come off, followed by losing Olli Parkinson. But even with those changes we expected to adapt and overcome the Lions. A win is a win – we ground it out and showed real mettle. We could have easily fallen as everything was going against us, conceding penalties and so on. Last season and even early in this campaign we could have easily folded and lost. But we didn’t. Even in the talk behind the posts when the Lions scored, the chat was positive. ‘We’re not losing this game, we know what we need to do.’ We’ll take the win every time!”
Fylde: 15 T. Carleton, 14 H.Hadfield, 13 C. Briers, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11. T. Grimes, 10 G. Smith, 9 C Crampton, 8 J. Conner, 7 B. O’Ryan, 6 H. Corrie, 5 M. Garrod, 4 O. Parkinson, 3 A. Lewis (c), 2 B. Gregory, 1 Bevan Rodd.
Replacements: C. Ford, N. Ashcroft, A. Loney, J. Bailey, R. Dowds
Leicester Lions: 15 M. Titchener, 14 S. Benjamin, 13 J. Hamilton, 12 H. Key, 11 D. Constant, 10 D. Lewis, 9 A. Smit, 8 E. Godefroy, 7 J. Murdoch, 6 S. Johnson, 5 . E. Sumpter, 4 O. Tapscott, 3 D. Ali, 2 O. Taylor, 1 W. Roberts
Replacements: B. Spokes, C. Weaver, D. Gonsalves, T. Aviss, J. Leonard
Photos below by Chris Farrow