Fylde 10-13 Darlington Mowden Park
The Fylde squad have been improving week by week and they looked forward to testing themselves against high flying Darlington Mowden Park. If a stranger had dropped into the Woodlands they would have found it hard to identify which team was bottom of the table and which was in 2nd place and in contention for the championship of National One. A 78th minute DMP try broke the hearts of the Lancastrians – and turned around what would have been the shock result of the season. Fylde could justly curse their wretched luck. Credit has to be given to DMP for hanging in as the final minutes ticked by yet able to mount a final attack and score the decisive try against the run of play.
With sporting fixtures all over the North West called off due to overnight snow and ice, it was a delight to see the Woodlands pitch is such a good condition. The strong winds of recent days had dropped and it was a perfect though cold winter’s day to play rugby. Both squads were missing a number of regular players but their stand-ins delivered a fine, end-to-end attacking and exciting game.
One of the late changes to the Fylde starting line-up was at tight head prop. Sale Sharks dual registered Jake Pope was recalled to the Premiership club and he was replaced by another talented young player, Dan Richardson, who started his first game for the Club. He was soon in action as the Fylde scrummage established early control over the visitors’ eight. But it was DMP who had the majority of possession and territory in the first 20 minutes. The Fylde defence absorbed the pressure well although a couple of barnstorming runs by DMP’s powerful flanker Simon Uzokwe caused moments of anxiety.
Gradually, Fylde forced the visitors back inside their own half and it was DMP’s turn to defend. As the game went to and fro, Fylde had a scrummage on their own 22m line in the 30th minute. Skipper Greg Nicholls fed fly-half Alex Dolly who launched a high chip toward the left touchline. It was inch perfect as winger Tom Grimes, facing a DMP player on the rush, caught it on the full and set off down the touchline. He then stepped infield and outpaced five desperate defenders in a brilliant 65m run to touch down, his sixth try in an excellent first season at the Club. Alex Dolly added to his growing reputation with a neat conversion to give his side a 7-0 lead.
The Fylde pack was by now causing the visitors real problems. The front row of Adam Lewis, Ben Gregory and Dan Richardson were resolute, locks Matt Garrod and Olli Parkinson were ruling the lineouts and their backrow of Harlan Corrie, Will Hopwood and David Fairbrother were competitive all over the pitch. From a penalty kicked to touch on the DMP 22m line, the home eight set up a superb, fast driving maul. It looked unstoppable as it approached the try line and was driven over. Not for the first occasion, or as it turned out the last during the game, referee Ben Davis made a big call by denying what everyone present bar the DMP contingent thought was a clear grounded touchdown. DMP cleared their lines and breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.
The visitors were to their credit keen to move the ball through their dangerous backline. This was orchestrated by the accomplished fly-half Warren Seals and the Fylde defence had to be at its most intense to protect their line. Given the attacking intentions of both teams, a half-time score of 7-0 was surprising.
Early in the 2nd half, Fylde earned a kickable penalty but opted to go for the corner. At the subsequent lineout DMP turned over possession and cleared the danger. The visitors soon introduced replacement lock forward, the veteran Talite Vaioleti, into the fray as they tried to wrestle control back. It took them until the 59th minute to do so when they pressed Fylde back deep into their own half. After a number of phases they worked the ball down their left and mobile lock Joe Craggs forced his way over in the corner. Seals was unable to add the conversion.
Into the final quarter Fylde were back in the Mowden Park half. Fresh legs were introduced with replacements Tom Burtonwood and Ben Vernon into the action. The visitors offended in the 65th minute and this time Alex Dolly went for the posts converting it with a good kick to extend Fylde’s lead to 10-5. But, true to the nature of the game, back came DMP and attacked down the middle in the 70th minute. Fylde fullback Tom Carleton tackled the much bigger ball carrier and was adjudged to have made a tip tackle as the DMP player crashed to the ground. He was shown a yellow card and Fylde were down to 14 players for the vital final minutes. Seals kicked the penalty from in front of the posts to reduce the deficit to two points.
It was all Fylde now and, despite their numerical disadvantage, they attacked the DMP line with aggression and intensity. From a clean lineout catch the forwards drove over the line only to be denied once again by the referee’s call that they hadn’t grounded the ball. Still they pressed inside the DMP 22m line, running phase after phase, before being judged to have been holding on in a ruck. DMP cleared downfield before launching a fluent backs move down the right in the 78th minute. Powerful winger Shaun McCartney broke clear down the touchline to score a good try in the right corner to the despair of the home supporters.
With Tom Carleton back on the pitch there was just enough injury time for Fylde to launch one last desperate attack. Once again they were penalised at a ruck and DMP kicked the ball dead to end this dramatic game.
Despite the low scoring, this was an intriguing battle between two well matched squads. It is a measure of the quality of the Fylde defence that before this game DMP’s lowest points score this season was 21. The average age of Fylde’s starting XV was 23 and the young players are learning fast, including some hard lessons of National One rugby. This was a display of spirit and courage and will stand them in good stead as they travel to Loughborough Students next Saturday and finish the year with a big pre-Christmas North West battle when Caldy visit the Woodlands.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I don’t really know what to say after a finish like that. The lads did everything they needed to do to win the match but had it stolen off us in the last minutes. That hurts and it’s difficult to reflect on this so soon after the game. Our set piece was good and we stole a number of their lineouts. I don’t understand what the crucial free kick against us in the final minutes was for. I thought we suffered some really odd decisions which influenced the game once again.
“The lads have been getting better at all the things that we’ve been working on in training. Our performance level has been really good in recent games, with just the defeat at Esher a blip. We’ve had some decisions which have adversely affected us today, with a number of 50:50 calls going the wrong way. But surely these are going to have to go our way in future weeks! The squad has developed a siege mentality in these circumstances. People don’t believe that we’re as good as we are. The guys are tight and strong as a group, are raging at the outcome today and can’t wait to get back out on the pitch again at Loughborough.
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Alex Dolly, 9 Greg Nicholls; 1 Dan Richardson, 2 Ben Gregory (Tom Burtonwood 55), 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Matt Garrod, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie (Ben Vernon 65), 7 Will Hopwood, 8 David Fairbrother.
Non-playing replacements: Adam Joyner, Nick Ashcroft, Greg Smith.
DARLINGTON MOWDEN PARK: 15 Jack Blakeney-Edwards; 14 Callum Mackenzie, 13 Ben Frankland, 12 Garry Law, 11 Shaun McCartney,; 10 Warren Seals, 9 Matt Dudman; 1 Alfie Barron (Darren Fearn 64), 2 Chris Wood, 3 Ralph Appleby, 4 Dan Preston-Routledge (Tailiti Vaioleti 45), 5 Joe Craggs, 6 Dave Fisher (Andrew Davidson 71), 7 Simon Uzokwe (Rory Duff 64), 8 Ollie Hodgson (c).
Non-playing replacement: Brandon Asher-Wood.