Wharfedale 19 Fylde 32
Thanks to a superb 1st half display, Fylde took maximum points from their first Roses battle of the new season. Four tries in 30 minutes with no reply, and a 0-29 half-time lead, determined the outcome of the match. A shell shocked Wharfedale improved greatly in the last 40 minutes and scored three tries of their own but were never within range to force a victory.
If great rugby can’t be played on the Threshfield ground on a peerless, sunny early Autumn day then it never will be. It’s rather a cliché to mention broadcaster John Inverdale’s oft quoted judgement that this is “the most beautiful ground in England”. But, cliché or not, it’s true. Wharfedale is a unique club and is surely the favourite away trip for the followers of all other National Two (North) clubs, in decent weather conditions or not. The staggering Dales setting was certainly perfect in this third week of the 2019-20 season.
The Greens’ match programme sets the close relationship between the two clubs in affectionate perspective. “Although we have built close bonds with a number of clubs over the years, no fixture is more eagerly anticipated than the visit of Fylde. The special tang of a Roses rivalry is always in the air when Fylde’s team and travelling support arrive, and in recent years this particular chemistry has produced several classic matches.”
The Lancashire club’s supporters were certainly present but maybe not in the numbers of recent seasons. But those who did make the trip were delighted at the early stages of the game. Playing downhill and towards the River Wharfe, Fylde were soon camped inside the Greens’ 22m area. The forwards mounted a couple of drives at the try line and Hal Chapman and David Fairbrother both were close to getting touchdowns. In the 8th minute and behind an advancing scrummage, Fairbrother had better luck, forcing his way over from 5m out. Greg Smith added the conversion for a 0-7 score line.
Fylde warmed to their task as they soon launched a swift attack down their left. Winger Tom Grimes raced along the touchline but the hand of a Wharfedale defender prevented a clean inside pass to the fast supporting Tom Carleton. However, the ball bounced loose and Carleton scooped it up and ran 30m unchallenged to touch down. Smith missed the conversion but Fylde had established a useful 0-12 advantage.
The Greens were struggling for continuity and in the 20th minute inside their own half they gave away a penalty when visiting prop Elliot Horner was adjudged to have been high tackled. Greg Smith duly converted it.
The Fylde front row of Horner, Ben Gregory and skipper Adam Lewis was outstanding throughout. The usual narrative for a Fylde pack at Threshfield is to be under intense pressure at the scrummage. Not in this game for they had the upper hand throughout, and not only in the tight exchanges. At times they shoved the Greens pack backwards.
In the 27th minute Fylde stole a Wharfedale lineout and a fluent attack from halfway led to a fine, clean Connor Wilkinson break who raced 40m to score down the right side. Greg Smith kicked the subsequent conversion for a 0-22 lead.
Now came sustained pressure from the Greens as they camped deep inside the Fylde 22m line. Fylde defended grimly but gave away a succession of penalties and perhaps were fortunate not to suffer a sinbinning. Nevertheless, the Fylde defence was exceptional and eventually turned the ball over and cleared downfield.
In the last minute of the 1st half, Fylde added an excellent coda to their performance. Wharfedale moved the ball along their line going left but spilled the ball in midfield. Fylde tidied up and launched a slashing attack down their left and winger Tom Grimes forced his way over in the corner for his side’s bonus point try. Greg Smith put in a fine conversion kick from the touchline for a 0-29 lead at the break.
The 2nd half was rather different, as we’ve grown accustomed to in Fylde’s early season performances. During the break, the legendary Wharfedale PA announcer, ‘Adge’, colourfully berated his team and urged them to counter the fluent Fylde running style and plleaded for the gloomy home crowd to get behind the team. The players responded immediately as they pressured a Fylde attack and forced a knock on. The ball was kicked through towards the Fylde try line and eventually hooker Dan Stockdale drove over the line for the Greens’ opening score. Fly-half Blakeney-Edwards missed the conversion.
Fylde hit back and pressured the Greens’ defence which conceded a penalty in the 47th minute. Greg Smith kicked for goal and nailed it from 40m out to extend the lead to 5-32.
Another Fylde attack saw Smith put up a pin point cross kick for winger Grimes. He caught the ball cleanly 22m out from the Greens’ line but his pass was knocked on by the supporting player.
Former Kirkham Grammar School and Fylde flanker Jamie Brookes joined the Greens from Blackburn RUFC in mid week along with former hooker Tom Burtonwood. Brookes entered the contest at half-time and made an important contribution in the 57th minute. He made a telling 20m break from halfway and put in a tricky grubber kick behind the Fylde defence which struggled to field the loose ball. Greens winger Ralph Wellock was sharp enough to punish this and got the touchdown. Blakeney-Edwards converted to reduce the deficit to 12-32.
Play switched to the other end as Fylde scrum-half Adam Lanigan, who had another lively game, caught a clearing Greens kick but was adjudged to have been tackled in the air. From the ensuing penalty, Greg Smith opted to kick the goal but it faded as well as not having quite the length.
Wharfedale’s (and Yorkshire County’s) most influential player over more than a decade and now its Director of Rugby, is Rob Baldwin. This great servant retired a season or so ago but has now, in the light of injuries to various forwards, returned to the playing arena. He was at lock for this game rather than his normal no 8 role and was as aggressive as always. In the 70th minute, for once Fylde’s tackling was unconvincing and Baldwin drove over the line near the posts for his side’s third try. Blakeney-Edwards’s conversion put his side within 13 points of the Lancastrians.
Fylde defended the final 12 or so minutes without panicking and had a chance to extend their lead with another Smith penalty but it drifted wide. Despite further Green pressure, Fylde were composed and at the final whistle were delighted to take maximum points from the game and to advance, still unbeaten, to 3rd place in National Two (North).
Warren Spragg said: “I’m really happy with how the lads performed. We came out of the blocks firing as you need to do to have a chance at a club like Wharfedale. Our attack was clinical, Connor Wilkinson was unplayable in the first half and our defence was excellent for large parts of the game. We managed the game well when we came under pressure in the 2nd half and showed good composure late in the game.
“There had been lots of talk about the Wharfedale scrum leading up to the game so it’s only fair that our front row get the credit they deserve. We were outstanding in the set piece and Elliot Horner, Ben Gregory and Adam Lewis led from the front. Our focus now moves into Huddersfield and getting a big result at home next week.”
15 Bullough; 14 Wellock, 13 Blackwell, 12 Moore, 11 Cicognini; 10 Blakeney-Edwards, 9 Lawn (McNab 61); 1 Beesley (Asejevs 55), 2 Stockdale (Burtonwood 61), 3 Altham (Hirst 55), 4 Baldwin, 5 Hedgley (c), 6 Walker, 7 Speres, 8 Smith (Brookes 41).
15 Carleton, 14 Botha, 13 Wilkinson (Forster 78), 12 Rawlings (Dowds 68), 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; Horner, 2 Gregory, 3 Lewis (c) (AshcroftM 76), 4 Garrod, 5 Conner (Loney 66), 6 Chapman, 7 Vernon (O’Ryan 66), 8 Fairbrother.