Fylde top the table after toughing it out

Fylde 21 Hinckley 8: match report by Simon Taylor

Fylde ground out a hard fought win against a tough and well-organised Hinckley outfit by three tries to one at The Woodlands on Saturday. This victory, coupled with Hull Ionians loss at Chester means Fylde’s run of 11 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss in the last 13 games has seen them come from the back of the peloton to poke their noses in front as they sit top of the table albeit by a solitary point.

Fylde kicked off towards the clubhouse and Hinckley cleared for the first lineout of the day. A solid take by Nick Ashcroft set the platform for a first minute penalty as the Hinckley tackler failed to roll away. Greg Smith kicked for touch close to the line and it was the other member of the youthful Fylde second row Matt Garrod’s turn to leap high and secure good ball. The backs were unleashed and Mr Consistency Connor Wilkinson added yet another line-break to his ever-growing stats column before being tackled just short of the line. The ball was recycled left only for the referee to rule there was a forward pass, the first but certainly not the last one he would call against Fylde on the day. This led to the first scrum of the day 5 metres from the Hinckley line. The Fylde front row got the nudge on and forced a penalty from which they wisely chose to scrum again. Hinckley held firm this time so Fylde tried the backs once again only for stout defence from the visitors to hold Chris Briers up. This earned them a second chance on their own put in but once again they were pushed off their own ball and in such disarray that the referee went straight under the posts and awarded the penalty try, 7-0 to Fylde with just 5 minutes gone.

Fylde dominated the next 10 minutes without further troubling the scoreboard before Hinckley showed how dangerous they could be with a midfield break putting Fylde on the back foot. With the home defence scrambling a missed tackle saw visiting centre Matt Lasis sneak over the line despite Henry Hadfield’s best attempts at a last ditch tackle. The conversion was missed but Hinckley were back in it at 7-5 down and had served due warning that they had strike power of their own. They earned their first penalty on 19 minutes and the catch and drive saw them edge close to the Fylde line before releasing the ball for a scissors move with Lasis on the cut back. It certainly looked like the gap had been created and there was a clear run to the line, fortunately for Fylde Lasis knocked on and the chance went begging. Hinckley had their dander up now though and Fylde were struggling to exit from their own half. Skipper Adam Lewis was pinged for a no arms tackle in the 25th minute and Joe Wilson knocked over a fine penalty from the 10-metre line to edge Hinckley in front at 8-7.

There was now a real competition going on with both teams matched in physique, ability and tenacity and the struggle to impose themselves on each other was a fierce one. Sam Dugdale was showing again how exquisite his timing is as the second man in on his feet at the tackle and he snaffled a fine penalty on 34 minutes as the Hinckley player refused to release the ball. Smith’s kick to touch gave Fylde the line out in the opposition 22 but a crocked throw in and then a knock on in the next possession meant Fylde could not build pressure.

Chris Briers then had the ball ripped in the tackle leading to a Hinckley break deep into Fylde’s territory and desperate defence was required near their own line. A Hinckley knock on led to the referee playing advantage and Smith played his joker as he flung a long miss pass giving Nick Ashcroft the chance to break from almost his own lined. He drew the last man and fed Henry Hadfield who in turn drew the cover defender and fed Ashcroft back on the inside. As more cover came across Ashcroft picked a perfect pass to Connor Wilkinson who was steaming up the middle of the field in support and he gleefully cantered in from 40 yards out leaving Smith with the easy conversion to give Fylde what had 2 minutes before looked an unlikely 14-8 lead at half time.

This was a tremendous try showcasing just how athletic and skilful the modern day forward is. Sir Bill Beaumont watching must have been impressed to see a fellow member of the second row brigade rampaging fully 60 metres and being involved twice with deft hands to create one of the best tries seen at The Woodlands this season. It was also perfect timing leaving Hinckley wondering how they were behind at the break when it looked like they were about to extend their narrow lead.

The second half started with Fylde back in the ascendancy, earning all the penalties and building the pressure. A fine midfield break by Adam Lewis saw him in the wide-open spaces but Fylde were brought back twice for forward passes, in fact they probably had more forward passes given against them in this game than all the other home matches this season put together. Jacob Connor suffered a knock and was forced to retire meaning it was a welcome return for Ben Vernon into the fray and he wasted no time in putting himself about with muscular carries and committed defence.  Fylde’s scrum was still causing Hinckley problems with Bevan Rodd in particular causing his man all sorts of strife. This dominance must have pleased the front row union no end given it was in front of Hinckley coach George Chuter, the former Leicester and England hooker. Another scrum penalty gave Fylde territory close the Hinckley line and on 53 minutes the pressure told. From another 5-metre scrum Fylde set up a couple of drives before Rodd surged over from close quarters, Smith popped over the conversion and Fylde now had some breathing space at 21-8 to the good. 

Gus Warr replaced Cameron Crampton and from the re-start made an immediate impact as he spotted a gap and made a 30-metre break to keep Fylde on the front foot.  He then produced a neat chip over forcing the Hinckley defender to carry the ball over and give Fylde another 5-metre scrum. Hinckley held firm this time and in the next phase they intercepted close to their own line and broke out into the Fylde half. As Fylde scrambled back in defence Hadfield was adjudged to have produced a dangerous tackle and was yellow carded.

Fortunately for Fylde their numerical disadvantage only lasted 2 minutes as Hinckley replacement forward, James Moreton, was also yellow carded for liberal and injudicious use of his dancing feet at a ruck. Gus Warr then had a kick charged down and a penalty to Hinckley allowed them to pin Fylde back in their own 22. Alex Loney and Cal Ford came on for Ben Gregory and Adam Lewis and both teams continued to go at each other hammer and tongs, with Fylde looking for the bonus point fourth try and Hinckley for a converted try to bring them back within one score. Loney’s stay was brief as he took a stinger on the shoulder in defence and Gregory returned to the fray after barely catching his breath.

Hinckley had a good 5 minute spell before Cal Ford put a great hit in, got up and put a second one in at the next phase creating the chance for a turnover penalty as Hinckley held on to the ball on the ground. Smith’s kick to touch gave Fylde a last chance to get the fourth try but a scrappy line out, then accidental crossing by Fylde, brought that chance to an end and the referee signalled it was time to call it a day.

Whilst Fylde did not manage to secure the elusive bonus point this was a really tough match against a determined and doughty Hinckley team who were tiggerish in defence and dangerous in attack. Fylde struggled at times to build sustained pressure through errors and lack of accuracy but took their 3 tries well. Any win against the top 6 is a good one and their defence was again pretty mean on the day not allowing Hinckley too many scoring opportunities. Bevan Rodd was quite rightly named man of the match for his try and his part in the scrum dominance but this was yet again a good all round team performance. The youthful second row combined really well and Nick Ashcroft’s part in the excellent try just before half time will live long in the memory and was probably a turning point in the game. Connor Wilkinson was the pick of the back line.

Fylde’s hard work means they now have that slenderest of leads with only 3 points separating the top 4 and Otley only 7 points behind in fifth place. Chester and Hull have a game in hand and Huddersfield in fourth have two but Fylde do have to play them all starting with Hull away next week.  The challenge will be to try to win all of the remaining 8 games, a tough ask but not beyond them if their defence remains as mean as it has been and their attack clicks on the day. What is certain is that there will be some twists and turns to come with all the top teams playing each other but Fylde can now dare to dream of promotion after overhauling their competitors with a fine run of form since the start of November.

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Assistant Coach Dan Orwin said: “We’re very happy to get the victory but it was somewhat of a flat performance. We started very well, took an early lead but then fell off the pace. We weren’t particularly pleased about our 1st half performance as we didn’t work hard enough or with sufficient accuracy. At the interval we talked in the changing rooms about getting into our attacking shape more quickly. So the 2nd half was a significant improvement. I felt that we should have come away with five points. In the last ten minutes we put Hinckley under a lot of pressure but we weren’t surgical enough to get the fourth bonus point try.

“We committed a lot of errors and threw more forward passes than we’ve done all season. There were a number of handling errors in the backs and at times we were sloppy on the floor in the rucks. We need to be more accurate and give more attention to detail in the tight areas.

“Hinckley are a very decent side but I think we played into their hands, especially in the 1st half. Overall, though, I’m pleased as it sets us up very well to go to Hull Ionians next week. I think we’ve learnt from today and I hope that when we’re in similar situations in the final eight fixtures this season then we’ll be sharper and be able to execute moves more effectively. But, in summary, a win is a win, and we have gone 13 matches with just one defeat. The Club hasn’t had a run like that since 2010-11.”

Teams

Fylde: 15 T. Carleton, 14 H. Hadfield, 13 C. Briers, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11 T. Grimes (L Botha 72), 10 G. Smith, 9 C. Crampton, (G. Warr 50), 8 J. Connor (B. Vernon 47), 7 B. O’Ryan, 6 S. Dugdale, 5 N. Ashcroft, 4 M. Garrod, 3 A. Lewis (C. Ford 62), 2 B. Gregory (A. Loney 62-72), 1 B. Rodd

Hinckley: 15 J. Wilson, 14 J. Smith (C. Rowe 55), 13 M. Lamb, 12 M. Lasis, 11 C. Dacey, 10 T. Wheatcroft, 9 J. Glover (B. Pointon 63), 8 O. Povoas (J. Skerritt 30), 7. J.M. Dickinson, 6 H. Povoas, 5 M. Deaville, 4 B. Marshall, 3 O. Harper, 2. J. Greatrix (J. Moreton 50), 1. S. Harvey (C. Bresland 40).

Photos below by Chris Farrow

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