Fylde triumph in fine battle with Stourbridge

Fylde 41 Stourbridge 19

One hundred years and one day on from Fylde’s first ever competitive game on 11th October 1919, the current squad couldn’t quite equal their founding fathers’ 26-0 victory over Manchester YMCA. However, the 2019 version put in an excellent display to outplay a very able Stourbridge squad in front of an appreciative crowd at the Woodlands.

Some 125 people had enjoyed a superb Centenary lunch ahead of the game, one of the early set piece celebrations organised through the season to honour the history and status of the Club. Former England international Malcolm Phillips spoke about the Club at the end of the meal. Phillips was a fine centre three quarter who earned 25 caps during the 1960s. He looked on askance at the first 11 minutes of the game as the Stourbridge backs, in particular winger Dan Rundle, brushed aside some flimsy defending.

Fylde started in a positive fashion and won an early penalty and a kick to the Stour 22m line. A Stour scrum in the 6th minute led to their backs breaking down the left. Rundle stepped inside and raced clear with hardly a hand laid on him to score under the posts. Fly-half Chris Scott added the extras and the visitors were 0-7 up.

The early Stourbridge scrummaging was very strong and put the home pack under serious pressure. In the 11th minute there was a re-run of the first score. The backs made ground down their left and Rundle eviscerated the Fylde defence with a 50m burst to touchdown once again under the posts. Scott’s conversion gave his side a dramatic 0-14 lead. Could Fylde negate the speedster and get into the game with purpose?

Gradually the home team fought back and established control.
The Fylde backrow were proving a real nuisance at the breakdown and another penalty in the 15th minute gave fly-half Greg Smith the chance to kick for the corner. They secured the ball through David Fairbrother at the lineout, set up a driving maul and the no 8 then broke from 20m out handing off and stepping past defenders as he powered over for a try near the posts. Greg Smith converted and the deficit was halved.

Fylde dominated the second quarter of the game as they worked patiently to find holes in the resolute Stourbridge defence. Various attacks broke down by handling errors or vigorous Stour tackling. The visitors did clear the ball into the Fylde half on a couple of occasions but back came the home team.

A crucial moment happened in the 29th minute when at a ruck 10m out from the Stour line a dust up between the forwards saw influential prop Mark George sinbinned. The last ten minutes of the 1st half saw Fylde equalise and then stretch ahead.

A neat move involving Fylde backs and forwards went left and hooker Ben Gregory burst towards the line. Somehow, a Stour defender managed to dislodge the ball from his grasp as he was about to get the touchdown.

In the 35th minute Fylde’s determination paid off as, from several phases of possession near the Stour line, fly-half Greg Smith ghosted through a gap and twisted over the line to score a crucial try. He converted it himself and the teams were level at 14-all.

From the restart the Fylde backs attacked down their right and Connor Wilkinson, currently playing at the top of his form, at first receiver broke from inside his own half and raced clear, with an outrageous dummy or two and beat the cover defence for his 6th try of the season, perhaps his best so far. Greg Smith made the conversion and his side was in front for the first time.

In the final minute of the 1st half Fylde struck again one again from the restart. All action Fairbrother ran from his own 22m line, broke a tackle and from the ensuing ruck they attacked down their left via Scott Rawlings and a long pass to Ben Vernon. The ball reached Tom Grimes and he athletically touched down in the corner before being bundled over the side line. This was excellent finishing by the winger. Greg Smith just failed with the conversion attempt from the touchline. Three tries in 10 rampant minutes had changed the face of the game, to 26-14, as the halftime whistle blew.

The third quarter showed the commitment of both teams to continue to play attacking rugby. The Stour pack, back to full strength, was proving to be a powerful unit that demanded the utmost respect from Fylde but they weren’t helped when big tighthead prop Chad Thorne left the pitch through injury.

Play was moving from end to end at this stage and although danger man Rundle was looked after carefully by the Fylde defenders, the other principal running back, the very impressive fullback Ake Haisila, was a constant danger.

Stourbridge flooded forward and threw everything at the home side. The Fylde defence was fierce and, although conceding a few penalties, kept their line intact.

In the 64th minute, Fylde extended their lead with the first points of the 2nd half. Rawlings made good ground down the right with a carry to 15m from the Stour line before a couple of phases later the backs moved left centre field and a lovely pass from Smith and a clever running line from Ben Gregory saw the hooker finish off near the posts. Smith’s conversion established a 33-14 lead.

Stourbridge heads didn’t drop and they hit back immediately from the restart. Winger Reece Beddows sped clear down the right touchline and scored a good try in the corner. Scott was unable to make the conversion from the touchline but his side was back in the contest at 33-19 in arrears.

It was time for some pragmatic tactics from the home side and when they earned a penalty in the Stour half in the 73rd minute Smith kicked the ensuing penalty to establish a lead of more two scores ahead.

But Fylde weren’t done and in the 75th minute they finished off the game with another big carry by the inexhaustible Fairbrother near the Stour line and he offloaded to Gregory for the easiest of the hooker’s tries. Smith’s attempted conversion drifted wide but the final score of 41-19 was conclusive. Fylde retained their 2nd place in National Two (North) in pursuit of leaders Caldy but they were thoroughly tested by a good Stourbridge squad.

The entire team justified the plaudits, with the front five providing stability in the scrummages and, through lock Olli Parkinson, dominance in the lineout. The backrow was consistently excellent and David Fairbrother justifiably was named by Head Coach Spragg as Fylde’s Man of the Match.

Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “It was a frustrating start as Stourbridge tested us in areas that we anticipated and we didn’t defend it particularly well. So we found ourselves two scores down early on, far too easily. But I was proud of how we responded to this, keeping calm and showing maturity. We didn’t rush or panic to try to pick up scores. We were fortunate when the Stour prop was sinbinned – we scored 26 points when he was off. They were obviously a bit shell shocked and we managed to do what we do well, back up score after score in quick time.

“There were positive messages at halftime. Certain areas had gone wrong in previous weeks when we became nervous and cramped up in terms of decision-making. Today we made better choices with the use of the ball in the last 20 minutes, securing good field position, we didn’t chase lost causes, nor give silly penalties away. We were much better today, especially in dominating the last 20 minutes and scoring – that might be the first time it’s happened this season.

“This was a really positive afternoon against a good team, with a big pack who forced three early scrum penalties but we sorted that out in time. Our lineout was fantastic, with Parkinson securing our own ball and making a couple of outstanding ‘steals’ in the 2nd half. Overall, I’m very happy. Hinckley away next week. They’ll be similar to Stour, big and abrasive, and difficult to break down, so we’ll see how we do there.”

FYLDE: 15 Carleton; 14 Botha ( ), 13 Wilkinson, 12 Rawlings (Forster 78), 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; 1 Horner (Wild 79), 2 Gregory, 3 Lewis (Ashcroft M 78), 4 Parkinson, 5 Conner, 6 Chapman (Ashcroft N 58), 7 Vernon, 8 Fairbrother.
STOURBRIDGE: 15 Haisila; 14 Beddows, 13 Morgan (Heward 60), 12 Riley, 11 Rundle; 10 Scott (Wilson 55), 9 Heatley; 1 George (Maxwell 63), 2 Lea (Worthington 53), 3 Thorne (Thorpe 46), 4 Griffiths, 5 Collingham, 6 Mukarati, 7 Montieri (Thorpe 29, Montieri 40), 8 Smith.

Photos courtesy of Chris Farrow

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