Fylde 54 Stourbridge 10: report by Simon Taylor
Fylde produced one of their best performances of the season so far with an eight-try demolition job as they completed a league double over Stourbridge at the Woodlands on Saturday. Apart from a couple of short sleepy periods in the game this was a highly focused and on the whole ruthless display against a decent Stourbridge outfit, whose only fault was perhaps a slightly too one-dimensional style of play.
With skipper Adam Lewis out with concussion and young gun Matthew Francis Garrod only able to leave his sick bed to watch well wrapped up from the stands, coach Warren Spragg had to do some re-shuffling of the pack. Fortunately he had some good options at his disposal and it was Cal Ford and Bevan Rodd with Ben Gregory in between who made up a youthful and energetic front row. Garrod and Nick Ashcroft have formed a very effective partnership over the last five weeks in the absence of the injured war-horse Olli Parkinson but it was good timing indeed that the latter returned to duty just as Garrod succumbed to the dreaded man flu.
Ben Vernon took over the captaincy with Ben O’Ryan and Sam Dugdale joining him in the back row. The pacy and dangerous back division was pretty settled as usual with Cam Crampton and Greg Smith steering the good ship Fylde as the half-backs. Connor Wilkinson and Ralph Dowds were the centre pairing and the back three were Henry Hadfield and the two Toms, Messrs’ Grimes and Carleton, all set to be the scourge of the opposition once again. There was also about as strong a bench as you can get with Matt Ashcroft, Jacob Conner, Alex Loney, Gus Warr and Like Fowden all itching to get some game time.
Fylde kicked off proceedings away from the clubhouse with a strong wind at their backs and there was little sign of things to come in the first few minutes. Stourbridge, resplendent in their nifty pink shirts, went through double figures phases of possession and drew the first penalty with Fylde initially not able to lay a hand on the ball. It didn’t take long for Fylde to strike though as in the fourth minute Tom Grimes stripped the ball in the tackle to give them their first meaningful possession. With Stour expecting to be on the attack their line was deep and Tom Carleton only had to break the first tackle to give him just one man to beat, and that is never a fair competition. He glided around that man with ease and coasted in to add yet another crossing of the whitewash to his ever mounting season’s tally. Greg Smith was his usual efficient self from the tee and Fylde were 7-0 to the good.
Fylde had the better of the next ten minutes and looked all money to extend the lead only for a knock in the grounding as the catch and drive lineout was driven over. They didn’t allow themselves to get frustrated though and on 16 minutes fashioned a fine second score. Set up close to the Stour line the away defence were fanning out for the next crash ball when Bevan Rodd showed his skill set with a pick and go through the middle and a fabulous offload out of the tackle to Ben O’Ryan who took the scoring pass for his debut try for the Club. It was converted by Smith for 14-0. A further score was denied when the Fylde man was adjudged to have picked the ball up from an illegal position in the ruck.
Stour were under the cosh but demonstrated they had some strike threat of their own if Fylde gave them any space, in particular their left winger Dan Rundle who showed just what serious toe he has with a searing 50 yard break in the 29th minute. This ended in a scrum to Stour 30 yards out and from this their big centre Hal Riley ran straight, hard and rather too easily through two Fylde defenders to get Stour on the board at 14-5 down.
Fylde got back down to business and, after a strong surge by Cal Ford put Stour on the back foot, Ralph Dowds took the ball at pace, crashed into the last defender and as he fell produced an excellent offload to the supporting Cam Crampton who went in under the posts giving Smith an easy kick to make it 21-5. A hectic spell of turnovers by each side then led to a full four minutes of overtime and some frantic Fylde defence until a knock on by Stour brought a close to the half.
Fylde had a healthy but by no means unassailable lead and playing into the wind in the second half they knew they had to start strongly, defend stoutly and work hard to gain the go-forward yards. Gus Warr replaced an injured Cam Crampton and got to work directing proceedings immediately. Stour did not help their cause conceding four penalties in as many minutes at the start of the half. From the last of these Warr chose to tap and go quickly catching the Stour defence at sixes and sevens. As Warr ran mazily into their half Stour’s centre Joe Heatley flung out a desperately flailing arm and caught Warr, high pole-axing him in no uncertain terms. It was a no-brainer for the merry whistle-blower to produce the canary coloured card and off trudged the apologetic Heatley to cool his heels for 10 minutes. Fylde took immediate advantage of the spare man as they created space on the wide with Parkinson feeding Tom Grimes to scorch down the touchline, the poacher Warr having cleared his head after the high tackle supported on the inside and dotted down for the bonus point try, Smith’s conversion making it 28-5.
After five weeks out and having put a great shift in, Parkinson was understandably blowing a bit and was replaced by Jacob Conner. Luke Fowden replaced Ralph Dowds and Fylde kept their collective foot on the collective Stour throat and on 50 minutes came the try of the game. Tom Carleton made a great line break from deep in Fylde’s half, Gus Warr played link man, Ralph Dowds took play on further, Ben Gregory supported on the inside and as he took the tackle off the last defender fed Sam Dugdale. Dugdale has made his fair share of powerful tackle-busting surges this season so must have enjoyed not having a finger laid on him as he finished off a try that had everyone on their feet. Smith iced the cake with the simple conversion and it was 35-10 and now really a case of just how many points would Fylde rack up and could they avoid conceding any more.
Both defences held up over the next 15 minutes as Stour worked hard to stem the tide and create chances of their own and Fylde had to battle out of their own 22 into the stiff breeze. Finally Fylde broke the shackles once more with Henry Hadfield muscling and bustling his way through several tackles in midfield before quick ball allowed Smith to float a lovely miss pass out to Grimes who cantered in for a well-deserved score. Into a strong wind from far out Smith failed to convert for the only time from the tee but Fylde were now most definitely home and hosed at 40-5 up. It didn’t mean they were about to let up though as just four minutes later they scored again. Jacob Conner pounced on a Stour handling error on half way and kicked through with Connor Wilkinson following up to scoop the ball up and run in unchallenged. Smith nailed a tricky conversion and it was 47-5 with the half century now in sight.
Matt Ashcroft came on for Cal Ford and if Parkinson thought he had earned his corn for the day he was made to think again as he was asked to do 10 minutes more graft in place of Ben Vernon, and fair play to the man he did just that. A failing on Stour’s part was how little use they made of Rundle’s electric pace by trying to create space for him in his own position, usually he had to go roaming for the ball. Finally on 77 minutes they gave him a sniff of a chance on the outside and he scorched through. Fylde’s cover defence for once was missing and there were several inside Stour players available for Rundle to pick from. Scrum half Gareth Simpson was the grateful recipient and he crossed for Stour’s second unconverted try of the day and they were at least into double figures at 47-10 down.
Fylde were determined to have the last say and break through the 50-point barrier and it was fitting that the man who started it all book ended the scoring with his second try of the game. With the Stour defence flat and in Fylde’s faces Greg Smith showed there is still a place in the game for a well-timed and well-placed kick. His deft chip over the top was followed up by whizz-kid Tom Carleton who toed it over the line and dropped on it for his second try of the game and 19th of the season. Smith converted and in front of a very appreciative clubhouse the referee signalled an end to proceedings with Fylde bringing up their first half-century haul of the season with this fine 54-10 victory.
Man of the Match was awarded to Tom Grimes although Cal Ford was a very close second. Nigel Mukurati was name man of the match for Stour and no surprise he was, it was truly astonishing just how many full on totally committed carries he made in the game, how he has only missed 4 games in 7 seasons playing like that is a mystery. It was a fine all round team performance by Fylde, although if one were looking for perfection the two tries they conceded were rather soft and the line out (albeit a windy day) did misfire too often. It would be churlish to pick any serious holes though, Coach Spragg has organised and motivated this young team to rise to the challenge of this division after a tough couple of seasons and they have kept themselves firmly in the hunt. With Hull Ionians the only away winners this week at Huddersfield and Fylde still having to play both Huddersfield and Chester they can finish at least second and earn a promotion play off place if they win all their remaining fixtures with enough bonus points and that must be the challenge they set themselves.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I was really impressed by the maturity shown by the lads. We heard during the week that this is the youngest squad we’ve fielded in a league game and we’re coming up against big, powerful sides. So that was the challenge set for the players and to a man they were excellent. We were physical, energetic, and we showed our skill levels from 1-15, moving the ball well and with sound decision-making. We were disappointing against Hull Ionians and the week off allowed us to lick our wounds and we hit the ground running today. The job is now to focus on the next match, a difficult away trip to South Leicester who are a good team when they get their game right.
“Reflecting on the performances at Ionians and today, I think some clubs study the opposition very carefully and others less so. Ionians found a way to beat us twice. When matches become difficult you have to adapt your tactics and we are getting better at that. In particular, we’ve worked very hard on our support play. In some previous games we’ve missed tries because we created opportunities in the wide channels but we didn’t support the runner and make good decisions. But today we often had three or four supporting the player who had made the line break.
“We had a couple of disallowed tries in the 1st half and that might have affected us playing into the wind and rain in the second period. But we got our tactics spot on after the interval and our focus was just right. I enjoyed watching the 2nd half performance!
Fylde: 15 T. Carleton, 14 H. Hadfield, 13 R. Dowds, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11 T. Grimes, 10 G. Smith, 9 C. Crampton, 8 S. Dugdale, 7 B. O’Ryan, 6 B. Vernon (c), 5 N. Ashcroft, 4 O. Parkinson, 3 C. Ford, 2 B. Gregory, 1 B. Rodd
Replacements: M. Ashcroft, J. Conner, A. Loney, G. Warr, L. Fowden
Stourbridge: 15 M. Harrison, 14 R. Beddows, 13 J. Heatley, 12 H. Riley, 11 D. Rundle, 10 S. Wilson, 9 G. Simpson, 8 N. Cairns, 7 J. Seabrook, 6 T. Mukarati, 5 N. Murphy, 4 L. Griffiths (c), 3 M. George, 2 M. Worthington, 1 S. Thorp
Replacements: J. Lea, A. Sturdy, C. Roddy, C. Scott, L. Veebel.
Photos below by Chris Farrow