Fylde notched a hard working 29-22 victory, their third of the season, against high flying Bishop’s Stortford at the Woodlands. The fact that the win wasn’t secured until Luke Fowden’s 78th minute try didn’t detract from a totally deserved result. Indeed, it enhanced the afternoon for an excited home crowd as Fylde played towards the Clubhouse and they celebrated with enthusiasm at the final whistle. The Hertfordshire team have had a great series of results away from their Silver Leys ground, with four wins and just one defeat, going down to all conquering Coventry by 30-27 at the Butts Arena. So this was no small achievement by the home side.
It’s interesting to compare the build up to Fylde’s match day preparations for the trip to Esher last week with Bishop’s Stortford’s this week. Fylde’s train journey to London was delayed and disrupted on Saturday morning, the coach from Euston was held up in heavy traffic and the squad arrived at the Surrey ground with less than an hour to go to kick-off. This was hardly ideal preparations for a tough National One contest. In comparison, the Hertfordshire club travelled on Friday evening and stayed in an hotel, with a leisurely jaunt to the Woodlands in the morning and loads of time to prepare. Such are the rigours of National One, especially for Fylde who have to face long journeys to the South East for 8 out of 15 away fixtures.
In comparison this week, Fylde were focussed and intense throughout the 80 minutes. Their defence against the big Bishop’s Stortford ball carriers was impressive and the whole team tackled like dervishes. It was good to see the return of skipper Greg Nicholls after three months away with a serious knee injury. To his great credit, he was fit enough to last the full 80 minutes despite having played no competitive rugby since being helped off at Caldy in the second game of the season. First half injuries to experienced backs Greg Smith and Chris Briers put great pressure on the rest of the backs to stay in the contest.
Bishop’s Stortford started the game with a rush and dominated the early exchanges. But Fylde are never more dangerous than when they win clean possession and run the ball. In the 8th minute, centre Connor Wilkinson broke from inside his own half and jinked left past a couple of visiting defenders. Tom Grimes made a clever run on Wilkinson’s inside, received the neat pass and stormed 35m to score a well constructed try, his 5th of the season. Fly-half Greg Smith converted well and his side had a 7-0 lead.
Fylde were back in the visitors’ half in the 14th minute and earned a penalty when prop Will Roberts was adjudged to have prevented fair release at a maul 20m out from his line. Referee Michael Harris showed him a yellow card for his trouble. This was the first of three such cards and all of them were followed by scores against the offending side. Fylde took advantage by driving to within 10m of the BS try line. No 8 David Fairbrother went right and managed to get a neat offload to lock Olli Parkinson who drove over in the right corner. Smith’s conversion attempt drifted wide.
Barely had Roberts returned to the fray before Stortford were once again back to 14 players. The very impressive former Samoan international no 8, Dan Leo, had escaped the referee’s attention for an earlier tackle on Harlan Corrie but in the 24th minute he gave out similar treatment to Connor Wilkinson. The inevitable yellow card followed.
In fact, Bishop’s Stortford initially made light of his absence and in the 28th minute, when a Fylde player offended in his own half, visiting fly-half, skipper and accomplished goal kicker George Cullen converted the penalty with ease to reduce the deficit to 12-3. Just before the powerfully built Leo returned to the action, Fylde scored the best try of the afternoon. After about ten phases, the Fylde backs moved left just inside the visitors’ half. Centre Chris Briers threw a long, looped miss pass to fullback Tom Carleton. He broke along the left touchline and put in a delightful chip over the advancing defender. He was quickest to the ball and managed to pluck it on the bounce from the grasp of a desperate defender and raced over to score an excellent opportunistic try. Greg Smith had already left the pitch injured by this time so versatile replacement Alex Dolly took over goal kicking responsibilities and he nailed his first kick to convert Carleton’s try for a 19-3 lead.
Fylde suffered serious setbacks in the last few minutes of the 1st half. Bishop’s Stortford were camped inside the Fylde half and from one piece of desperate defence former skipper Chris Briers damaged his arm badly. He immediately retired to the medical room with what was later confirmed as a serious break. Luke Fowden replaced him in the centre. As the visitors drove forward, new backrower Will Hopwood, who was being quietly effective in close quarter exchanges, was adjudged to have brought down a maul and saw yellow. With a reduced pack, the big Bishop’s Stortford pack drove on and referee Harris awarded a penalty try. The teams trouped off to the changing rooms with Fylde’s lead reduced to 19-10.
Fylde came out strongly in the early exchanges in the 2nd half. In the 46th minute pressure inside the Stortford half resulted in a long range penalty attempt by Alex Dolly. The young Australian’s kick drifted to the left of the posts. Two minutes later there was a repeat offence and this time Dolly’s kick was good to extend the home lead to 22-10.
For a 15 minute period from the 60th minute, the visitors took control urged on noisily by their excellent band of loyal supporters. They launched a sweeping attack down their right and winger Chris Smith took advantage of one of the few Fylde missed tackles to race over in the corner. Cullen converted well and his side was back in serious contention at just 22-17 in arrears.
More Bishop’s Stortford pressure was mounted and in the 70th minute replacement backrower Stephen Ball got the touchdown after a series of drives at the line. With the scores level, Cullen’s attempted conversion would have given his side the lead for the first time in the match but it was wide.
The last ten minutes saw Fylde upping the pressure on the visiting defence as they threw bodies forward. They battered away without making the breakthrough up until the 78th minute. The forwards then went through six phases, getting ever closer to the Stortford try line. Greg Nicholls passed the ball left to Alex Dolly who made a crucial half break before a clever off load allowed Luke Fowden to plunge over from a couple of metres out for his debut try for the Club. Dolly kicked the conversion and Fylde held on for an exciting and deserved bonus point victory.
The whole squad deserves great praise for their determination and commitment. The front row of Jake Pope, Ben Gregory and Adam Lewis worked tirelessly in the tight and loose exchanges and lasted all 80 minutes. Locks Matt Garrod and Olli Parkinson were similarly energetic around the park and secured enough of their own lineout ball to allow the backs scope to attack. In the backrow, no 8 David Fairbrother was as committed as ever alongside newcomer Will Hopwood and, when he was replaced on 60 minutes, by Ben Vernon. This writer’s Man of the Match, however, was blindside flanker Harlan Corrie. The young Cumbrian put in an immense about of work and seemed to compete at every breakdown. He has made the step up from level six to National One thanks to hard work and commitment and is another player of great promise.
It’s tough when a young squad suffers some heavy losses and drops to the bottom of the league table. But there is plenty of guts in the squad and no little talent under the shrewd guidance of Head Coach Warren Spragg. The performances are improving in leaps and bounds, especially at home. They have another chance to test themselves against a promotion contender when they return to the Woodlands this coming Saturday to take on old adversaries, 2nd placed Darlington Mowden Park. The players deserve the support of bigger crowds and its hoped that some of the rather fickle Fylde Coast and wider Lancashire supporters return to the Woodlands for the eight home matches that remain.
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton; 14 James Bailey, 13 Chris Briers (Luke Fowden 38), 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith (Alex Dolly 24), 9 Greg Nicholls ©; 1 Jake Pope, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Matt Garrod, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie, 7 Will Hopwood (Ben Vernon 60), 8 David Fairbrother.
Non-playing replacements: Dan Richardson and Andy Stevens.
BISHOP’S STORTFORD: 15 Nick Hankin; 14 Chris Smith, 13 Johnny Neville, 12 Matt Riddington, 11 Jimmy Rea (Robert Duff 50); 10 George Cullen, 9 Alex Patton; 1 Will Roberts (Tom McCrone 47), 2 Declan Caulfield (Jimmy Rea 52), 3 Seb Brownhill (Sean Edwards 41), 4 James Apperley, 5 Matt Tomlinson, 6 Oli Jones (Sean Edwards 17, Oli Jones 26, Steve Ball 41), 7 Dan Elsom, 8 Dan Leo.
Non-playing replacement: Sam James.
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