Fylde 29 Hull Ionians 41: report by Simon Taylor
Fylde suffered their second home defeat and fourth reverse in the last five fixtures as leaders Hull produced a dominant second half display to take the spoils. A fourth try late on did give Fylde a solitary try bonus point but that was scant consolation and the manner in which they were denied any kind of possession in the second half will be a concern to the coaching staff and supporters.
Ionians kicked off towards the clubhouse with the elements in their favour and Fylde started slowly, knocking on in phase three of their first possession. This saw them stuck in their own half and in the third minute a Fylde defender offended at the breakdown and the first scoring chance of the day went to the visitors. Up stepped centre Lewis Minikin to slot the first of his personal haul of 21 points and give the visitors the lead at 3-0. He was given a further chance on six minutes after a high tackle and duly dispatched that kick as well and it was 6-0 with Fylde looking like the away team who hadn’t got off the bus yet.
Fylde struggled for fluency and strong surges by Elliot Horner and Alex Loney came to nought as knock-ons either unforced or in the tackle disrupted the flow. Fylde needed a spark to get the team going and it was provided in the sixteenth minute when scrum half Cameron Crampton made a fabulous break from his own 22 and took play into the opposition 22. Although a good scoring opportunity went begging with a poor choice of final pass Fylde were now at last looking lively and dangerous. Loney forced his way over after a series of drives only to lose the ball under pressure when attempting to ground it but Fylde kept the pressure on as their first penalty of the game on 25 minutes allowed them to kick to touch 10 yards out. A towering line out take by Nick Ashcroft laid the platform and Ionians were defending desperately for the first time, conceding two further penalties in doing so. The second of these was straight in front of the posts and skipper Chris Briers decided Fylde needed to get the scoreboard ticking, instructing Greg Smith to fire the ball over and Fylde had opened their account and trailed 6-3.
Fylde’s good work at getting back into the game was undone on 34 minutes when they won their own line out ball 15 yards out but then made a mess of the exit, spilling the ball and Ionians hooker Ben Stephenson pounced to canter in. Minikin converted and it was 13-3 to the visitors.
Fylde’s play was all fits and starts at this point and was proving frustrating for them and the home supporters. Just when it seemed half time couldn’t come too quickly they burst into life with 5 minutes of scintillating rugby. Straight from the re-start Ionians kicked deep to Connor Wilkinson who was playing at full back for the first time this season with Tom Carleton moving to the wind and Ralph Dowds coming in at centre. Wilkinson showed how good he is with space in front of him as he pierced the advancing defence with a wonderful break and seeing no obvious pass took the final tackle and presented the crucial quick ball that allowed for even quicker hands to give try machine Tom Carleton a run to the line. The home fans were finally able to warm their hands in earnest and Greg Smith converted to bring Fylde back to 13-10 down. A down side to this sweeping move was Loney having to go off injured and Ben Gregory replaced him.
Wilkinson wasn’t finished there and right on the hooter he made another incisive break from deep, this time he had support in hand and was able to draw the last man and put Ralph Dowds in for the try, and after 20 long months out injured it was great to see Dowds back in action as his score and Smith’s conversion saw Fylde head for the half time oranges 17-13 ahead, almost out of nowhere.
Fylde would have been optimistic kicking off the second half towards the clubhouse with a lead and a decent wind advantage at their backs. Sadly that optimism was to drain away as Hull produced a master-class in starving the opposition of ball and negating their attacking threats by sensibly choosing not to kick to the dangerous back three of Carleton, Grimes and Wilkinson. A frustrating 40 minutes was to follow as Fylde struggled to gain any real possession or when they had it to do anything with it in the tight exchanges as the muscular Yorkshire pack knuckled down to their task of cutting off the supply lines. Their lineout catch and drive in particular was impressively, not overly pretty on the eye perhaps but highly effective and the best way to play into the wind.
Fylde did not aid their cause with another sloppy defensive line out in their own danger zone on 43 minutes. It was either a miscommunicated call or a poor throw as the ball sailed over the back of the line and Ionians prop Ben Bell came from deep to snaffle the loose ball and score a carbon copy try of the first half version. Minikin did not miss a kick all day so with the conversion Ionians were back in front at 20-17, a lead they were never to relinquish.
Fylde withstood another 5 minutes of pressure to earn a penalty at the breakdown 15 yards out. Needing to clear their lines and relieve that pressure the cardinal sin of going for too much ground and missing touch was committed. Ionians gratefully ran the ball back and after multiple phases lasting a full 3 minutes they created space on the right for Minikin to add to his 100% kicking success with a try, converted for a 27-17 lead.
Fylde gathered themselves and after a fine box kick take by Ben Vernon and a sublime Chris Briers midfield break the ever industrious Olli Parkinson forced his way over for an unconverted try to bring the score back to 27-22. Sadly in that move debutant number eight Jacob Conner who had a solid start on his first appearance was stretchered off after several minutes break in play. It will be a shame if he is out for a period of time so soon after joining the squad, especially given the paucity of back row options at present. [It is believed that Jacob suffered some ligament damage but, fortunately, not a break.] Matt Garrod joined the fray with some re-shuffling needed in the pack.
On the hour mark Ionians were awarded three penalties in quick succession and turned the thumbscrews with a series of line out catches and driving mauls, one going fully 30 yards. The referee lost his patience with Fylde’s attempts to stop these and yellow carded Garrod although in fairness to him it could have been any of two or three players to be sent for 10 minutes on the naughty step. Ionians now cranked the pressure up higher and despite some fierce goal line defence the dam burst and James Newman forced his way over, converted for 34-22. This became 41-22 on 68 minutes when Fylde ran out of defenders on the right after more multi-phase play and no 8 Ed Falkingham was the man left in space to cross for the away team’s fifth try of the day.
Fylde could have folded at this point but to their credit they finally gained some possession and put Ionians on the back foot for the last ten minutes. Ewan Ashman came on for Nick Ashcroft who had put in a good shift and the pack worked hard to force 3 penalties and a free kick in this last period. A quick tap and go by Crampton on the last of these saw Wilkinson on his shoulder at pace and his barnstorming burst took him through the tackles and under the posts, Smith drop kicked the conversion and at 29-41 down Fylde had a try bonus point and the prospect of a losing bonus point as well if they could force another try. Sadly there was only one more possession left and Ionians held the man up in the tackle and the referee’s final whistle signalled the end of the contest.
One spectator commented that the away team should be called Dull Ionians but this was a somewhat harsh and rather sour grape. The away team played the first 30 minutes of the second half exactly the way they needed to play to win the game and outscored Fylde 28-12 with a penalty count of 7 to one in that period before Fylde’s belated mini resurgence earned them their bonus point. On Halloween weekend there was plenty of toil from Fylde but apart from their ability to make breaks from deep there wasn’t enough to seriously trouble Ionians especially in the trenches and on the hard fought gain line. When Loney left the field and with skipper Adam Lewis and Dave Fairbrother missing the youth and inexperience of the pack looked somewhat exposed and this was a game where they were pretty much bullied out of it up front for large parts of the match.
Connor Wilkinson was named man of the match for Fylde and Lewis Minikin for the visitors.
This defeat saw Fylde on the wrong side of the ledger with four wins and five losses and in the wrong half of the table in ninth on twenty four points with local rivals Hoppers just a place and a point behind them. As Fylde face the prospect of travelling to Stourbridge and then have a week off, coach Warren Spragg will look forward to getting some older heads back as soon as possible and in the meantime look to find ways to help his young charges gain parity in possession up front against bigger and older packs. Whilst there is no doubting the desire and endeavour of his young squad, the challenge is how to avoid being bullied out of the possession when Fylde can exploit their undoubted strike power in the back line.
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I was really pleased with the 1st half performance. We were playing into a strong wind and I thought we did it well. We looked dangerous with the ball in hand with quite a few line breaks. Our support play to the breaking player was much better than it was last week.
“We predicted what was going to happen in the 2nd half in terms of where Ionians threats would come from, in particular the driving play of their forwards. We needed to be tight in defence to stop the mauls. If you watch the video we didn’t get a single one right through the whole game. I don’t know if I’m asking too much of these young forwards to play National League rugby in the winter against physical teams or whether they’ve just let the club down with their effort.
“We’ll go away and work at getting better with the squad we have and I’ll have a look at whether we need to bring some players in because we can’t be having performances where we are being walked over like today.
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Ralph Dowds (Luke Fowden 70), 12 Chris Briers (c), 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Alex Loney (Ben Gregory 37), 3 Adam Joyner (Matt Ashcroft 35), 4 Nick Ashcroft (Ewan Ashman 72), 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Ben Vernon, 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 Jacob Conner (Matt Garrod 56).
15 S. Wilson, 14 T. Kuku, 13 L. Minikin, 12 L. Thundercliffe, 11 W. Hardy, 10 T. Stephenson, 9 A. Thomas, 8 E. Falkingham, 7 J. Sanderson, 6 M. Wigham, 5 S.J. Newman, 4 J. Makin, 3 B. Bell, 2 B. Stephenson, 1 D. Laverick
Replacements: W. Booth, B. Carlile, A. Torkington, P. McGlynn, L. Colledge
Photos below from Chris Farrow