Fylde 20 Wharfedale 17: report by Simon Taylor
Fylde left it as late as can be to earn their fourth straight victory as ice cool kicker Greg Smith slotted a superb long range penalty with the last kick of the game to turn a draw into a win and break the hearts of the gallant and doughty visitors Wharfedale. This was perhaps rough justice on Dale who had just fought back to level the scores and a draw would probably have been a fair result. However, Fylde have been on the end of a last minute loss themselves this season and sometimes these fine margins games go your way or against you. League points are precious and both teams fought tooth and nail for those on offer at a wet and gloomy Woodlands on Saturday. Considering the weather, they provided a cracking game to watch for those who braved the elements to huddle in the stands, under the clubhouse balcony or the real die-hards who took their chances on the terraces.
Wharfedale kicked off towards the clubhouse and after an early knock on forced a scrum that set the tone for the day at that particular set-piece by earning their first penalty and the first of what would be six scrum penalties. On 6 minutes Dale had another scum near Fylde’s 22. Their stand off Jack Blakeney-Edwards took on the line and a poor first up tackle attempt saw him slip through, draw the last defender and give centre Rhys Lovegrove a run to the line and the Australian former Bradford Bulls rugby league player dived in to open the scoring. Blakeney-Edwards converted and it was 7-0 to the visitors. Fylde were stung into a response and just 3 minutes later Greg Smith showed he had an eye for the break as well and split the defence, with runners either side he chose Connor Wilkinson and he easily beat the last defender and gave Smith an easy enough conversion to level the scores at 7 apiece.
The next 20 minutes saw the styles of play emerge. Dale had a large pack and strong running centres and their preference was the repeated drive and ball retention and why not when you have the physique and skill level to execute well? Fylde for their part, as always, try to stretch the game and use their best assets in a less structured and open style of game, whatever the conditions are like. Four penalties apiece in that period demonstrated the relative parity of play although Fylde had the better scoring opportunities. A lovely kick through by Cameron Crampton nearly led to a try by Tom Carleton but the ball was lost in the final attempt to ground it. Soon after that from a Wharfedale kick Carleton made a lovely break and fed Sam Dugdale near the touchline. Dugdale gave the big ‘don’t argue’ to three beefy Yorkshiremen as he ran fifty yards sideways down the touchline in a fabulous show of pace and strength and just when it looked like a top class try was on the cards a last desperate tackle forced his inside pass to go forward and Wharfedale were able to clear the lines after another scrum penalty.
On the half hour Fylde themselves were awarded a scum penalty showing it wasn’t always one way in that department and they kicked to touch close to the opposition line. A towering take by Nick Ashcroft set up the driving maul and the backs ran in to join the party as they sometimes love to do and their extra weight helped smuggle Ben Gregory over for the try. The excellent conversion by Smith made it 14-7 to the home side. At the risk of repeating myself another scrum penalty to the visitors allowed Blakeney-Edwards to kick a penalty and peg Fylde back to 14-10 only for Smith to return the favour with one of his own and the players took a break from being rained on with Fylde narrowly ahead at 17-10.
The second half kicked off with Ben O’Ryan on for Dugdale and the gloom ever worsening with the floodlights struggling to pierce the darkness and those with aged eyes asking each other what was happening when play was too far away from them. The game developed into a bit of a battle in the trenches, every yard forward was hard earnt and chances to spread the ball wide or get the scoreboard ticking again were at a premium for both sides. In previous games in the second half the opposition has sought to monopolise possession, strangle Fylde’s ambitions and bully them up front. Wharefdale were no exception but Fylde are showing they are learning to cope with that approach and the defence was stout and steadfast. Cameron Crampton used the boot wisely to relieve pressure and get Fylde down around the Dale 22 on a couple of occasions although at the risk of sounding old school arguably the boot could have been used a bit more often to force Dale to play from deep given that turnovers and breakdown penalties hurt you more in your half than the oppositions.
The second half was developing into a real arm wrestle and defence was taking its toll. Harlan Corrie had put in his usual abrasive and muscular shift and he was replaced near the hour mark by Matt Garrod, showing his versatility as he came on at blind side flanker. Elliott Horner was replaced at prop by Adam Joyner. Much of the play was between the two 22 metre zones as the struggle to force scoring opportunities intensified. Wharfedale turned down a kickable penalty to go for the lineout and drive option but after 8 phases Fylde forced a penalty in the turnover and cleared their lines. Fylde’s best scoring opportunity came when the always hard working Olli Parkinson charged down a Wharfedale kick and he and Garrod set off in pursuit causing chaos near the Wharfedale line before the visitors were able to clear downfield. Comedy moment of the day to lighten the gloom came when Matt Garrod’s attempted pass to the left flew into touch. Rumours that he was trying to pass to his Mum Sue who was as usual giving him ‘gentle’ encouragement from the terraces were later denied when interviewed by this reporter in The Taps.
Fylde now really came under the cosh as Wharfedale desperately searched for the converted try that would tie the scores. They forced 5 penalties in a row from the 64th minute and the fourth of these on the 75th minute was to prove a pivotal point. At a 5 yard scrum on Fylde’s line the scrum collapsed and unfortunately in doing so caused a bad injury to Adam Joyner whose knee cap was dislocated. With the medical staff attending to him it was obvious there would have to be a long delay, so much so that Fylde went back to the changing rooms. 15 minutes later after Joyner had been taken to hospital (we wish him a speedy and full recovery).
The game resumed with the scrum re-set. Wharfedale went through fully 3 minutes of possession battering away at Fylde’s try line. They were repelled several times but maintained possession and composure and replacement prop Ben Sowry finally breached the defences by the posts leaving an easy conversion and the first points of the second half had finally arrived leaving the game tied at 17 all.
Fylde did not let the late score dishearten them and kicked off deep. Wharfedale earnt a penalty and cleared to near their 10 metre line. They also secured possession at that line out and worked their way side to side looking to exit. Whether they were waiting for the referee to tell them when time was up or they did not want to kick deep to Fylde’s dangerous back three we do not know but just when it looked like time was running out Connor Wilkinson spotted the slight delay in the supporting clear out brigade arriving. He got his hands on the ball for the golden ticket of a turnover penalty when the ball carrier held on too long. It was still a difficult kick but Greg Smith held his nerve to bisect the posts and with there being no time to even re-start the game Fylde were jubilant and the men from the White Rose county were left to rue their failure to carry out one last successful exit from their half and travelled back home with only a losing bonus point to show for their 80 minutes of sweat and toil.
This was perhaps rugby for the purist given the weather but, despite that, the handling by both teams was top class and there was very little to separate them. Fylde could not have grumbled with the draw and it was hard on Dale to leave with just a losing bonus point but both teams should be proud of their efforts and the return fixture will be a match to look forward to with a trip to the beautiful setting of Wharfedale always a highlight of the rugby calendar.
Man of the match for Fylde was Greg Smith and for Wharfedale was Josh Burridge.
The win sees Fylde move up to fifth and next week they are at home again when they welcome third place Huddersfield and former Fylde favourite Chris Johnson back to the Woodlands
Warren Spragg said: “I’m really proud of how the lads kept their heads. It was the kind of game that we expected against Wharfedale. They were physical and committed and it was close all the way through. Both teams were defensively solid, and the set pieces reasonably even. Those last few minutes were absolutely mad. There was a bad injury to Adam Joyner who suffered a dislocated knee cap. We all wish him the very best in his recovery. He’s an excellent young player.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen in these circumstances. You don’t know where the lads are going to go mentally. They regrouped well and the defence from Wharfedale’s scrum on our line was fantastic as they went through about 15 phases. They worked their try pretty well. That was frustrating as it was in the 79th minute.
“We had to get that last set right as we had just one play left to respond. There was a good kick off from Greg Smith, solid defence, and then great work by Connor Wilkinson to earn the turnover and win the penalty. I’m really pleased for Greg Smith who stepped up to make the successful kick. I wind him up at times during the week. Maybe I don’t say ‘well done’ to him sufficiently. His success ratio this season is over 80% – it must be down to all the practice he does when away from the Woodlands!”.
Fylde: 15 T. Carleton, 14 J. Bailey, 13 R. Dowds, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11 T. Grimes, 10 G. Smith, 9 C. Crampton, 8 S. Dugdale, 7 B. Vernon, 6 H. Corrie, 5 O. Parkinson, 4 N. Ashcroft, 3 A. Lewis (captain), 2 B. Gregory, 1. E. Horner
Replacements: A. Joyner, E. Ashman, M. Garrod, B. O’Ryan, L. Fowden
Wharfedale: 15 H. Bullough, 14 R. Wellock, 13 B. Blackwell. 12 R. Lovegrove 11. O. Cicognini, 10 J. Blakeney Edwards, 9 P. Woodhead, 8 J. Burridge, 7. J. Tyson, 6. K. Houghton, 5. R. Rhodes, 4. G. Hedgley, 3. R. Ward, 2. D. Stockdale, 1. J. Altham
Replacements: B. Sowrey, T. Asejevs, K. Frost, C. Walker, S. Gaudie