Macclesfield 28 Fylde 31
Fylde began 2019 in the best way at Macclesfield by extending their unbeaten run to eight games in National Two (North) but they were taken down to the wire by the gutsy home team. It was a beautifully still day on a dry Priory Road pitch, perfect for running rugby. As the match progressed, to the outsider it would have been rather difficult to differentiate the 3rd place team from the 15th. Whilst Fylde had the attacking edge overall, only a last minute penalty goal by Greg Smith gave them victory. It was somewhat of a reality check after the excellent pre-Christmas win over Preston Grasshoppers but the Lancastrians once again showed that they can tough it out in very close matches. The end to end play and scoring sequence throughout led to an exciting spectacle for a crowd of just over 300 boosted by a good number of travelling supporters from the Fylde Coast.
Macclesfield have improved steadily during the season and their combative pack showed their mettle early on with strong scrummaging and good ball retention. They pressed deep in Fylde territory and the visitors’ defence was severely tested. After Macc won a couple of penalties on the Fylde line, in the 8th minute referee Andy Wigley made an important decision when he sent lock Matt Garrod to the sin bin. Macc opted for another scrum and against the depleted visiting pack drove forward before hooker Sam Moss got the touchdown. Skipper and fly-half Tom Morton added the extras and Macc were ahead 7-0.
Fylde were soon pressing close to the Macc line. Connor Wilkinson made the initial thrust before a miss pass by Chris Briers, making his 200th appearance for the Club, found fullback Tom Carleton who had acres of space to score. The first of a few feisty exchanges between players from both sides followed. This minor fracas had no effect on ice cool kicker Greg Smith who goaled the conversion to level up the scores.
Play immediately reverted to deep in the Fylde half and, after a number of phases, Macclesfield showed they are far more than just a big pack. From a scrummage in the 18th minute they attacked 25m out from the Fylde line and a missed tackle proved crucial as a fine delayed pass by Tom Morton to Tom Broster ended with the centre scoring a neat try under the posts. Morton converted to give his side a 14-7 lead.
Play continued to flow end to end and on the half hour Fylde hit back. The visitors’ pack mounted a fierce series of drives at the Macclesfield line before Olli Parkinson, returning to his old stamping ground, powered over to claim the try. The lock forward played for Macc in 2016-7 before moving to the Woodlands at the beginning of last season. He’s proved an ever more vital member of the 1st XV pack in this campaign. A player who moved the other direction is Macc flanker Adam McCarthy, a member of the Fylde squad last season but who moved during the summer to Priory Park and started this game at openside. Greg Smith converted Parkinson’s try and levelled the scores at 14-all.
On the resumption of play, Fylde were immediately on the attack. A lovely piece of elusive running by winger Tom Grimes in the 34th minute set up Fylde’s next score. Grimes took play deep into Macc territory before the backs spread the ball right and Tom Carleton dummied his way through the cover defence to pick up his 2nd try of the game and the 13th of the season
There’s more skills in Tom Carleton’s toolbox than mazy, very quick running. He’s developing a useful kicking game which he showed with an accurate ‘up and under’. Chasing his own kick he almost held the ball on the full with a clear run to the line but he knocked on in contact.
In the closing minute of the 1st half, another delightful thrust by the increasingly impressive Fylde backs put in Carleton for another try as they had a three to one advantage. However, the Assistant Referee spotted a forward pass and the players went to the changing rooms with Fylde holding a 14-21 lead.
Fylde, who replaced injured flanker Ben Vernon at the break with Ben O’Ryan, opened the 2nd half in Macc’s half but they conceded a penalty in midfield for offside and Morton kicked for a lineout near the Fylde line. A furious assault by the Blues forwards led to a confusing set of circumstances which had everyone scratching their heads. The referee sent Fylde no 8 Jacob Conner to the sin bin and appeared initially to award Macc a penalty try. As all the Macc players trooped back to their half, he changed his mind and awarded just a try to no 8 Dafydd Rees. So Morton was then called up to kick a rather tricky conversion and he did just that to level the scores at 21-all.
In the 62nd minute, Fylde offended in their own half and Tom Morton attempted to kick his side into the lead. His effort drifted to the right.
It was Fylde’s turn to attack as the game entered its last ten minutes. They set up camp inside the Blues’ 22m line and won a series of penalties. With replacements Bevan Rodd and Alex Loney refreshing the front row in the 2nd half, the Fylde scrummage was on top. Replacement prop Billy Robinson was the next player to see yellow as Fylde ramped up the pressure. After several drives at the Macc line, centre Connor Wilkinson twisted his way through a crowded defence to get the crucial touchdown. Smith converted and, once again with just seven minutes left, his side had the lead.
But Macc would not lie down as their forwards again battered their way towards the Fylde line. In the 78th minute, following a penalty conceded by Fylde and a kick to the corner, the driving maul edged towards the try line. Replacement backrow Ollie Longmore broke off the maul and drove over for the try. Tom Morton made the conversion and the scores were back level at 28-all.
From the restart, Fylde pushed the Blues back into their own half and in trying to retain possession Macc set up a series of rucks. Alex Loney made what turned out to be the match winning intervention when he forced the turnover and the referee awarded the inevitable penalty. This was a pressure kick in the 80th minute despite Greg Smith having probably his easiest attempt of the afternoon. He duly kicked Fylde into a 28-31 lead to the delight of the travelling Fylde supporters.
But Macc still didn’t lie down. The injury time minutes seemed endless as Fylde grimly defended on their 22m line. Macc threw forwards into the rucks desperately trying either to get possession or force a penalty. The Fylde defence did the business and Greg Smith eventually kicked the ball off the park to end the game.
This was certainly not Fylde’s most convincing win of the season. Their discipline faltered at times and they made hard work of this narrowest of victories. Despite this, the confidence of a winning run continued as they earned their fourth successive away win in a sequence of eight games undefeated. With 2nd placed Chester losing surprisingly at Leicester Lions, Fylde’s next opponents at the Woodlands, the Lancastrians closed the gap and are now only three points away from a top two place.
It was a tough result for Macclesfield who just fell short of at least a share of the points. If they continue in this vein then they will surely be pushing away from the relegation zone.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I’m really happy that we have managed to come away from Macclesfield with five points, even though the overall performance was poor. We were off the pace defensively and our discipline was nowhere near our recent levels, so we will need to improve if we are going to continue to push forward and keep winning. We showed good composure in the last four minutes after conceding a try to win good field position and pressure for the winning penalty, then to retain position in the final few minutes and close the game out.
“However, Macc have won their last two home games and were robbed against Hull Ionians so are clearly a better team than their league position suggests. I expect that they’ll pick up a number of wins between now and the end of the season and I’m glad one of them wasn’t against us!
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Cameron Crampton; 1 Elliot Horner (Bevan Rodd 50), 2 Ben Gregory (Alex Loney 64), 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Olli Parkinson, 5 Matt Garrod (Nick Ashcroft 50), 6 Ben Vernon (Ben O’Ryan 40), 7 Sam Dugdale, 8 Jacob Conner.
Non-playing replacement: Ralph Dowds.