Sheffield steal it! Report by Simon Taylor.
Fylde 24 Sheffield Tigers 25
Fylde outscored Sheffield Tigers by four tries to one but agonisingly lost out on the final scoreboard by a single point as two late penalties saw Sheffield take the spoils with virtually the last kick of the game. Visiting fly-half Mark Ireland held his nerve to kick his sixth penalty from the home 10 metre line and maintain a 100% success rate from the kicking tee leaving Fylde with just two bonus points when the full five had been well within their grasp.
Fylde were left to rue a high penalty count which went 19 to 10 against them and crucially they gave away the last four penalties of the match, three in kickable positions to enable dead eye Ireland to overturn a 24-16 deficit with 13 minutes to go.
Sheffield kicked off and after initially looking promising Fylde then struggled for fluency with two knock-ons in the first few exchanges. In the sixth minute hands on the ground first rather than the ball in the tackle area gave Sheffield a kick at goal and Ireland’s perfect day started to give the visitors the lead at 3-0. Back came Fylde on 13 minutes when a penalty kick to touch gave them good field position. Perfect ball straight off the top of the line out to Harlan Corrie on the charge led to quickly re-cycled ball and Connor Wilkinson jinked inside and had the strength to carry the cover tackler over the line for a fine try, Greg Smith’s attempted conversion drifted wide but Fylde had their noses in front at 5-3.
The next 10 minutes somewhat set the tone for the day. Fylde were struggling to build repeat phases through a lack of ball and when they had it a lack of accuracy and Sheffield looked to stretch the home defence with forward drives then their speedy backs moving the ball along the line at pace. A low error count meant Sheffield’s phase play was more constructive but although Fylde’s defence was at times stretched it was always up to the job with no serious threat to their line in the first half. Fylde when they did control the ball had more cutting edge when in the Sheffield danger zone and from deep with the ever dangerous Tom Carleton always looking likely to break the line.
On 23 minutes another breakdown penalty against Fylde at the breakdown was kicked by Ireland to edge Sheffield back in front at 6-5 before a tip tackle on Ollie Parkinson led to a penalty kick to touch giving Fylde good field position again. The line out was solid once more and after a couple of drives Dave Fairbrother picked a great line to crash through the defence and stretch out to dot the ball down for Fylde’s second try, unconverted, but Fylde were back in front at 10-6. Fylde made two excellent breaks from deep one through Tom Carleton and the other by home debutant scrum half Adam Lanigan but both were negated by penalty offences at the next breakdown and right on half time Mark Ireland kicked his third penalty and the teams trotted off at the break with Fylde narrowly in front 10-9.
In the first two minutes of the second half Fylde were awarded two penalties. With the second very kickable, the decision was made to tap and go quickly but a loose pass flew into touch and given what was to come this pivotal moment came back to bite the home team, although hindsight of course is a wonderful thing and is the luxury of the reporter and home crowd not the decision makers in the thick of it.
On 45 minutes a missed tackle led to a 50 yard break by Sheffield and them being awarded a penalty in the Fylde 22. They chose to scrummage and pushed the home pack back leading to a further penalty, scrum again chosen, collapse and a further penalty. A third scrum was chosen and although it looked like they might get the pushover Sheffield chose to pick and go, quick hands from 8 to 9 to the winger Henri Packard and he had the room to squeeze in at the corner. An excellent touchline conversion by Ireland and Sheffield were back in front at 16-10.
Back came Fylde on 53 minutes, Tom Carleton gliding through the defence with ease. For a second it looked like he may have taken the wrong option by ignoring winger Henry Hadfield outside but he cut back inside, took the tackle and offloaded inside wonderfully to Greg Smith who coasted in untouched under the posts and converted his own try and the lead changed hands again, Fylde now in front 17-16.
The next major action on 57 minutes saw Fylde reduced to 14 men temporarily as Matt Garrod was shown a yellow card as the referee adjudged his tackle to have involved a swinging arm. Sheffield chose to scrum again in a dangerous position but Fylde’s seven man pack earnt a penalty at the scrum and the lines were cleared. Fylde moved down the field into a dangerous position of their own but by now penalties were affecting both sides ability to create meaningful sustained pressure and were allowing defences to remain on top.
On 63 minutes Ollie Parkinson made a great line out steal and after Tom Grimes’ burst down the left touchline the Fylde man of the match Harlan Corrie was able to muscle his way over in the corner, Smith’s best kick of the day sailed over and Fylde now had a two score cushion at 24-16. This was reduced on 67 minutes when a loose pass in their own 22 and failure to exit gave Sheffield another penalty kick at goal and it was nerves jangling time at 24-19. Those nerves were jangling even more when a further penalty on 78 minutes for slapping the ball out of the number nine’s hands was kicked to make it 24-22.
As the game neared added on time Fylde were penalised on the Sheffield 22 for kicking the ball out of the ruck. A kick to touch and successful line out saw Sheffield with the ball just inside the Fylde half, the referee adjudged the Fylde defender had competed too long and the tackle had become a ruck and awarded Sheffield their 19th penalty of the game. Up stepped their man of the match Ireland with ice in his veins and a metronomic boot and Fylde were behind 25-24. There was only time to re-start the game, see Sheffield catch it and kick to touch and the final whistle went, leaving Fylde players, coaching staff and fans deflated and frustrated.
This was eminently a winnable game and one that got away and 2 bonus points will feel like scant consolation. With such a good line defence giving Sheffield only one real try scoring opportunity Fylde will look at the 19 penalties they conceded and seek to be more savvy about when and where on the pitch they choose to compete at the breakdown to avoid giving teams late penalty shots at goal in tight games.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I’m gutted, if I’m being honest. We outscored them by four tries to one. Our defence was OK but, because of a ridiculous penalty count, Sheffield kicked everything in sight. Fair play to them – it was great goal kicking from Mark Ireland and they managed to claw us back. I said to the lads all week that the Tigers would be the best team we’ve come up against so far. It was a decent quality game. I was frustrated with some of our decision making in the last ten minutes of the game which allowed it to be close and it gave them a couple of shots to win it. Very frustrating.”
Fylde : 15 Tom Carleton, 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes, 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan, 8 Dave Fairbrother, 7 Ben Vernon, 6 Harlan Corrie, 5 Ollie Parkinson, 4 Matt Garrod, 3 Matt Ashcroft, 2 Ben Gregory, 1 Elliot Horner
Replacements: Christian Joyner, Ben O’Ryan, Nick Ashcroft, Tom Burtonwood, Luke Fowden
Sheffield Tigers: 15 Peter Swatkins, 14 Greg Mellor, 13 James Broadley, 12 Thomas Hart, 11 Henri Packard, 10 Mark Ireland, 9 Ryan Holmes, 8 Frank Wragg, 7 Kain Rix, 6 Lewis Bloor, 5 Ashley Holland, 4 Alan Symcox, 3 Tony Gelsthorpe, 2 Louis Townsend, 1 William Bennett
Replacements: Edward Simmons, William Wallace, Thomas Taylor-Dawes, Thomas Coates, Robert Davidson
Photos below from Chris Farrow