Spraggie on the Sheffield game, Tynedale and injuries

Head Coach Warren Spragg spoke to Andy Moore of the Blackpool Gazette in mid-week. Reproduced courtesy of the Gazette.

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Fylde RFC’s nine-match unbeaten run has been halted and now head coach Warren Spragg has challenged his charges to embark on a similar one in order to compete for the National Two North title, starting at home to Tynedale tomorrow.

Last Saturday’s 17-12 loss at Sheffield Tigers was Fylde’s first setback since leaders Hull Ionians lowered their colours at the Woodlands in October. The Ionians still have a nine-point advantage over fourth-placed Fylde with 11 to play, though Spragg’s side lost no ground last weekend as the top two also lost. Fylde did, however, concede third spot to Huddersfield, who have a game in hand.

Spragg spelled the situation out, telling The Gazette: “To win this league you need 115 points and a team that walks it may get 125 or 130. Hull are on target to reach 115, and for us to achieve that total, we will have to win every game and pick up a load of bonus points. But we still have to play each of the three teams above us and we have proved we can go nine games unbeaten, so it has to be our target to do that again.”

Fylde’s immediate priority is to avoid a repeat of this season’s stickiest patch: in a run of games last autumn, Fylde faced Sheffield, Tynedale, Peterborough and Hinckley in succession and lost three out of four. Last weekend they embarked on the same block of four, when the Tigers completed the double over them, and Spragg knows Fylde’s hopes could quickly be dashed if history continues to repeat itself.

Their first task is to avenge the 57-15 defeat at Tynedale, though the north-east visitors have won six of their last eight and comprehensively defeated second-placed Chester 35-5 last Saturday.

Spragg added: “This block of fixtures was the worst for us first time around and we have to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Otherwise we’ll end up playing to be in the top six and potentially we are better than that.”

Lessons must be learned from the defeat at Sheffield, where Fylde had plenty of opportunities but a tight home defence restricted them to a single try until Adam Lewis crossed in the 77th minute. The coach said: “Their tries were opportunistic and we had plenty of possession but just could not get across the line. We tried to drive over from lineouts close to the line but their defence was good. We kept on banging away, doing the same thing, when perhaps we could have varied our attack.”

Conditions may not have encouraged expansive rugby but Spragg added: “Sheffield threw the ball about and it’s about being adaptable. Our plan was to put them under pressure but their full-back is one of the best in the league (Pete Swatkins).”

The queue for the treatment table is beginning to shorten at Fylde and Spragg hopes to restore prop Elliot Horner and scrum-half Cameron Crampton to his options for tomorrow. Home supporters could also get their first sight of South African flyer Lex Botha, who made a late cameo at Sheffield last weekend.

Spragg added: “It was a nice gentle introduction to English rugby for Lex – playing on the top of a hill in the snow! It wasn’t really an ideal day for him to show what he can do but he did OK. Potentially he could be involved this weekend but our wingers are going well and we have good competition.”

David Fairbrother will not play for Fylde RFC again this season and head coach Warren Spragg admitted the charismatic number eight is a “massive loss”. Fairbrother has been nursing a shoulder injury since last playing in October against tomorrow’s opponents Tynedale. Spragg had been holding out hope that the back-rower may be able to feature again this season, though all parties have agreed that surgery is the best route.

The head coach said: “Dave will be a massive loss off the pitch as well as on it. He is an unbelievable bloke to have around. He’s wild and unpredictable and we love him for that,  but most importantly he cares about performing well. He is someone you want to have in your side and there’s no getting away from the fact we will miss him. But we look forward to having him firing on all cylinders in September.”

Fellow forward Olli Parkinson should feature again this season but is likely to miss a month with knee ligament damage sustained against Leicester Lions a fortnight ago. Spragg had feared another season-ending blow and said:  “The injury is not horrendous and we’ll have Olli back for the run-in.”.

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