Another six Fylde tries on a beautiful Autumnal day at the Woodlands against brave and tough opponents isn’t a bad afternoon’s work. The Woodlands club are beginning to ratchet up their points total in impressive fashion and are now the third highest scorers in National Two (North). This wasn’t a perfect Fylde performance by any means – ‘South’ dominated too much possession and territory in the 2nd half – but when Fylde’s expansive play works it is excellent to watch.
The game had echoes of the previous home match, against leaders Hull Ionians, in that it was a similar pattern of convincing 1st half play followed by a 2nd period in which they rather struggled to get their hands on the ball. But it would be curmudgeonly to take too much away from the Lancastrians who are gradually climbing the league table, now up to 6th, and they will travel with confidence to high flying Chester next Saturday.
Skipper Adam Lewis appeared on the pitch ahead of the rest of his squad on the occasion of his 200th appearance for the Club and the crowd showed their appreciation of a fine and loyal player who was returning to action following a six week injury break. Everyone then stood for a minute’s silence in honour of long time, former club player and official Dave Ashworth who died a couple of weeks ago.
Fylde started the game very much on the front foot. In the 2nd minute South Leicester’s fly-half Ben Palmer spilled a low pass and a rampaging Sam Dugdale was on to the loose ball in seconds. The bounce was kind and he gathered and scored easily near the posts from 20m out. Greg Smith added the straightforward conversion, the first of a full hand of successful goal kicks for the fly-half.
South began to warm to their task as they established continuity in working their way upfield and retaining possession well through several phases. In the 12th minute they attacked right before moving the ball quickly through their backs to reach powerful and quick winger Michael Ogunwole who raced over in the left corner. Palmer was unable to make the conversion from the touchline but the deficit had been reduced to 7-5.
Fylde were soon back on the attack and spreading the ball wide at every opportunity. In the 16th minute their backs went left and they had spare men on the outside before South’s Palmer was adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball on, denying the home side a possible try. He was sent to the sin bin for his trouble. From the subsequent penalty Fylde set up a backs move 15m out from the South line. They went right and Tom Carleton neatly set up winger Henry Hadfield to score easily against the 14 opponents. Smith added the extras to extend his side’s lead.
From South’s high restart kick, Fylde lock Nick Ashcroft was taken out in the air, accidentally, by former London Scottish Academy graduate Michael Ogunwole and he joined Palmer in the sinbin. Given the flow of the game, surely Fylde would exploit their two man advantage and add to their lead. But the South Leicester forwards dug in and retained possession well as they pressed Fylde back into their own half. In the 27th minute when the energetic Fylde no 8 Dave Fairbrother was adjudged to have been holding on to the ball at a contested ruck, stand in kicker Isaac McNulty stepped up to convert the penalty for a 14-8 score line.
With South restored to 15 players, Fylde launched an attack deep within their own half. Centre Connor Wilkinson found Henry Hadfield and the South Leicester defenders tried to tackle him above the waist. The muscular winger battered his way past a couple of tacklers, broke downfield shrugging off a couple of others before neatly offloading to fullback Tom Carleton. The speedster doesn’t need much space and he raced in from 35m out to score under the posts. Smith converted for 21-8.
A few minutes later the Fylde backs moved right, Connor Wilkinson almost made the line but was tackled short. Scrumhalf Cameron Crampton quickly fed winger Tom Grimes who got over in the right corner. Greg Smith’s conversion from the touchline was perfect and Fylde took a 28-8 lead into changing rooms at the interval.
Head Coach Warren Spragg introduced three replacements for the 2nd half, with Sale Sharks dual registrants, scrum-half Gus Warr and prop Bevan Rodd, and experienced hooker Alex Loney, coming into the action. The 2nd half began in a similar fashion as Fylde were soon on the attack. South’s cause wasn’t helped with injury forcing off impressive lock Martin Wolfenden.
In the 43rd minute Fylde worked the ball left and Carleton almost made the crucial break. He was tackled and a couple of phases later lock Olli Parkinson drove on. Sale Sharks Academy scrum-half Gus Warr fed flanker, Sharks compatriot Sam Dugdale, who forced his way almost to the try line before neatly offloading to Warr who plunged over for his debut try for the Club. Smith extended the lead to 35-8.
But the next 30 minutes were dominated by South. With highly impressive no 8 Will Ward leading the forwards charge, they kept the play tight, retained possession well and went through many phases. If the 1st half penalty count was in Fylde’s favour then it was very different in the second period. The home side was penalised time and again as they tried to wrestle possession away from the strong South forwards.
In the 50th minute after several drives near the Fylde line, Will Ward forced his way over for South’s second try. Palmer hit the post with his attempted conversion but the deficit had reduced to 35-13.
Play continued in the same vein as South dominated possession. Fylde had their moments but made errors as they tried to re-establish control. In the 59th minute more South pressure inside the Fylde 22m line ended with skipper and centre Javiah Pohe powering over the line from short range. Palmer converted well to take the score to 35-20 and the spectre of a dramatic turnaround raised its head.
South still retained the upper hand and the Fylde defence was sorely tested. By this time, Adam Lewis and Nick Ashcroft had given way respectively to replacements Adam Joyner and Matt Garrod. In the 70th minute there was a crucial Fylde turnover near their line and they cleared the ball downfield.
The best try of the afternoon came in the 79th minute when David Fairbrother secured possession on his own 22m line and the ball was worked left to Ben Gregory who had by then re-joined the fray. Gregory raced down the touchline before linking with Tom Carleton and Matt Garrod who played Chris Briers in for Fylde’s sixth try. This was a fine way to end the game and to send the spectators happily to the Clubhouse bars.
However, it’s only fair to reflect on the way the home side had taken their collective foot off the gas in the 2nd half and the spirited fight back by South Leicester. A penalty count of 8-2 against Fylde in the 2nd half clearly didn’t help but some of these reflected the pressure they were under in the tight and loose. The visitors were unlucky not to have even taken a point from a game in which they fought very hard and with resilience.
Meanwhile, Fylde will travel to 2nd placed Chester on Saturday with the confidence of successive big wins behind them. They will have to step up their efforts if they are to earn points at Hare Lane where Chester have won all six games to date.
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I’m pleased that we got five points which was the ultimate goal. When we were good we were really good today. However, we let South into the game by making a lot of mistakes which allowed them to play to their strengths – and they’re a decent team. Traditionally, Fylde have a very strong back three and players aim to get to 20 tries a season. We didn’t score enough tries from these positions last season but they’re doing well in this campaign.
“The last game at Stourbridge was massively important and we were disciplined and surgical in our finishing. The lads trained really well this week and are focussing on the tough series of games running up to Christmas. One of our problems sometimes is naivety as many of the players are young and relatively inexperienced. We do have spells when we switch off a bit and make silly decisions, and that’s when we are vulnerable. But credit to South Leicester who put us under a lot of pressure in the 2nd half.”
Tom Carleton leads Fylde’s try scoring table with 8, followed by Henry Hadfield on 6, and Connor Wilkinson & Tom Grimes on 5. The backs account for 34 of Fylde’s 47 tries to date. Greg Smith has a personal haul of 95 points so far
FYLDE: 15 Carleton; 14 Hadfield, 13 Briers, 12 Wilkinson, 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Crampton (Warr 40); 1 Horner (Rodd 40), 2 Gregory (Loney 40), 3 Lewis (Joyner 60), 4 Ashcroft (Garrod 57), 5 Parkinson, 6 O’Ryan (Gregory 69), 7 Dugdale, 8 Fairbrother.
Photos below by Chris Farrow