A very young and inexperienced Fylde squad had a useful run out against first time visitors to the Woodlands, Bury St Edmunds RFC. ‘The Wolfpack’, as BSE are known, brought a big squad and were very competitive during this true ‘game of two halves’. The National Two (South) club have recruited heavily under new Head Coach, former England & British Lions centre Ollie Smith, and his charges were keen to make an impression.
Fylde’s Warren Spragg, in his first season as Head Coach, gave opportunities to a number of young players who have emerged through the Club’s development system or who have joined recently. A group of senior players were either unavailable or rested ahead of the National One opener against Cambridge next Saturday – Chris Briers, Greg Smith, Greg Nicholls, Adam Lewis, David Fairbrother, Mark Irving and Tom Burtonwood. Additionally, they were missing new forwards Olli Parkinson and Adam McCarthy, who were both injured, and Harlan Corrie who was unavailable. Matt Garrod is due to be ready for competitive action in the next few weeks following shoulder surgery. It is also expected that some Sale Sharks Academy players will become available at stages during the season.
So it was particularly interesting to see Fylde’s starting line-up dominate the 1st half against the visitors. BSE put pressure on the Fylde scrummage early on but the tyro front row of Adam Joyner, Ben Gregory and Alex Preston gradually stabilised matters. Trialist prop Dan Richardson (Leeds Beckett University) also contributed well when he came on as a replacement later in the 1st half. The lineout was well competed, with athletic lock Nick Ashcroft winning a deal of clean ball from hooker Ben Gregory’s accurate throwing. Toby Harrison had another impressive game whilst other young forwards making their 1st team debut, including no 8 Matthew Ellis, flanker Gregor Aitken and lock Karl Capstick, all made useful contributions.
The home pack began to secure a good share of possession and the backline took immediate advantage. When the line moved left, the ever influential Connor Wilkinson chipped over the BSE backline and winger Henry Hadfield won the race to the ball in the in-goal area for his first try for the Club. Soon afterwards, another move left which involved clever switching and running lines ended with scrum-half Jake Foster getting the touchdown. Fly-half Danny Carlton was unable to convert either from fairly wide out.
BSE came back strongly and powerful lock Yasin Browne broke tackles centre field and raced through to score under the posts. It was converted by scrum-half Max Navas to reduce the deficit to 10-7.
This was against the run of play and Fylde quickly re-established control. Another backline move left ended with centre Tom Grimes eluding the cover defence to score with ease. Shortly before the interval, intense Fylde pressure ended with a long drifting miss pass to fullback George Brookes who raced clear along the touchline before crossing to touch down nearer the posts. Danny Carlton converted for a 22-7 half time lead. One setback in a good 40 minutes for the home side was the retirement through injury of skipper Ben Vernon.
With an eye on giving all eight replacements some game time, as well as keeping some of his principal players injury free, Warren Spragg introduced some of his replacements for the 2nd half. These included 18 years old US scrum-half Jake Christmann and back rower Gregor Aitken. Others – Sam Simpson, Tom Carleton, Luke Woodward, James Torkington, Lewis Pattison – came on during the last 20 minutes. As so often in such circumstances, play became rather more disorganised whilst Bury really stepped up their efforts.
The visitors took control for pretty much the whole of the 2nd period with Fylde forced back on the defence inside their own half and rarely able to make progress in their opponents’ half. Although they defended grittily, they began to concede unnecessary penalties, including a yellow card for Karl Capstick, and BSE punished them accordingly. A driven maul led to one try. An earlier try was conceded from a Fylde attack along the touchline halfway as the replacement winger Guilliane Duplenne read the pass, intercepted and raced clear to score unopposed. Two late Bury tries through by now a rather disorganised defence finished the game with the visitors winning the contest by 22-33.
It’s a cliché to say that the importance of such games are in the performance of players rather than the result. But Warren Spragg and his coaches will have benefitted from seeing a lot of young players in the two warm-up games. He must have a reasonably clear idea of his squad for the Cambridge game at the Woodlands next Saturday although there will inevitably be a few tricky selection decisions to be made.