Fylde Vandals 26 – Leigh 3rds 14
The Vandals entertained Leigh 3rds at the Woodlands for what proved to be a ‘robust’ match-up between two sides situated in the middle of the league table. The Vandals were confident going into the game on the back of a strong showing away at breakaway league leaders Leyland Warriors, retaining most of the pack from that fixture. This confidence was tempered by the news that versatile half-back Philip Swindells was side-lined due to illness but mitigated by the availability of Paul Green, making a welcome return to the club at fly-half.
Captain Ritchie Mason, filling in at 9, set the tone from the first whistle, constantly asking questions of the Leigh defence around the breakdown, and making significant inroads. The Vandals’ forwards dominated possession in the early exchanges and retained it by slowing down play and working through the phases. Any loose ball was mopped up by fearless groundwork from hooker Chris Cardwell and teenage flanker, Max Barratt who continued to exhibit the competitive edge and ability synonymous with the family name.
Fylde’s forwards and backs both tackled well. Winger Clive Holland effectively brought down the advancing Leigh ball carriers, whilst Green along with the centre partnership of Tony Rawlinson and Pete Acton proved aggressive in the collisions. In midfield, all three stopped their marks on the gain-line, often choking the attacker’s ability to offload the ball or get it to ground.
With number 8 Ben James winning significant turn-overs by employing much the same technique, the resultant scrums proved another source of possession. At scrum time, part time prop forwards Gary Andrews and Damian King reprised their roles from the previous week, both turned in fine performances holding the Leigh drive. Both James and Mason fired from the back of the scrum making some important yardage, putting Fylde in great field position.
Tom Godfrey opened the scoring around the ten-minute mark, driving over from close range for a try following strong mauling approach work by the forwards. The second row added to his tally shortly afterwards from the same distance and in the same manner bringing the score to 12-0 with Green adding the conversion. A slight difference of opinion saw both sides temporarily reduced to 14 men which opened up the game as both sides reshuffled their respective decks. Fylde on the whole continued to play to their strengths.
When Leigh were up quickly in the line to close off space outside, Rawlinson intelligently brought the ball back towards his supporting pack, invariably requiring 2 or 3 of the opposition cover to stop him. Continuity improved, and lock Ali Atkinson, often the catalyst and focal point for much of the Vandals mauling play, drove over to make the score 19-0 with Green on message with the kick. A momentary lapse in midfield allowed for Leigh to latch on to the loose ball and score a great breakaway try leaving the score 19-7 at halftime.
After the break, Leigh started to enjoy more possession and Fylde had to work harder to retain the ball. Penalties at the ruck allowed Leigh to kick for position and spend more time in the Fylde 22. In response, Green’s raking kicks out of hand brought play back deep into Leigh territory with wing Toby Fulford-Brown chasing hard to keep Leigh’s back 3 pinned down. The ball retention at the lineout allowed forwards and backs to launch multiple attacks on the try-line. Jon Whitby and James went close before another maul formed 5 yards out and Godfrey, dropping low, powered over to complete a hat-trick. With the conversion making the score 26-7 and a win looking likely, Fylde started to look to open the game out, but did so without a steady platform of phased play that had served them well.
Too many passes were forced and did not go to hand. Leigh’s younger players started to capitalise on some interesting tactical kicking and a period of sustained possession ended in a further well-deserved visitor try leaving the game at 26-14. Some changes from the touchline brought some focus back; Mike Hewitson introduced at blindside made a telling contribution at the front of the line-out, as did Alex Grey in both the loose and the tight. The team were also very pleased to see the return to action of Richard Todd for the last quarter. Ultimately, the Vandals ran out the clock with their sizable second rowers remaining the only try scorers, recording their first win of the new year in satisfactory style.
The side move on to another stern test away next week to Orrell followed by a visit to Sedgley Park. The EPD and the team would like to thank both the referee and Leigh for the game and wish them well for the remainder of the season.
Report by Tom Godfrey.