Rochdale 3rds 7-22 Fylde Vandals
Such strange times we find ourselves in. Trump’s Whitehouse continues to confound and dismay, the UK faces up to the Brexit divorce bill and nerve gas attacks, Russia describes her ejection of diplomats as a ‘symmetrical response’ and one member of the Vandals discovered this very week that Canterbury ‘is quite a way past London’. Against this backdrop of international intrigue and geo-locational uncertainty, Halbro 4 (North) pitted mid-table Rochdale IIIs vs Fylde Vandals; the Red Rose’s very own East meets West.
Sean EPD Townsend managed to assemble good numbers; an exceptionally capable starting XV supported by an equal mix of time served journeymen and nascent youth on the bench. Special mention must go to Paul Green who braved the northbound traffic from Stoke for a second consecutive day to represent Fylde, turning out against Hoppers in the Brendan Hanavan Trophy the day before. Having come a cropper on the M6 on the Friday, Paul still arrived a little late again. Unhappily, when he reached the M60 from the south, instead of going anti-clockwise heading east to Rochdale, his troubles allegedly started when he followed Gary Andrew’s directions and went West.
Despite this small setback Paul rose to the challenge and led the charge right from the kick-off. An early move saw him ghost through the Rochdale middle like a mid-80’s Alan Hansen but when the ball moved wide Fylde were initially found wanting. Carlisle Canonball Gary Andrew’s first touch knock-on was the first mistake in a veritable house of horrors in the first 5 minutes. Rochdale capitalised, drawing first blood as their pacy full back joined the line, taking an arcing line between wing and outside centre before cutting back inside to score a converted try between the posts.
Searching kicks brought Fylde back deep into the Rochdale half, where they stayed for most of the remaining first half. In the scrum, despite a long engagement process, the front row of Tim Barrett, Chris Cardwell and Damian King dominated; Barrett in particular giving the opposition tight-head a torrid time while locks Ali Atkinson and Mike Hewitson powered some destructive shoves. From a free-kick awarded for a crooked feed, it was Green who provided the killer pass, drawing one and flipping the ball on to Atkinson to scythe through two flailing challengers and touch down around the ten minute mark. Green rose to convert the score, bisecting the posts with deadly accuracy.
With the game at 7-7, Fylde remained ascendant in most aspects of the game. When the ball went outside Rochdale often closed space down effectively leading to Acton, Andrews and Townsend bringing the ball back to the forwards to regroup and soak up more of the cover. Following a crowd pleasing finish in front of the grandstand in the last match, Townsend’s confidence was high. He beguiled would-be tacklers with deft footwork and feints, fixing defenders to the spot whilst maintaining options by carrying the ball in two hands.
Students of the game on the touch line remarked one particular passage of play was reminiscent of the ‘cloak invisible’ scene from Terry Jones’ 1989 motion picture ‘Erik the Viking’; an analogy that linesman Richard Todd felt was entirely accurate. Reward and redemption for the backline’s graft and craft came shortly before halftime. Frazer Swindells was found with a great pass out to the right and evaded being (literally) collared to cross for the Vandals second try.
With the kick close but just wide, Fylde turned round with the score at 7-12 resolving to concentrate on playing to their strengths and maintaining a high level of physicality. Fylde again kicked for territory and aimed to use their bigger forwards more effectively. On the flanks, Jack King and captain Ritchie Mason proved both constructive linking Fylde’s play and effective destroyers of the Rochdale counter-attack. So effective was the nuisance factor, a few differences of opinion at the breakdown saw both sides penalised.
Substitutions saw Richard Todd, Ethan’s mate who used to captain Kirkham GS and Max Barrett give Damian King, the EPD and Captain Mason a rest respectively. Continuity did not suffer and Fylde maintained control of play with number 8 Ben James competing effectively over the ball and Green and Andrews burying Rochdale’s attacking intent, effecting turnovers by holding up runners in the tackle and choking off quick ball. From an attacking line out Fylde claimed the ball on their own throw and drove for the line. With blindside wing Ethan’s mate and inside centre adding their weight to the drive, Atkinson emerged from the pile last, the try putting Fylde 7-17 up.
Awarded a penalty at the restart following an opposition player’s verbal transgression with the referee, Green drilled the ball back into the top corner and made Rochdale play from deep. When a move sweeping left broke down, Pete Acton scooped up the ball and glided back to the right, straightening into contact and turning the screw ever tighter.
Frustrations boiled over into a rather forthright exchange of viewpoints but the captains and referee did great jobs reinstalling discipline in the last 10 minutes. Seeking to mollify the situation and attempt to close out the game, the EPD played the last card in his hand and introduced noted erudite diplomat Tom Godfrey into play. From an overthrown line-out Jack King tidied up possession, stayed on his feet and presented it to his support. The maul was driven forwards from 15 metres out. A shout from scrum half Ethan Harvey marshalling the movement instructed Godfrey to peel off right which he duly did, smashing over from 4 yards within 15 seconds of joining play, with his first touch.
With the tactical genius of the EPD irrefutably underlined, a change of kickers saw Fraiser Swindells stepping up. He fared no better, leaving the final score at 7-22 to the Vandals. Man of the match was Tony Rawlinson in view of his robust fortitude in the collisions on the left wing, and not because the Easter MOM award was a Rolo chocolate egg, matching his usual monicker. The team would like to thank the referee for the game and the opposition for being welcoming hosts. We look forward to receiving Rochdale at the Woodlands 2 weeks hence. Further thanks to Sarah Swindells for her much appreciated photography.
EPD: Sean Townsend
Report: Tom Godfrey
Photos: Sarah Swindells