Big bonus point victory v Luctonians keeps Fylde in 2nd place in N2N


Fylde returned to winning ways in National Two (North) with a decisive victory over Herefordshire visitors Luctonians in a sometimes feisty contest at the Woodlands. The pitch was in a fine state and, if a lot of the play was closely fought arm wrestling, there were enough moments of quality running rugby to utilise the conditions appropriately and engage the crowd. In the very tight race for the 2nd, play-off promotion place in the division between Fylde and Hinckley, the home side’s try scoring bonus point extended the difference by one point over their rivals who won at Huddersfield.

A couple of late changes in the Fylde pack saw Hal Chapman and the fit again Olli Parkinson replace illness victims Ben Vernon and Nick Ashcroft in the 20-man squad. As it transpired, this seemed to hardly weaken the home forwards who put in a hard working and determined display throughout the game.

Fylde started brightly and took just six minutes to open the scoring. As the home forwards pressed deep in the Luctonians half, a clearing kick by visiting scrum-half Louis Silver was charged down by Matt Garrod and the ball bounced beautifully for fly-half Greg Smith to stroll in for his sixth try of the season. He converted easily from near the posts for a 7-0 lead.

It was pretty much one way traffic at this stage and five minutes later more pressure by the Fylde pack led to a series of drives towards the Lucs line. Blindside flanker Chapman, who had perhaps his best game of the season throughout, made the telling drive to score his first try for the Club. Greg Smith’s conversion was spot on and Fylde had a useful 14-0 lead.

Luctonians got into the game at last and, when a Fylde defender offended in the 20th minute, Louis Silver kicked a straightforward penalty to reduce the deficit.

Both defences were aggressive and generally denied their opponents space and time. But Fylde did manufacture some dangerous attacking running including a strong burst by flanker Phill Mills down the left touchline before his pass to the fast supporting Tom Grimes went into touch.

The Fylde pack posed serious danger to the visitors and they hammered away near the Lucs line. On the half hour another drive by the forwards ended with hooker Ben Gregory claiming the try in a big pile up of players despite Lucs claiming that there had been a knock-on. Smith added the extras for a 21-3 lead.

With big shifts from the front row ‘foursome’ – Adam Lewis, Matt Ashcroft, Elliot Horner and Gregory – the Fylde pack had the better of the exchanges in the scrummages and earned at least their share of possession in the lineouts through locks Matt Garrod, Jacob Conner and no 8 David Fairbrother.

By this time there were some overly physical exchanges breaking out. In the 30th minute Luctonians no 8 Sam Jones was yellow carded in an incident which led to Fylde skipper Adam Lewis receiving a head wound. A couple of minutes later another penalty conceded by Lucs resulted in Greg Smith kicking a straightforward goal to extend his side’s lead which they maintained until the halftime interval. Fylde 24 Luctonians 3.

The 2nd half followed in the same vein as the 1st period. Luctonians’ discipline faltered and they gave away further penalties. In the 51st minute following a kick to the corner and the subsequent lineout, the Fylde pack mauled their way towards Lucs’ try line and then over it with the ever impressive Ben Gregory claiming his 2nd try of the game, his 13th in a very productive season for the talented young player. This also resulted in a four try bonus point. Smith was unable to add the conversion from near the touchline.

Luctonians worked their way back into the game as they immediately pressed inside the Fylde 22m line. They retained possession well before centre Rob Lewis picked a neat line to carve through the home defence from 20m out to score a good try near the posts. Silver added the conversion to reduce the deficit to 29-10.

If the visitors thought that this was a platform to hit back further it was soon disproved. By this time Greg Smith and Scott Rawlings had given way to replacements Chris Briers and Tom Forster. It was local talent Forster who made a major contribution toward the next Fylde score in the 59th minute. A grubber kick behind the Lucs defence set up fullback Tom Carleton to win the footrace for the touchdown. With Smith off the field, Carleton stepped up to take over goal kicking responsibilities and he converted his own try neatly for a 36-10 lead.

More Fylde pressure led to Lucs’ replacement wing Guy Kirkby being sinbinned and the home side took immediate advantage. A forwards drive towards the Lucs try line was finished off by prop Matt Ashcroft. Once again, Carleton chipped over the conversion confidently.

The fullback was having a storming 2nd half and finished off the game with aplomb in the final minutes. The Fylde backs worked the ball left and a burst from winger Grimes made enough space for an inside pass to Carleton who dived over the line for his 23rd try of the campaign. From the touchline, his attempted conversion looked good but glanced the post.

Whilst not breaking the 50 point mark, this was nevertheless a very sound performance against a hard working and physical Luctonians squad. All 20 home players contributed well to the victory as the close race for the play-off place continued. Caldy celebrated their outstanding N2N championship win at Lightfoot Green with their 25th win out of 25 games by overcoming ‘Hoppers by 5-49.

Meanwhile, 3rd place Hinckley kept up the pressure on Fylde win a good 15-24 win at Huddersfield.

Whichever N2N club finishes in 2nd place, it looks as though they will have to travel to the runners-up in National Two (South). This could be at Tonbridge, Taunton, Henley or even Redruth in the fierce battle for the top places in that division.

Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I’m really pleased to get 5 points. Luctonians have been on a good run of form, winning 8 out of the last 12 games, 3 of the last 4, including beating Sedgley well last weekend. We knew that we would have to be switched on today. We carried the ball well, with some good performances including by Hal Chapman who got us on the front foot, breaking a number of tackles with committed ball carrying, and the exceptional work rate of fellow backrower Phill Mills. We had the benefit of a few bounces of the ball today which we didn’t get at Loughborough, some 50/50 decisions, a knock on or two, a fair bit of luck on our side.

“We’re 25 games into the season and the workload for players has been substantial so we’re trying to manage this. We used all our replacements today, including resting Greg Smith after half-time. We have to ensure that the lads who haven’t had as much game time as others can come into the last five games and make a good contribution.

“I would expect Hinckley to win their remaining games going into the final week of the season when they visit champions Caldy. We have to go to 4th placed Sedgley and try and win there but before that it’s Hull next on 21st March and as far as I’m concerned at the moment that’s going to be our hardest away game of the season. We’re aware of what’s going on around us in the division but we can’t control it.”

Click here for Chris Farrow’s 135 match photos.

FYLDE: 15 Carleton; 14 Botha, 13 Wilkinson, 12 Rawlings (Forster 51), 11 Grimes; 10 Smith (Briers 51), 9 Lanigan; 1 Lewis (Ashcroft 62), 2 Gregory (Stephenson 62), 3 Ashcroft (Horner 30), 4 Conner (Parkinson 40), 5 Garrod, 6 Chapman, 7 Mills, 8 Fairbrother.

LUCTONIANS: 15 Watkins; 14 Morris (Kirkby 30), 13 Cheshire, 12 Lewis, 11 Kelly; 10 Burton, 9 Silver (Randell 71); 1 Deignan (Furnival 48), 2 Young (Geraghty 60), 3 White (Smeilus 30, White 64), 4 Harriott-Davis, 5 Turner, 6 Tawfik, 7 Robinson (c), 8 Jones.

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