LOUGHBOROUGH STUDENTS 32 FYLDE 30[Photo above courtesy of Sean Wilkinson]
In a wildly fluctuating and exciting game between old adversaries, Loughborough Students secured the victory against Fylde by outscoring them five tries to four. The visitors were 15-0 behind by the 18th minute of the 1st half and spent the rest of the game trying to make up for defensive failings. Trailing at the break, three 2nd half Fylde tries, two by the outstanding David Fairbrother, put them right back in contention. If Greg Smith’s attempted conversion of the final try late on hadn’t cannoned off the posts then the visitors would have snatched a draw.
There’s something in the air at Loughborough University that doesn’t suit Fylde – this game proved to be their sixth successive defeat on the ground since 2013. The consolation of two bonus points helped to keep Fylde in 2nd place in National Two (North), four points ahead of a rampaging Hinckley squad who are breathing down their necks in the search for an end of season promotion play-off place.
The Students started the match at pace and took just three minutes to open the scoring. Openside flanker Finlay McBrearty, who was a thorn in Fylde’s side throughout, broke clear to score a good try wide out on the right. Goalkicking fly-half Tom Ffitch was unable to add the conversion in the windy conditions.
When a Fylde player offended in the 16th minute, Ffitch kicked the penalty to extend the lead to 8-0. Two minutes later Ffitch ghosted through some weak tackling to race 40m for a fine try under the posts. His conversion took the Students into a 15-0 lead.
Fylde began, belatedly, to warm to their task, in particular through their forwards who started to dominate proceedings. They earned possession deep in the Students’ half in the 25th minute and when a home defender offended Greg Smith converted a straightforward penalty. Five minutes later it was an identical outcome as Fylde pressured the Students’ defence. Smith’s penalty in a tricky wind reduced the deficit to 15-6.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg had picked out in advance that Students’ winger Joe Browning would be a particularly dangerous runner. He was proved right in the 34th minute when Browning received the ball in plenty of space, pinned back his ears and raced through for his side’s third try. Ffitch was unable to add the extras but a 20-6 lead looked convincing.
Fylde’s lifeline back into the contest was very timely as in the last minute of the 1st half lock Jacob Conner was on the end of serious pressure by the visiting pack and claimed Fylde’s first try. Greg Smith converted it very well from wide out and a 20-13 score at the interval looked much more positive.
The Students began the 2nd half in the best possible way and in the 42nd minute a slick move cut through the Fylde defence and flanker McBrearty finished off with his second try of the game. Ffitch was again unable to make the conversion, with kicking a hazardous venture in a strong, cold wind and occasional snow flurries.
The Fylde scrummage was dominant throughout and this was a major factor as the flow of the game turned. With Fylde camped deep inside the Students 22m line a series of penalties against the home eight led firstly to replacement prop John Woodward receiving a yellow card and, a minute later, hero turned villain McBrearty joined him. Fylde opted for another scrummage and this time referee Carl Adams’ patience ran out and he awarded a penalty try. With the score at 25-20 Fylde were in reach of their opponents.
This was underlined in the 59th minute, with the Students still reduced to 13 players as Fylde’s forwards pressure resulted in David Fairbrother driving over for a try to bring the scores level. This was sufficiently wide out as to make the conversion attempt very tricky and Smith was unable to give his side the lead.
Back to 15 players, the Students scored a crucial fifth try in the 65th minute when replacement scrum-half Tom Walsh nipped through some more fallible Fylde tackling to score near the posts. Ffitch added the conversion for a 32-25 lead.
Fylde battled back into the Students’ half with another series of scrums. In the 73rd minute the Fylde pack drove the Loughborough pack backwards at a rate of knots and Fairbrother controlled the ball well before dropping on it over the line for the bonus point fourth try. Greg Smith’s attempted conversion would have levelled the scores but unluckily hit a post and bounced back. At 32-30 there was insufficient time for Fylde to snatch a win and the Students survived to claim a deserved victory.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “We gifted Loughborough four tries yesterday through our own mistakes and ended up paying the price for it. While our scrum was extremely dominant, we didn’t manage to impose our usual style of play and adapt tactically to the best way to win which would’ve been to kick and force Loughborough to play from deep.
“But to take two points out of the game and still be in with a chance of winning with the last play is something we probably didn’t deserve, shows that we’ve got the fight that is necessary to keep pushing towards our goal even when things aren’t going well.”
LOUGHBOROUGH STUDENTS: 15 Freeman; 14 Barber, 13 Hudson, 12 O’Leary-Blade (Guiry 24), 11 Browning; 10 Ffitch, 9 Mason (Walsh 57); 1 Bill (Woodward 50), 2 Bourne (Yeoward 74), 3 Prowse, 4 Thomas (Dee 69), 5 Lloyd, 6 Lester, 7 McBrearty, 8 Munday.
FYLDE: 15 Wilkinson; 14 Carleton, 13 Briers, 12 Rawlings, 11 Grimes; 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; 1 Horner, 2 Gregory, 3 Lewis, 4 Ashcroft N, 5 Conner (Garrod 69), 6 Vernon (Chapman 40), 7 Mills, 8 Fairbrother.
Non-playing replacements: 16 Ashcroft M, 17 Stephenson, 19 Forster.