Sheffield Tigers 16 Fylde 10
This was only the third ever game between Fylde and Sheffield Tigers but already the Yorkshiremen are proving a bogey team for the Woodlands club. The Tigers completed a double victory in two very tight matches last season and it was more of the same at a bleak Dore Moor Ground this time around.
Fylde had the better of the 1st half, deservedly led at the break but a show of determined forward power by the Tigers in the 2nd period ground down the visitors. Being reduced to 13 players with two of them in the sin bin by the 67th minute was too much and the Tigers exploited this with a late try and a penalty goal. A losing bonus point was Fylde’s only consolation. They maintain their 2nd place in National Two (North) but the following pack of clubs are closing in.
The weather and pitch conditions were the same for both teams, of course, but didn’t make running rugby an easy proposition. “Stinking conditions” tweeted the Tigers Head Coach after the game and he wasn’t wrong.
Although the personnel in both squads is relatively unknown to each other, one fact learned from last season is that it’s dangerous to give the Tigers fly-half Mark Ireland too many opportunities to kick goals. He filled his boots in the two games last season and he was to make another vital contribution on this occasion. Two early penalties were committed by Fylde and from the second in the 7th minute Ireland stroked the ball between the posts for a 3-0 lead.
The initial travails of the Fylde pack were visible early on when their scrummage was driven backwards for another penalty to be awarded by referee Nikki O’Donnell.
But Fylde started to take control from then on and dominated possession and territory for the rest of the 40 minutes. They sorted their scrummage out and impressively won the ball against the head. In the 20th minute a neat break by scrum-half Adam Lanigan made progress into the Tigers half and his half-back partner Greg Smith put in a deft chip to the left. Winger Tom Grimes gathered the ball well and scored in the corner. Fylde were playing down the slope but against the wind in the 1st half and Smith’s attempted conversion from wide out was too tricky. However, the visitors had a 3-5 advantage.
Some back chat from a Tigers forward didn’t impress the referee and from the subsequent penalty to the corner, the Fylde maul was halted and Tigers turned the ball over and cleared the danger. This was a temporary reprieve for the home side as Fylde went further ahead on the half hour following concerted pressure inside the Tigers half. Centre Connor Wilkinson was stopped short of the try line but his old Kirkham Grammar buddy, hooker Ben Gregory, picked up the loose ball and drove over for his side’s second try. Once again, kicking into the wind proved too much for Greg Smith and the attempted conversion fell short.
Some of Fylde’s gilt rubbed off a couple of minutes later when they offended in their own half and Ireland kicked his second penalty to reduce the deficit to 6-10, the position at the interval.
Fylde had enjoyed the benefit of the sloping pitch in the 1st half. How would the Tigers respond playing down it in the second period and with such a close score?
The answer to this was very clear as the home side upped their game and dominated the 2nd half. Fylde fell back on defence as the muscular Tigers pack took control. Alex Loney had replaced flanker Ben O’Ryan at the interval but he was soon struggling with injury and was replaced in turn by Matt Ashcroft. Ireland had a chance to reduce the deficit but, for once, his kick drifted wide.
The pattern of Tigers domination continued as the Fylde defence was having to replay last week’s heroics against Sedgley Park. The pressure on the Fylde line was acute and Ben Vernon was adjudged to have offended at a ruck and was sinbinned. This was compounded shortly afterwards in the 67th minute when hooker Ben Gregory joined Vernon in the bin following a high tackle. After more sustained pressure, Fylde’s 13 man dam burst and Tigers player coach Jamie Broadley scored the crucial try in the corner. Ireland’s conversion was excellent and Tigers had fought their way into a 13-10 lead. He extended this in the 79th minute with another well directed penalty kick.
With little ball to play with, Fylde struggled to exert concerted pressure on the Tigers defence and the home side ran down the injury time clock for a 16-10 victory.
Although Fylde retained their 2nd place in the division, they will need to re-group ahead of the trip to local rivals Preston Grasshoppers on Saturday in the annual pre-Christmas local derby collision. Greg Smith stays at the top of the ranking of leading points scorers in N2N but is joined by Mark Ireland on 161 in 15 matches, ie exactly half way through the season. In the ‘top ten try scorers’ list Tom Carleton is equal third with 12 tries, Tom Grimes one behind with 11.
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “I was really disappointed with our 2nd half performance after being tactically brilliant in the 1st half. It felt like we spent the whole of the 2nd half in our 22 and couldn’t do anything to change the flow of the game. With the amount of pressure they created we were always going to concede at some point, and losing 2 players to yellow cards in the space of 2 minutes certainly didn’t help matters.
“We also suffered some bad injuries to very important players and that’s probably the worst part of the day.
“However, I’ve got a great squad who are doing their best for the Club, and we’ve got an exciting week ahead. We’ll dust ourselves down and prepare to go to Hoppers and win what will be another physical contest.”
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 Parkinson, 6 Vernon (Forster 74), 7 O’Ryan (Loney 41, Ashcroft M 46), 8 Conner.
Non-playing replacements: Wild, Botha.