Luctonians 25 Fylde 27
Fylde maintained the leadership of National Two (North) with a narrow victory against a determined and very competitive Luctonians squad at their Mortimer Park ground. The home team belied their 15th position in the division with a good performance and Fylde were thoroughly tested by Lucs forwards and backs. The visitors were skippered for the first time by no 8 David Fairbrother.
Fylde’s only previous visit to Mortimer Park was in their promotion winning campaign in 2010-11 when Lucs won by 26—19, one of just four defeats for the Lancastrians in that outstanding season. It looked initially as this might be a case of déjà vu when Lucs started strongly, pinning the visitors back in their own half despite losing hooker Guy Kirkby through a yellow card in the 11th minute.
This seemed to matter little as in the 16th minute from a Lucs scrummage on the Fylde 22m line, the home forwards battered their way towards the try line near the posts before shifting the ball right along their backs. The Fylde defenders were sucked in and a long miss pass gave winger Seb Robinson plenty of space and time to score near the corner. Scrum-half Louis Silver’s attempted conversion drifted wide but his side had a 5-0 lead.
With the Fylde defenders incurring the disapproval of referee George Richardson, Lucs continued to press inside the visitors’ half. From one of a number of penalties conceded by Fylde, in the 25th minute Silver extended the lead with a straightforward kick for an 8-0 advantage.
Fylde finally got into their rhythm with their running and passing game and in the 28th minute opened their account. From a ruck on the Lucs 22m line, a neat short pass by fly-half Greg Smith put Connor Wilkinson through a gap and it looked as though the young centre would make the line. The defence caught him in time but with the visiting forwards in support a few phases later prop Matt Ashcroft drove over from close range in the right corner for his 1st XV debut score. Smith was unable to add the extras.
From the restart kick Fylde took the lead. A clean catch on Fylde’s 22m line and the ball was moved left to fullback Joe Carpenter who made a half break. From the subsequent ruck Smith found hooker Ben Gregory who cut a lovely line down the middle of the pitch, sidestepping a defender or two with alacrity. As the chasing defence closed in, Gregory popped a subtle overhead pass to the fast supporting Greg Smith and the flyhalf sprinted in under the posts from 40m out for a delightful try. He added the extras for a 12-8 lead.
Fylde continued to concede penalties and this gave the Luctonians pack opportunities to hit back with good line out work and powerful scrummaging. On the stroke of half-time, a clever grubber kick behind the Fylde defence by fullback Rob Bengry was fielded a couple of metres from the try line. The ball was turned over and Frank Kelly got the touchdown. This was converted well by Louis Silver and Lucs had a 15-12 lead as the teams trotted off to the changing rooms at the interval.
It was clear that if Fylde were to win the game then they would have to reduce the penalty count and play to their traditional strengths.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg freshened the pack for the 2nd half with Adam Lewis and Jacob Conner introduced to the fray. The visitors came out of the traps fast and a couple of minutes in re-established the lead. In centre field Smith went left and found the ever dangerous Gregory just inside the Lucs half. The hooker once again cut a brilliant line and raced clear before linking with lock Nick Ashcroft who pinned back his ears and sprinted to the line for his first try of the season, as his brother had done 20 minutes earlier. Greg Smith converted from in front of the posts for a 15-19 lead.
Fylde have made a habit of scoring in close succession this season. This was another case as two minutes later they were again deep in Lucs half. The forwards went through a number of phases close to the Lucs try line with Scott Rawlings making his presence felt too. As the ball was worked into the left corner, creator Gregory turned scorer as he picked up close to the line and drove over from short range for the bonus point try. Smith’s conversion from wide out drifted past the posts but his side had a 15-24 advantage and they were more than one score ahead.
In the 54th minute Luctonians hit back with a Louis Silver penalty to reduce the deficit to six points. This was time for pragmatic rugby from Fylde if they were to secure the victory. In the 71st minute Fylde were awarded a penalty in kicking range and Smith nailed it for a 18-27 lead.
Fylde held out against a rampant Lucs side who were desperate for some reward from a hard working afternoon. In the final minute they won another penalty and Silver opted to kick the goal to secure a losing bonus point. His kick hit the post and bounced back in play for Frank Kelly to gather and score his side’s third try. This time, Silver’s kick was good and the final whistle blew with the Lancastrians securing five league points and hanging on to the narrowest of leads in N2N ahead of 2nd placed Caldy who had beaten Preston Grasshoppers at Paton Field by 49-21.
Fylde now turn their attention to the visit of another club in the wrong half of the table, Hull RUFC, to the Woodlands on Saturday (ko 3pm).
It’s interesting to note that the style of Fylde’s play this season has brought nine 4-try bonus points in 11 games, a performance only equalled amongst the 48 National League clubs by leaders of National Two (South), Taunton.
Head Coach Spragg said: “We have to be pleased with the result, even if the performance was a bit disjointed. Luctonians caused us a lot of problems in the first half and probably deserved to be in front during the early part of the match. We struggled to keep quality possession and their scrum and ball retention was very good.
“When we did pull things together we looked sharp. Ben Gregory and Scott Rawlings both had big games for us and caused Luctonians a lot of problems when we kept the ball. We were sloppy at the end of the game to concede a silly penalty when we just needed to get the ball off the pitch which allowed them to score to get a losing bonus point, and the lads need to be better in those situations.
“The focus moves onto Hull now, and like Luctonians they are a much better team than their league position suggests. I’m expecting a real test at home next week so we need to move on quickly from this one and get our preparation right.”
FYLDE: 15 Joe Carpenter; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan (Tom Forster 71); 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Matt Ashcroft (Adam Lewis 40), 4 Olli Parkinson (Jacob Conner 40), 5 Nick Ashcroft, 6 Hallam Chapman, 7 Ben Vernon, 8 David Fairbrother (c) (Ben O’Ryan 64). Non-playing replacement: Drew Stephenson.
Photos courtesy of Mike Gregory.