Fylde show lots of promise v Ampthill

Fylde take National One heavyweights Ampthill down to the wire

Fylde have traditionally struggled against Ampthill & District, losing five out of six matches played in the last three National One seasons. The Bedfordshire visitors to the Woodlands travelled north on a beautiful late summer day with a squad of almost 40 players to fulfil pre-season warm up fixtures against Fylde 1st XV and Hawks teams. Ampthill are known for the strength of their pack whilst also having a sharp backline. However, the Lancastrians met the challenge head on and were the more fluent running team in the 2nd half. They led by 19-14 at the end of the third quarter but conceded two late tries to go down eventually by 19-26.

Ampthill dominated possession in the first 20 minutes but the Fylde defence was fierce. When Chris Briers tackled an Ampthill attacker who ducked low, he was sinbinned as a result. The visitors exploited their one man advantage as they moved the ball left through an understrength Fylde defence and winger Sam Baker scored in the corner. It was converted well and the A’s had a 0-7 lead. Minutes later another move left ended with centre Sam Hanks extending the lead with a neat try.

In the last fifteen minutes of the 1st half, Fylde came back strongly with concerted pressure inside Ampthill’s 22m area. Impressive newcomer Lex Botha had been hunting all over the pitch in order to get his hands on the ball. The right winger got his reward when he finished off an attack with a determined burst to the line for his third try in two preseason games. Greg Smith’s attempted conversion cannoned off a post but Fylde were off the mark at 5-14 in arrears.

Fylde’s scrummage stood up well to the big Ampthill pack and new scrum-half Cam Crampton enjoyed the freedom to launch his backs with quick passing and probing around the fringes. In the 1st half the home side’s lineout work was fallible against the tall visiting forwards. The 2nd half saw improvements all over the pitch. New loosehead prop Elliot Horner and the quicksilver backrower Ben O’Ryan had impressive Woodlands debuts, and replacement hooker Ben Gregory was dynamic.

The Fylde backline then started to gel, with England Counties U’20s stars Connor Wilkinson and Tom Carleton posing all kinds of problems. Ampthill struggled to contain clever running lines and good handling. One of their attacks broke down in the 50th minute on the Ampthill 22m line due to a knock on. Ampthill then messed up possession and the ball was loose in the in-goal area. Referee Davis ruled that their advantage was over and allowed play to go on. Lock Nick Ashcroft was quickest to react and fell on the ball to score his first try for the Club. Greg Smith converted to take the score to 12-14.

The best moment for Fylde came a little later. Impressive replacement Sam Dugdale, a Sale Sharks Academy & England U’18s international, had replaced no 8 David Fairbrother in the 2nd half. He made a powerful break inside his own half and near to the left touchline and he offloaded to the fast supporting Tom Grimes who sped along the touchline to outstrip the covering Ampthill defence. It reminded spectators of Grimes’ exploits last season before an injury before Christmas and the attraction of a season in New Zealand just afterwards took him away from the Woodlands. The splendid try was matched by an excellent touchline conversion by Greg Smith which gave Fylde a 19-14 lead.

Warren Spragg’s half-time squad changes were intended to give other players game time. A number of the replacements including Tom Burtonwood, Adam Joyner and Matt Ashcroft had already featured for the Hawks in the earlier game. Another, Tom Forster, has returned to the Club after three seasons at Preston Grasshoppers. He stepped in at fly-half in place of Greg Smith and looked very much at home.

Ampthill stepped up their efforts in the final quarter and Fylde’s defensive tackling faltered somewhat. Firstly they worked the ball right and winger Will Foster finished off by scoring in the corner to level the scores at 19-all. Then in the final minutes they found space down the left and Baker notched his second try of the game as he raced along the touchline. A fine conversion from the wide out by Elliott Reeder completed the scoring with the visitors shading the game by 19-26.

Warren Spragg and his coaches will be pleased with their squad’s performance. To take a leading National One club down to the wire showed a level of commitment and fluency that should stand them in good stead in their upcoming National Two (North) campaign. The melding together of the newcomers into a basically settled group of players from last season appears to have worked well. The arrivals have bought into Spragg’s tactical ethos and show a lot of promise. The selectors will face a number of the right kind of problems in choosing the 20-player squad for the opening game against Otley at the Woodlands next Saturday. “Absolutely great potential!” said a watching senior coach from another club.

Warren Spragg said: “We’ve had much more stability running into this season and I’m pleased with the progress the group had made during preseason training. Our attack was really sharp at times and we looked organised and hungry to get the ball back when we were out of possession. We really struggled to contain Ampthill upfront last season so I’m happy with the way the forwards attacked their tight play as well.

“I think I can speak for the whole club in saying there is a real excitement building for next Saturday, and I can’t wait to be back in league action!”

Click here for Chris Farrow’s 128 action photographs.

Many thanks to Ampthill’s players, officials and excellent travelling support for visiting the Club and giving the spectators an excellent afternoon in the sun.

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