Fylde will be hoping to bottle this form when they start their National Two (North) season next week at Scunthorpe. They put in a superb display of running and handling rugby against new National One boys Hull Ionians in this pre-season warm-up. Eight tries to two didn’t flatter the home side one jot as they ran amok, especially in the 1st half, as they notched up a 29-0 lead by the half-hour.
Fylde fielded a squad of 23 players, giving game time to some of the younger and up and coming players in the squad. It may be a new season, and the Centenary one at that, but it began as it ended in 2018-19. In the opening minutes a quick break down their left with neat backs inter-passing gave Tom Carleton a half gap which he exploited with a typical 40m burst, stepping in off his right foot and racing under the posts. The young fullback had guested for Doncaster Knights a week earlier but seemed happy to be back on home territory where he has been an ever present for 60 successive National League games over two seasons and leading try scorer. Greg Smith added the conversion.
Almost immediately backs and forwards combined again to set up a ruck near the Ionians line. It was initially held up but no 8 David Fairbrother celebrated his return to action following long term injury to drive over from close range. Smith added the extras for a 14-0 lead.
Shortly afterwards more silky running and off-loading sucked in the Ionians defence and a miss pass gave plenty of space to wing George Brookes, returning to the Club after a year in Australia, to score in the left corner. The tricky wind didn’t help kicker Smith and he was unable to nail the conversion from wide out.
Ionians seemed shell shocked as the fluent Fylde attacking continued apace. With the set pieces pretty even throughout the game, it was the potency of the home backline and the mobility and handling of the forwards which stood out. Local product and scrum-half Adam Lanigan covered the injury absence of Cameron Crampton with aplomb and worked well with half-back partner Smith. The midfield looks rather different this season with the interesting centre partnership of the power and experience of Scott Rawlings alongside the creativity of Connor Wilkinson.
On 25 minutes Fylde took play to 35m out from the Ionians line and hooker Ben Gregory broke through some ineffective tackling and raced clear. One of Gregory’s talents is his pace and he waltzed past the visiting fullback with the help of an effective hand-off to score with ease down the left.
South African-born wing Lex Botha has had a rather stop start career at the Club since he joined at the beginning of last season. Delays in his visa application were compounded by minor injuries and the home crowd has certainly not seen the best of him. Fully fit now and with a sound preseason’s preparations in the bank he’s already showing his strength and pace. He looked hungry for action and as most of the play was down Fylde’s left he went looking for possession. Another fluent attack with forwards and backs in combination once again sucked in the Ionians defence. The ball was moved smartly left and a long pass from Carleton left Botha to stroll in for his side’s fifth try. Greg Smith’s attempted conversion again drifted in the wind but a 29-0 lead was a true reflection of 30 minutes of dominance.
The Hull Ionians pack has been the foundation of their success in recent seasons. They at last warmed to their task in the final minutes of the 1st half and pressed hard near the Fylde. The home defence was under the cosh and lock forward Jacob Conner was sinbinned for preventing release at a ruck. After sustained pressure Alex Torkington forced his way over for his side’s opening try. The referee blew the whistle with Fylde leading 29-5.
Fylde Head Coach Warren Spragg began to ring the changes in personnel as Fairbrother, Gregory and flanker Ben O’Ryan were replaced by Matt Garrod, Alex Loney and Ben Vernon. They were joined later by flanker James Torkington, prop Jonny Wild and backs Tom Forster, Will Lockhart and Ben Gould.
At the start of the final quarter, Fylde backs attacked from halfway and Tom Carleton entered the line with a coruscating break from 40m out when he shredded the visitor’s defence for his 2nd try. Smith’s conversion extended the lead to 36-5.
Ionians heads didn’t drop and they broke out down the left with a smart try by James Magee. Fylde’s control was restored in the last 10 minutes of the game. Newcomers, backrow Hal Chapman and centre Scott Rawlings are both big ball carriers and made a fine impression during the 80 minutes. From a Fylde surge down the centre Rawlings burst forward and off loaded neatly to the fast supporting Tom Forster who had the easiest of tasks to score.
Rawlings was at it again in the final minutes as he exploited some confusion near the Ionians line to dive on the loose ball over the try line. Greg Smith’s conversion effectively ended the game.
Fylde’s rugby managers will not get carried away by the scoreline and be far from complacent as they face their opening National Two (North) league account with a long trip to newly promoted Scunthorpe.
15 Carleton; 14 Botha, 13 Wilkinson, 12 Rawlings, 11 Brookes; 10 Smith, 9 Lanigan; 1 Horner, 2 Gregory, 3 Lewis, 4 Ashcroft(N), 5 Conner, 6 Chapman, 7 O’Ryan, 8 Fairbrother.
16 Wild, 17 Loney, 18 Garrod, 19 Vernon, 20 Torkington, 21 Gould, 22 Forster, 23 Lockhart.