Otley 3 Fylde 14: report by Simon Taylor
Fylde ended their 2018-19 campaign by grinding out a win at Otley, the team they had beaten on the opening day of the season at The Woodlands. In doing so they halted a losing run of four matches and stopped Otley from doing the same. The victory also ensured they ended the season in sixth place, one spot and three points above near neighbours and fierce rivals Preston Grasshoppers, who suffered an agonising late defeat in their last game at home to Chester after a fine late season surge had threatened to see them overhaul the Fylde coast men.
The last day of the season often sees high scoring games if there is no promotion or relegation at stake and the pitches are firm and weather fine. Sadly, events conspired to dampen (literally) the free flowing spectacle the players or spectators were hoping for. With both teams on the aforesaid run of four defeats not ending the season with another was perhaps understandably a priority and that and the weather gods rather stifled the creativity on show. After the Easter weekend break from fixtures when temperatures were in the 20’s and the sun was cracking the tiles the temperature was back in single digits and the wind and rain was present in abundance to send most of the crowd running for cover in the large covered stand at Cross Green. As a result the game was it has to be said rather dour and turgid with only brief flashes of excitement to get the blood pumping for those supping Bovril in the sheds.
Fylde kicked off away from the clubhouse and forced the early pressure only to give away two turnover penalties when close to the Otley line. As the rain drove down fly half Greg Smith’s chip over the top forced the Otley defender to carry the ball into touch 10 yards out and Alex Loney hit his man in the line out to set up another attack. Skipper Adam Lewis drove forward powerfully, the ball was spun wide for Tom Carleton to edge closer to the line and prop Bevan Rodd produced the pick and go to drive over for the opening try. Smith converted a low scudder from wide out into the squally wind and after 10 minutes Fylde were 7-0 to the good. Four minutes later Loney was adjudged to have been off his feet when playing the ball in the tackle area and home fly half Ben Smith kicked a 40 yard penalty to open Otley’s account and make it 7-3 to Fylde.
A third turnover penalty brought Fylde’s next attack to a halt and Otley seemed content to use the boot in the poor weather conditions, something the home crowd felt was used too often judging by the straightforward Yorkshire advice emanating from the stands. Otley’s first real pressure on the Fylde try line came just before half time when Tom Carleton took too long in his clearance kick which was charged down. Henry Hadfield tidied up manfully but was forced over the line and Otley had a 5-yard scrum. Bevan Rodd was giving his man a torrid time and as the scrum went backwards the ball was spoilt and hacked away from danger by Jacob Conner and the first half ended with the scoreboard being troubled no further.
The second half started with Lex Botha replacing Henry Hadfield on the wing and thankfully some more sustained periods of sunshine and less of the wet stuff from the heavens. A good break from Connor Wilkinson allowed Carleton to show his pace, the inside ball back to Wilkinson went to ground but was kicked on and Wilkinson and a defender dived over both claiming the final touch. After consultation with the assistant referee the man in charge awarded Fylde a five-yard scrum. Fylde went blind but Tom Grimes was held up and Otley forced another penalty allowing them to clear their lines.
Despite the improvement in the weather both sides were struggling for fluency and it was feeding on opposition errors rather than good play themselves that was handing either side their better chances.
Added to this was the fact that the referee appeared to be struggling to control the scrum and get the front rows to listen to his instructions. Most scrums were being re-set more than once and penalties and free kicks were often the norm, either for early engagement or standing up in the drive, with both sides guilty in turn. Ball was being lost in the tackle and kicks in open play were rather aimless or going straight into touch.
Coach Warren Spragg sought to pep things up with Olli Parkinson replacing Matt Garrod but real chances were still few and far between. Carleton made another good break only to lose the ball in the tackle and Otley centre Joshua Hall’s fine break was snuffed out when his final pass inside was snaffled by Connor Wilkinson, he set up another break but again the final ball went to ground.
In the 67th minute Elliot Horner replaced the outstanding Bevan Rodd who was the reporter’s pick of the Fylde forwards for his scrummage work and play in the loose. A minute later Fylde were dealt a blow when they lost veteran centre Chris Briers to the sin bin. Briers was somewhat unlucky in that he was committed to the tackle when the Otley player slipped meaning the final contact ended up higher than planned. The referee did not feel any empathy was in order and brandished the yellow meaning Fylde would have to see out most of the remainder of the match with 14 men. Ben O’Ryan’s fresh legs were thrown into the fray as he replaced Ben Gregory who had put in a fine performance playing out of position at wing forward.
Otley sensed it was now or never and tried to up the pressure on Fylde. A scrum in midfield on the Fylde 22 offered a great chance with the Fylde backline a man short in defence but the Fylde pack produced a great steal against the head. With the Otley backs in flat line attack mode Connor Wilkinson kicked deep inviting Tom Carleton to outpace the defence, and that he did, toeing the ball over the line and diving on for the try. Greg Smith kicked another fine conversion into the wind and at 14-3 up Fylde had much needed breathing space. Tom Forster replaced Briers for the last 5 minutes when the sin bin was reversed and put in tackles a plenty in that short period of time as Fylde’s mean defence saw them through to the end of the match and the season.
Whilst this was definitely not a classic it was important to end a good season in positive fashion after four defeats. To restrict Otley to just the 3 points and no real try scoring opportunities was the bedrock of the victory and the players showed the desire to play for each other that they have showed pretty much all season.
At one point after their mid-season fine run of form it had looked like Fylde might finish in the top three, nevertheless sixth place with 18 wins and 1 draw from their 30 outings is a very creditable effort and reflects a lot of hard work by coaches and players alike. Special mention should go to Tom Carleton, Connor Wilkinson and Ben Gregory who have featured in all 30 league games this season. Coach Warren Spragg will be looking to keep the squad together, add to it if possible and maintain the valuable presence of the dual registered players as much as he can. The experience gained this season has shown Fylde just what is required to challenge for a top two finish and that is what they will be looking to do next year.
Fylde: 15 T. Carleton, 14 H. Hadfield, 13 C. Briers, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11 T. Grimes, 10 G. Smith, 9 C. Crampton, 8 J. Conner, 7 S. Dugdale, 6 B. Gregory, 5 N. Ashcroft, 4 M. Garrod, 3 A. Lewis, 2 A. Loney, 1 B. Rodd.
Replacements: E. Horner, B. O’Ryan, O. Parkinson, T. Forster, L. Botha
Otley: 15 H. Skelton, 14 J. Costin-Pratt, 13 J. Hall, 12 J. Mackie, 11 A. Beaumont, 10 B. Smith, 9 J. Rowntree, 8 W. Burns, 7 L. Cooper, 6 J.P. Scott, 5 S. Willet, 4 D. Dunn, 3 J. Moss, 2 H. Watson, 1 W. Rigg
Replacements: J. Graham, L. Sanderson, G. Burkinshaw, A. Malthouse, D. Adu