Chester 7 Fylde 16[Photo above courtesy of Chester photographer Paul Best]
Fylde put in their most determined, spirited and pragmatic performance of the season to beat second-place Chester at Hare Lane in the first ever league game between these two well-established clubs. Greg Smith’s three 2nd half penalty kicks secured the win but hardly summed up an engrossing, open contest.
In perfect Autumnal conditions and on Chester’s new 4G pitch, Fylde faced up squarely to the challenge of a well organised home squad coming off the back of four successive victories. So far this season, Fylde have put together devastating spells of attacking rugby in the 1st or 2nd halves of National Two (North) matches and then fallen away, off the pace, in the remaining minutes. This was different as they held Chester in the first 40 minutes despite going down to 13 players on the quarter hour and then outplayed them in a fine 2nd half display. The win may have come at a price though as two or three injuries took a little of the gloss off an otherwise splendid afternoon for the Lancastrians.
The build up to the game hadn’t been trouble free for Fylde as influential centre Chris Briers picked up a knock at Thursday’s training session and was replaced in the match day starting line-up by Ralph Dowds, just back in action after almost two seasons out with injury. With Chester starting the match through a determined attack, Dowds couldn’t have asked for a more dramatic contribution as in the 4th minute he intercepted a pass on Fylde’s 22m line and raced 75m for the opening try of the game. Greg Smith converted for a perfect start.
As Chester came back strongly, the visitors’ pack showed their physicality in defence. Sin binnings have caused Fylde problems this season and so it proved again as in the 13th minute lock Olli Parkinson was shown a yellow card for a ‘tip tackle’. This situation was compounded when two minutes later referee George Richardson sin binned flanker Sam Dugdale for a technical offence.
For six minutes the visitors’ 13 men held out against the Chester attack before in the 21st minute home flanker George Baxter was on the end of a move down his side’s left and scored the equalising try. Centre and goal kicker James Robbins converted well to level the scores. Fylde winger Henry Hadfield was injured in trying to prevent the try and was replaced by Cameron Crampton who went to fullback with Tom Carleton switching to the wing.
With Fylde restored to 15 players, they began to control the game as their backs tested the Chester defence. The Lancastrians had a definite advantage in the lineout where they secured their own ball and stole some of Chester’s throws, with Parkinson and fellow lock Nick Ashcroft proving disruptive. Scrummages were pretty even although Fylde edged the exchanges as the game progressed.
Although a resolute home defence frustrated the Fylde runners, fly-half Greg Smith varied the play with a couple of measured cross kicks aimed at Tom Carleton. Although dangerous, the Chester defence was up to the task and cleared downfield on both occasions. When Fylde were awarded a penalty in the final moments of the 1st half, Smith attempted a 45m kick from out on the right side of the pitch. Although it had the distance, it drifted wide and the two teams trotted off to the changing rooms with a 7-all score line and everything to play for in the final 40 minutes.
Fylde started the 2nd half as they finished the 1st, retaining the ball well, going through various phases and generally controlling play. Both forwards and backs competed fiercely at the breakdown and began to win a few crucial turnovers or forced Chester into offences at the ruck. The penalty count had gone Chester’s way in the 1st half but this changed around in the 2nd period.
In the 44th minute with a Fylde attack deep in Chester territory, the visitors won a penalty and Greg Smith converted it from 25m out for a lead that his side maintained for the rest of the match.
From the re-start, Tom Carleton was high tackled and his opposing winger, Chester’s powerful Craig Ross, was sent to the sinbin for 10 minutes. Play was now going from end to end but with the Fylde backs testing the home defence with clever handling. Centre Connor Wilkinson and wingers Tom Carleton and Tom Grimes were ever hungry to make crucial breaks that would have led to tries but one of the meanest defences in the division held out. Scrum-half Gus Warr, playing his first full game for the Club, was prompting backs and forwards with swift passing and quick support play.
A grubber kick down the right touchline and behind the Chester backs was dangerous but was defended well. With the visitors now in control and camped out deep in the Chester half, they earned another penalty near the try line. Excitement and the prospect of a try blurred their collective judgement as they spurned an easy three points with a ‘tap and go’ which was eventually repelled. Would they eventually regret this benevolence in such a close game?
The Fylde pack was putting in a hard physical shift as they wrestled for dominance. In the 51st minute, coach Warren Spragg threw lock Matt Garrod and prop Bevan Rodd into the action for Olli Parkinson and Elliot Horner respectively. Harlan Corrie soon followed in place of Ben Vernon.
No 8 David Fairbrother had been as energetic and prominent as ever in this resolute display by the Fylde pack. But in the 63rd minute he charged into Chester defenders, injured his shoulder or arm and was helped off the pitch. This brought Ben Vernon back into the fray.
A long break out by the Chester backs looked like it would end with a try in the right corner but the scrambling Fylde defence forced a lineout 5m out from the try line. In a blink of an eye, Fylde won the lineout and their backs cleared well to the Chester 10m line.
Play was now tense and urgent as both sides looked for the crucial score. In the 71st minute Fylde were back again deep in the Chester half. A home indiscretion led to a penalty kick in front of the posts and Smith needed no encouragement to take an easy three points for a 7-13 lead.
A couple of minutes later, Chester hero and try scorer George Baxter turned villain as he was sinbinned for a technical offence. Greg Smith attempted a 45m penalty, straighter than the one he had narrowly missed at the end of the 1st half. It proved the crucial moment of the game as it fell over the crossbar, taking the visitors more than one converted try ahead at 7-16.
But Chester didn’t lie down and they spent the last five or so minutes of the match camped on the Fylde try line. Fierce defence kept them out but only at the cost of a string of penalties. A couple of driving mauls were held up when they looked certain to result in a try. From a final penalty against the visitors, Chester’s replacement goal kicker Josh Morris had an opportunity in secure a losing bonus point but, summing up his side’s luck, it drifted wide and the final whistle blew.
Despite the drought of tries, the game was always open and an attractive spectacle for a decent crowd at Hare Lane. A good number of Fylde supporters had made the trip and cheered their side appreciatively as the players trouped off at the end. The physical toll was clear as a limping Henry Hadfield, David Fairbrother painfully supporting his arm and a bloodied Sam Dugdale made their way back to the changing rooms with the rest of the squad.
This was probably the best away display by the Lancastrians for at least a season and a half. Whilst everyone of the 20 players contributed well, the award has to go to the Fylde pack for a gutsy, brave and controlled 80 minutes performance. Chester officials and supporters were both fine hosts and generous at the end to acknowledge that Fylde had been the better team on the day. Fylde advance one place in the N2N league table to 5th. The Club now looks forward to a tough December including three tasty home games – Wharfedale, Huddersfield and Preston Grasshoppers – and a trip to more old friends and rivals, Sedgley Park.
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton; 14 Henry Hadfield (Cameron Crampton 22), 13 Ralph Dowds, 12 Connor Wilkinson, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Gus Warr; 1 Elliot Horner (Bevan Rodd 51), 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson (Matt Garrod 51), 6 Ben Vernon (Harlan Corrie 56) , 7 Sam Dugdale (Ewan Ashman 79), 8 David Fairbrother (Ben Vernon 63).
CHESTER: 15 Tom Foden; 14 Sean Green, 13 Matt van Sertima, 12 James Robbins (Josh Morris 54), 11 Craig Ross; 10 Callum Bennett (Shay Owen 71), 9 Tom Holloway; 1 Colin Campbell (c) (Josh Woods 52), 2 Alick Croft (Scott Robson 71), 3 Alex Reed (Rhodri Parry 45), 4 Rik Cottrell, 5 Shay Owen (Kyle Joseph 45), 6 George Baxter, 7 Mike Craven, 8 Guy Ford.