Fylde were delighted to notch their first National League away win since November 2017 with a high scoring points fest, overcoming Leicester Lions by 31-41 at Blaby. In doing so, they moved to 3rd place in National Two (North). If the game was rather chaotic, then it followed a difficult build up. A late change of personnel was necessary as their most experienced player, centre Chris Briers, was ruled out with injury. Tyro scrum-half Adam Lanigan, with just a few 2nd team appearances behind him, started at scrum-half and equally inexperienced young players, Matthew Ashcroft and James Torkington joined the replacements. Travel difficulties followed, with players having to make the 150 mile journey in a fleet of cars due to a coach problem.
The weather was gloomy too, with drizzle at times. But the much improved TMDP Park ground provided good facilities and an excellent surface for the game. It was a shame that there weren’t more spectators present to watch the excitement that followed with the sides sharing 72 points.
Fylde raced out of the blocks and hit the hosts with two early tries. In the 1st minute skipper Adam Lewis charged down a Lions clearance kick and won the race to the touch down. This was followed in the 5th minute by a neat burst and try by fullback Tom Carleton. Fly-half Greg Smith missed the first conversion but nailed the second for a 0-12 lead.
The Lions fought their way back into the match and the Lancastrians suffered a blow in the 14th minute when skipper Lewis retired from the fray with a knee injury. Matt Ashcroft replaced him at prop, joining hooker Ben Gregory and loose head Elliot Horner to make up Fylde’s youngest ever front row in a National League game with an average age of 20. With the visitors sorting out their line-up, the Lions took advantage and in the 18th minute powerful lock Ethan Godefroy forced his way over the line to open their account. Centre Harry Key added the extras.
Within a couple of minutes Fylde were back in charge when, following a surge from their forwards, hooker Gregory pirouetted over the try line to get the touchdown. The conversion attempt drifted wide but Fylde had a 7-17 advantage.
This roller coaster of a match switched again when Godefroy grabbed his 2nd try for a 12-17 score line. Fylde came back again and established a crucial advantage before the half-time break. Firstly, in the 34th minute, Ben Godfrey forced his way over to score his 2nd try and Greg Smith converted it for a 17-24 lead. This was extended in the last minute of the half when Smith kicked a straightforward penalty for a 12-27 lead at the interval.
In the opening minutes of the 2nd half Ethan Godefroy notched his hat trick try but Harry Key was unable to add the conversion and extend the 17-27 score line. It was the time for Fylde to grab hold of the match and they scored two critical tries. In the 49th minute Henry Hadfield was on the end of a smart backs move. Ten minutes later replacement Tom Burtonwood scored a try directly from a lineout as he burst 20m to the line. Both tries were converted by Greg Smith and Fylde appeared well clear at 17-41.
But events are rarely straightforward with Fylde. As the Lions threw themselves into the fray, the visitors’ discipline faltered. In the 66th minute Tom Burtonwood was sent to the sin bin for a technical offence and the Lions took due advantage. Harry Key scored his side’s bonus point try in the 69th minute and it was converted by centre Max Titchener.
When Fylde no 8 David Fairbrother was sent to join Burtonwood in the sin bin for a high tackle in the 70th minute, alarm bells began to ring. The 13 men defended grittily but conceded another try when flanker Simon Johnson got over the line in the 76th minute, this time converted by Key to reduce the deficit to 31-41. Fylde hung on to secure their first away National League victory since November with Ben Gregory named as The Rugby Paper’s Man of the Match.
With 87 points scored in their last two games, Fylde will prepare with confidence for the first ever visit of Sheffield Tigers to the Woodlands on Saturday. They will have to consider the discipline issue as the yellow cards against Preston Grasshoppers were a main reason for Fylde’s defeat and at Leicester the same reduction to 13 players threatened a similar outcome. They will hope that a number of players will be declared fit to be available for selection. But the strength of the squad is proving reassuring as young players are being given their chance and are performing admirably
Head Coach Warren Spragg said: “Adam Lewis got us off to a great start by charging down a clearance kick and then winning the race to dive on the ball for an early try, which was a great example of effort for the rest of the lads! He injured his knee in the process and was replaced by Matt Ashcroft who had a really strong debut and took his opportunity well. Adam Lanigan also came into the team this week and did everything we asked of him for the full 80 minutes, a real positive for the whole squad. James Torkington has impressed for the Hawks throughout last season and made his debut in the last five minutes as well, so this was a great first experience for them to be involved in an important away win.
“We had a bit of a funny week in terms of preparation and there were loads of things that could’ve knocked us off mentally, so I’m really proud of the way the lads knuckled down and delivered a solid performance. We’re going to have to improve if we want to beat Sheffield Tigers next week who have looked strong in their early games, and I’m excited to see how hard the lads push each other to do that.”
FYLDE: 15 Tom Carleton (Lewis Pattison 71); 14 Henry Hadfield, 13 Connor Wilkinson, 12 Luke Fowden, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner (Adam Joyner 62), 2 Ben Gregory (James Torkington 77), 3 Adam Lewis (Matt Ashcroft 14), 4 Matt Garrod (Harlan Corrie 62), 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Harlan Corrie (Tom Burtonwood 50), 7 Ben O’Ryan, 8 David Fairbrother.