Fylde 19 Chester 27: report by Simon Taylor
Fylde’s bid for a top two finish was dealt a major blow as Chester took the spoils with a hard fought but deserved win at The Woodlands. This was second versus third so it was all to play for as both sides looked to finish the day in at least the play off spot or potentially top of the tree if Hull Ionians slipped up at Otley. Add to that the fact that Fylde are the only team to have travelled to Chester and won this season and the scene was set for a close fought game, and so it proved to be.
Fylde kicked off away from the clubhouse on a fine, dry and relatively still spring day. Chester looked assured as they went through the phases taking play up to half way before they conceded a penalty at the breakdown. Greg Smith kicked to 15 yards out from the Chester line and Fylde were on the attack. Their first foray ended with a knock on but in the 4th minute hooker Ben Gregory found Nick Ashcroft in the line out and a more cohesive attack was launched. The ball was spread left then quickly back right with Conor Wilkinson showing his eye for the gap with a line break. Ben Gregory was lurking on the wing for the final pass and forced his was down the line fending off two would-be tacklers before going over in the corner. Smith couldn’t add the extras but Fylde had the early lead at 5-0.
Fylde were in the ascendancy in the first quarter and added to their lead in the 11th minute when good line out work this time between Gregory and Olli Parkinson laid the platform for another assault on the Chester line. Jacob Conner got over the gain line and quick ball gave Tom Carleton half a yard on his opposite man. Half a yard is half more than he needs anyway and he glided through and swallow dived over for his 23rd try in 26 games. Smith converted and things were looking rosy for Fylde at 12-0 with their game plan working smoothly.
Chester needed to get a foothold in the game after a slow start and they showed they aren’t second in the league without good reason as they started to impose their own game on Fylde. Their game was largely built around the pick and go or repeated crash ball and they showed a high level of accuracy with a low error count and tight control of possession, factors that were to prove telling in the final analysis. Between the 17th and 26th minute they forced three penalties finally gaining a line out 15 yards out from the Fylde line. The catch and drive was executed to perfection and they rumbled over the home try line with flanker Mike Craven credited with the score. Fly Half James Robins kicked the conversion and Chester were back in the hunt at 12-7 down.
Fylde wrestled the edge in possession back over the next ten minutes with a run of three penalties including a yellow card to Chester winger Andrew Oakden for a deliberate knock on. Rather than kick for goal Fylde chose the 5 yard line out option twice, and the second of these was set up as the catch and drive. It looked for all money as if they were about to score when the Chester hooker appeared to enter from the side to bring the maul down. With the home crowd and coaching staff appealing for at the least another penalty and if so then surely another yellow card it became clear the officials interpretation must have been that the drive had fragmented, as no penalty was forthcoming and Chester were able to clear their lines. Fylde’s disappointment was doubled up as Chester earned a penalty of their own and set up a siege of the Fylde line. Desperate defence kept them at bay until another penalty saw Ben Vernon dispatched to the sin bin for 10 minutes and Chester repeated the catch and drive line out tactic to good effect once more with hooker Alick Croft the try scorer. Robins kicked a lovely conversion from wide out and from looking like they would be two scores clear at half time Fylde instead found themselves 14-12 in arrears.
Cal Ford replaced Bevan Rodd at half time and Fylde were back under pressure from the re-start as Chester began the second stanza dominating possession and showing they are a difficult team to get the ball off once they have it. They maintained a grip on the ball for three minutes driving 50 yards up-field before Fylde ran out of defenders and number eight David Ford was left unmarked wide out right to stroll over. The conversion was missed but Chester had stretched their lead to 19-12. Tom Grimes had taken a knock to the neck and was replaced by Ralph Dowds with Tom Carleton moving to the wing and Connor Wilkinson to full back. Chester were cranking up the pressure now and showed they have a back line that can do more than just crash over the gain line with a neat move and chip and chase that looked odds on a try until Tom Carleton appeared out of nowhere to touch down for a 22 drop out.
Coach Warren Spragg looked to the bench to try and change the game’s momentum as he introduced Alex Loney and Harlan Corrie to replace the two Bens, Messrs Gregory and Vernon, then threw on Matt Garrod in place of Nick Ashcroft. The Fylde forwards were all battling hard but could not stop a third try in the 56th minute when Chester set up camp on the Fylde line again, Andrew Oakden was the scorer this time. Another conversion sailed wide but Chester were now 24-12 up with a try bonus point in the bag. The second half possession stats were hugely in Chester’s favour and Fylde have not often had to come from behind this season, so it was no surprise that when Fylde did get the ball they were inevitably tempted to try to spin it wide from first phase ball. Unfortunately the accuracy levels were not there and they were too often giving possession back as soon as they had won it through a knock on or a forward pass.
Fylde finally made a meaningful break in the 64th minute with Henry Hadfield and Ralph Dowds taking play deep into Chester territory. They then forced a scrum penalty and a line out 20 yards out. Good clean ball by Parkinson was recycled quickly to get Chester on the back foot and skipper Adam Lewis showed deft skills to put Chris Briers in enough of a gap to allow him to force his way over for the try. Smith converted and Fylde had clawed their way back into the game at 19-24 down with 12 minutes left.
To their credit Chester did not let the score rattle them and set out to wrestle possession back and starve Fylde of both the ball and territory. The last 10 minutes saw Fylde pretty much camped in their own half and the last three penalties all went Chester’s way. A high tackle on 75 minutes gave James Robbins a shot at goal and he made no mistake stretching the lead to 27-19 and crucially Fylde now needed to score twice. As the minutes ticked by their goal became at least one more try which would have meant both a try bonus point and a losing bonus point. Unfortunately Chester’s grip on possession was unrelenting and they saw the game out in Fylde’s half leaving Fylde with nothing to show for their efforts. Chester meanwhile could journey home with a full hand of 5 precious league points.
Fylde can have no complaints about the result. After establishing a good lead in the first 15 minutes they struggled to secure enough possession of their own or disrupt Chester’s possession. Chester grew into the game and played to their strengths. They didn’t kick to the dangerous Fylde back three and had a very low error count, giving Fylde very few chances for either a turnover or a penalty at the breakdown. It would be somewhat unfair to say Fylde played badly as that would not give Chester due credit for not allowing Fylde to play the game they wanted to play.
Hull Ionians produced a very creditable come from behind win at Otley and Huddersfield put 91 points on South Leicester meaning Fylde slip to fourth in the table, 8 points off the top and 7 off the play off spot. With four tough games left, three of those away from home, a top two finish now looks unlikely but Chester and Huddersfield also have some tough games to finish with and there will undoubtedly be some late twists and turns in the run in. Fylde can only look to re-set and win all those games if possible and finish the season in style and as high up the table as possible.
Warren Spragg said: “We lost the battle at the breakdown. They were much more effective in that area. We couldn’t win any possession or force any turnovers. Their flankers got some good turnovers and were much more streetwise.
“We have dropped way off today. We are ten away from Hull Ionians and seven from Chester. We didn’t pick up a point and Chester earned five. Other teams are going to have to slip up and we will have to be on it.”
Fylde: 15 T. Carleton, 14 H. Hadfield, 13 C. Briers, 12 C. Wilkinson, 11 T. Grimes (R. Dowds 43), 10 G. Smith, 9 C. Crampton, 8 J. Conner, 7 B. O’Ryan, 6 B. Vernon (H. Corrie 55), 5 O. Parkinson, 4 N. Ashcroft (M. Garrod 58), 3 A. Lewis, 2 B. Gregory (A. Loney 65), 1. B. Rodd (C. Ford 40).
Chester: 15 A.King, 14 H. Vare, 13 T. Foden, 12 M. Van Sertima (J. Hattersley 49), 11 A. Oakden, 10 J. Robins, 9 J. Morris, 8 D. Ford, 7 M. Craven (K. Joseph 64) , 6 K. Joseph (G. Baxter 50), 5 R. White (R. Cottrell 50), 4 J. Charmley, 3 A. Reed (O. Hughes 57), 2. A. Croft, 1. C. Campbell (R. Parry 64).