Fylde RFC 24 Preston Grasshoppers 24: Dramatic end to derby day sees honours even

Fylde's Dave Fairbrother takes the attack to Preston Grasshoppers
Fylde's Dave Fairbrother takes the attack to Preston Grasshoppers

Fylde RFC and Preston Grasshoppers drew 24-24 after one of the most curious matches in the 98-year history of fixtures between these two famous clubs.

Fylde dominated the first and third quarters, Preston Grasshoppers the second and fourth quarters.

Far too many penalties scarred the game, making it fractured and breaking up the continuity of both teams.

In the end, the draw was a fair result but Fylde will be ruing losing control and letting 17-3 and then 24-10 leads dissipate against a storming Hoppers comeback in the last 10 minutes.

Fylde started the game with purpose and focus. They pressurised the Hoppers defence and, from a scrummage inside the visitors’ 22 in the sixth minute, Scott Rawlings took the ball at pace and drove over the line to claim the opening try.

Even with two or three Hoppers players hanging on to the big and powerful centre, they had no hope of stopping him.

Greg Smith converted the try from close to the posts for a 7-0 lead.

Hoppers came back strongly with a long, mazy run down the centre by their dangerous winger Tyler Spence in the 10th minute.

He left a couple of Fylde defenders flat-footed and carved a big hole on his way to the line.

Tom Carleton caught him but was adjudged to have high tackled him and was immediately shown a yellow card for his trouble.

Scrum-half Jake Squirrell converted the penalty to reduce the deficit.

Fylde went on the attack immediately from the restart, pushing Hoppers back into their own half.

In the 12th minute the visitors had possession but Fylde lock Jacob Conner got his hands on the ball at the tackle breakdown and Hoppers were penalised for holding on.

Smith had a relatively easy job to kick the penalty and extend the lead to 10-3 despite being down to 14 players.

The Fylde pack was looking lively, with Dave Fairbrother, Conner and hooker Ben Gregory particularly visible.

Behind his forwards, scrum-half Adam Lanigan was especially lively and not afraid to take on the Hoppers backrow.

In the 15th minute Fylde were back deep inside the Hoppers half and they attacked down their right side.

From close in, Gregory got his hands on the ball and drove through defenders to make the try line.

After discussion with one of his assistants, referee James O’Brien awarded the try and Smith nailed a tricky conversion for a convincing 17-3 lead.

Gradually, Hoppers got back into the game, often with the indiscipline of the home side helping them as the penalty count began to stack up against Fylde.

Preston’s head coach, Paul Arnold, rang the changes in personnel as he brought on replacement lock Luke Proctor and a late signing from Sale FC this week, the very promising loose head prop John Blanchard.

In the 33rd minute a Hoppers attack down the centre gave space for Matt Lamprey to charge through some ineffectual tackling to crash over the line for his side’s opening try.

Squirrell added the conversion from in front of the posts for a 17-10 score as the first half ended with Fylde defending grimly.

At the start of the second half, Fylde once again took control and dominated possession and territory inside the Hoppers half.

However, they struggled to break down the visitors’ defence despite the penalty count now going in Fylde’s favour.

In the 59th minute Hoppers’ centre Sam Stott was sinbinned for interfering with Fylde possession near his line.

This spurred the home side to move the ball down their right side, then switch left when a long, drifted pass found Tom Grimes who had enough space to dodge a defender and dive over in the left corner for his side’s third try.

Smith’s touchline conversion was spot on and his side had what looked a defining 24-10 lead.

Another Fylde attack minutes later saw a break from Carleton, followed by a Connor Wilkinson run and chip towards the line.

Desperate Hoppers defence save the day, but in the subsequent pressure on Hoppers’ line, prop Noah Miller joined Stott in the sinbin.

Instead of another Fylde penalty five metres out, some retaliation saw the referee reverse the penalty and Hoppers cleared their lines.

Briefly down to 13 players, Hoppers hung in, and when Stott returned, mounted pressure following another penalty conceded by the home side.

From the subsequent pressure on the Fylde line, replacement Ben Dorrington forced his way over for a crucial try near the posts.

Another replacement, fly-half Nick Gregson, converted this easily and reduced the deficit to 24-17.

Suddenly, Hoppers were right back in the contest and raised their game accordingly.

Fylde were back on their heels and looking rather shellshocked.

Nevertheless, they attacked inside the Hoppers’ half but Preston secured a turnover and mounted a long break out in the 78th minute through the ever dangerous Spence.

He was caught by the Fylde defence but Hoppers retained possession and the impressive backrower Ryan Carlson drove over to the delight of his team-mates and the large group of Hoppers supporters in the big crowd.

With a couple of minutes to go, Gregson coolly kicked a far from straightforward conversion to level the scores before the final whistle blew a couple of minutes later.