Fylde RFC 24 Wharfedale 17: Fylde lose four to the sin-bin but defend valiantly for victory
Fylde have won every home match against Wharfedale but this 13th Woodlands meeting almost turned out to be unlucky for the hosts.
The fact that they survived this onslaught was testament to their defensive qualities but Dale were justifiably distraught to come away with only a losing bonus point, while Fylde took the maximum five to stay second in National Two North.
An excellent crowd, bolstered by a substantial number from the North Yorkshire club, saw the visitors have the better of the opening exchanges and it was no surprise when fly-half Jack Blakeney-Edwards gave them the lead with a fifth-minute penalty.
Fylde soon hit their straps and on 12 minutes the backs moved the ball speedily down the line for full-back Connor Wilkinson to mark his 100th appearance for the club with an excellent try in the corner.
The day’s other Fylde centurion, fly-half Greg Smith, was unable to add the conversion from the touchline but Fylde had a lead they were never to relinquish.
They continued to probe and on 20 minutes wing Tom Grimes made strong inroads down the left.
Back-to-back penalties were followed by a yellow card for Dale flanker Matt Speres, after which number eight David Fairbrother drove over from five metres. Smith made the conversion this time and Fylde had a deserved 12-3 lead.
Two minutes later, Fylde extended this advantage from another attack down the left. Grimes was again the creator and his neat pass found Nick Ashcroft on the touchline.
The tall lock pinned back his ears, handed off a defender a sprinted 40 metres to the line for his second try of the season, Smith’s conversion drifting wide.
A sustained period of Wharfedale pressure around the half-hour saw Fylde centre Chris Briers sinbinned by referee Andrew Wigley for a high tackle.
Although pinned back inside their 22, Fylde defended grimly and withstood the assault, one devastating scrummage fracturing the visitors’ pack as Fylde reached the half-time break without conceding any further points.
But only four minutes into the second half the complexion of the match had changed.
The Greens forced Fylde back deep in their half and a series of drives by their forwards finished with villain-to-hero Speres touching down. Blakeney-Edwards’ converted well and reduced the deficit to 17-10.
Fylde replied in the best possible way by pressing the visitors back inside their 22, though one attack saw the ball turned over near the Dale line.
However, another attack on 51 minutes ended with a short pass by scrum-half Adam Lanigan enabling Fairbrother to burst through from 20 metres for his second try to seal Fylde’s bonus point. Smith added the extras and Fylde again looked to be in the clear at 24-10.
But once more Wharfedale hit back strongly. They attacked down the right, and when Rian Hamilton kicked ahead his chase was deemed to have been blocked by Grimes, who was despatched to the sinbin.
This time being a player down did have consequences for Fylde as full-back Verity broke down the left on 64 minutes and sent winger Oli Cicognini clear down the touchline.
He outran the undermanned Fylde defence to score in the corner, and when Blakeney-Edwards again converted well from wide out his side were back within a converted try. This prompted a furious last 20 minutes spent entirely in the Fylde half.
The home side conceded a series of penalties and flanker was Jacob Conner yellow-carded at a five-metre lineout.
Hooker Ben Gregory, who had an otherwise excellent game, joined Conner in the sinbin, becoming the fourth Fylde player to suffer this fate during the match.
Conner returned for the last couple of minutes and did his bit to defend the Fylde line as the pressure in front of their posts was relentless.
A try seemed inevitable as time and again the Greens pack drove for the line. Deep in injury time, the referee awarded a penalty to Fylde and the ball was kicked out to end the game.
It was a hard outcome for the visitors who, despite scoring only two tries to Fylde’s four, did enough to earn a draw. The penalty count in the second half was 10-2 to Wharfedale.
The top of the table remains unchanged after the top three all won, though third-placed Sedgley Park only just pipped Fylde’s next opponents Huddersfield by four points
This was the latest in a series of schizophrenic Fylde performances, in which a poor second half has left them relying on excellent defence to hold on.
And as the defeats by Hull and Sheffield Tigers illustrate, this won’t always work.
FYLDE: Wilkinson, Carleton, Briers, Rawlings, Grimes (Stephenson 80), Smith, Lanigan; Horner, Gregory, Lewis, N Ashcroft, Parkinson (O’Ryan 50), Conner, Vernon (Chapman 40), Fairbrother; replacements not used: M Ashcroft, Botha.