Blackheath 34 Fylde 34

Anthony Bingham
Anthony Bingham
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Fylde extended their unbeaten run at Blackheath to four matches with a hard-working draw after leading for most of this capital contest.

Good news and bad news came in threes for Fylde in London: a first National League hat-trick for electric winger Anthony Bingham, but also three costly yellow cards in a season which has already brought an RFU disciplinary warning to the Woodlands.

Even so, this was an excellent result for Fylde against a London club that had won 10 of their previous 11 National One fixtures and is pressing for promotion.

Fylde’s form this season has been much more uneven, even if the ninth-placed club are the highest of the five northern teams in the division, and so Blackheath went into Saturday’s clash as firm favourites. Yet Fylde came within moments of causing an upset as it took a 77th- minute Blackheath try to spare their blushes.

After such a fine performance, the visitors’ disappointment at not holding out for the victory was palpable at the final whistle.

Away from the saturated north-west, conditions at the Rectory Field were dry but blustery, and it was to prove a tricky afternoon for goalkickers.

It took the visitors only three minutes to open their account. Winger Bingham may have come to rugby union rather late in his varied sporting career but he’s certainly making up for lost time.

In only his fourth start in National One, he fastened on to a loose Blackheath kick, slipped a couple of tackles in typical fashion and raced clear for an outstanding try. Chris Johnson added the conversion.

Blackheath responded in the 14th minute, when fly-half Simon Whatling kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit to 7-3.

Referee Ben Blain was in Christmas mood with a generous flourishing of yellow cards throughout the game, and all these decisions influenced the course of the contest.

Fylde hit back quickly in the 17th minute as pack pressured resulted in the hosts’ loose-head prop Aston Croal being the first despatched to the sin-bin.

From the resultant penalty and scrum, scrum-half Greg Nicholls nipped around the blindside and drove over for the try.

This was the widely-travelled Nicholls’ first senior try for the club and it gave Fylde a 12-3 lead, Johnson’s attempted conversion from wide out drifting wide in the wind.

Blackheath roared back and pressed the visitors’ defence, winning penalties in the 22nd and 28th minutes to allow Simon Whatling to reduce the deficit to three points.

With Croal back in the fray, Blackheath had the momentum and scored their first try in the 31st minute.

Dangerous winger Geoff Griffiths created space for his wing partner Jake Lloyd, who scored near the posts. Whatling added the extras and Blackheath led for the first time at 16-12.

Two minutes later, they were reduced to 14 men for a second time as Griffiths was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on to halt a Fylde attack.

From the subsequent penalty and maul, Fylde hooker Phill Mills was driven over to put Fylde back in front. Johnson converted for a 19-16 lead.

Making the most of their extra man, Fylde kicked ahead to expose a frail defence and Bingham had plenty of time to pick up and streak home for his second try, again converted by Johnson.

There was just time before the half-time whistle for the third yellow card, this time to Fylde hooker Mills.

Whatling converted the penalty to keep his side in the hunt at half-time at 26-19.

Just a few minutes after the break Fylde were reduced to 13 players when Adam Lewis joined Mills in the sin-bin.

Blackheath made them pay as Whatling kicked the penalty, then the hosts hit the front when a break by full-back Hamish Graham created space for Lloyd to grab his second try.

The conversion was missed but Fylde were trailing 27-26 and were relieved to concede no more points before they were restored to 15 players.

Both sides knew the next score could be crucial, and with centre Scott Rawling proving a muscular presence for Fylde, his side won a penalty and the lead changed hands once again as Johnson kicked the 63rd-minute goal.

It got better for Fylde a minute later, when a delightful pass from full-back Jordan Dorrington created space for Bingham to race in for his hat-trick try.

The conversion would have put Fylde two scores ahead but drifted wide, and Blackheath threw the kitchen sink at the Lancastrians in the final 15 minutes to reduce the 34-27 margin.

Fylde’s defence was overstretched and again indiscipline was their undoing as no.8 David Fairbrother was the fifth player of the match to be yellow-carded.

Keeping their hosts at bay was too much for the 14 men, and with three minutes remaining Markus Burcham burst through to score near the posts. Whatling held his nerve for the equalising conversion.

However, he missed a chance to win the match with a penalty kick. For Fylde to have lost the match after such a gallent display would have been cruel indeed.

Head coach Paul Arnold said immediately after the final whistle: “I must admit that at the moment it feels like a loss as we were in front until the last five minutes.

“But all credit to the lads as they did a lot of very good things and really dug in at times. If we can cut out the indiscipline and keep 15 players on the pitch, then it will make things a lot easier!

“The pack worked very hard and the back three of Dorrington, Brennand and Bingham were electric. There can’t be a quicker trio in the division.”

Tryscoring hero Bingham said: “It was great to notch my first hat-trick in National One.

“It was a real shame that we didn’t come away with a win. However, picking up three points was positive against a top club on their own ground. It was a great game to play in.”

Fylde: Dorrington; Bingham, Dowds, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, Nicholls; Birchall, Mills, Lewis, Gray, G Rawlings, Moon, Stewart, Fairbrother; replacements: Lavelle, Burtonwood, Goodman, Arnold, Spragg.