Fylde 28 Cambridge 46: Full report and reaction
This wasn't Fylde's biggest home defeat of the season but it was the most chastening, only partially assuaged by the four-try bonus point after a last-ditch, all-too-late rally.
The defeat at the hands of the newly-crowned National One champions Hartpury College was by a wider margin, but in terms of performance levels in front of their own supporters this had to rank as Fylde’s worst of the campaign.
After a dreadful first half, it was all over bar the shouting as Cambridge ripped into an unassailable 36-14 lead, two tries in stoppage-time underlining their domination.
There was no way back after that – all that was left was to play for pride and a bonus point, though Fylde did pick up the tempo in the second half and it became more of an even contest.
Cambridge were superior in all departments in that first 40. They made the most of the possession they enjoyed, playing an expansive game with a very solid pack, behind which influential scrum-half Stefanes Liebenberg was so much in control he could have got the old cigar out.
Fylde did not throw in the towel and in lock Jack Turley they boasted their man-of-the-match, with plenty of able assistance from the industrious and effective Evan Stewart and Matt Lamprey.
Fylde made a splendid start with a dashing try by winger Anthony Bingham in only the third minute.
Tom Carleton, soon brought on for his home debut, took a high ball well and it was shifted wide to Bingham, who kicked ahead, picked up and made the Cambridge defence look pedestrian as he finished in the corner. Smith landed a fine conversion.
Cambridge hit back and stole Fylde’s line-out throw in a dangerous position, with fly-half Daniel Lewis just held up over the line.
From the resulting scrum, Cambridge attacked down the right and winger Oliver Petrides darted in for a try in the corner. The conversion was missed and Fylde led 7-5.
On 14 minutes, Cambridge edged ahead when Daniel Lewis landed a penalty for a high tackle. Fylde were penalised again at a ruck but this time Lewis was well awry.
Cambridge were monopolising the play and in the 25th minute surged further ahead. They mauled forward before Liebenberg spotted a gap and claimed a try, converted by Lewis (7-15).
Within two minutes Fylde hit back, Stewart breaking through to feed Turley, who needed no second invitation to gallop between the posts for Smith to add the goal.
The tries were flowing and Mike Ayrton ended a sweeping move as he squeezed in at the corner. Lewis converted for a 22-14 lead.
In stoppage time, brothers James and Mike Ayrton pressed home the visitors’ advantage with a couple of counter-attracking tries, both improved by Lewis.
The first of them had more than a hint of a forward pass in the build-up but it was a devastating half for Fylde.
Within three minutes of the restart, Fylde claimed their third try. Lamprey made an impressive burst down the right before Stewart found skipper Chris Briers for a walkover try, goaled by Smith (21-36).
Cambridge quickly retaliated with a sixth try by prop David Langley, converted by Lewis.
A lenghty lull in the action followed and Cambridge were reduced to 14 men when replacement Ashley Elvers was yellow-carded for a tackle off the ball, which led to a skirmish. Fylde had a good chance after Turley made a fine break but the promising passing move was halted when Ben Vernon spilled the ball near the left touchline.
On 77 minutes, Cambridge slotted over a penalty, which seemed conservative in the extreme, but Fylde continued to throw the ball about as they went for that fourth try.
They wasted a good attacking position by losing a lineout on their throw – not for the first time – then Briers went close in a bid to salvage something.
The try did come in the third minute of stoppage-time, with Cambridge down to 14 again after Tom Trotter was banished to the sin-bin.
A Cambridge clearance was charged down and the quick-thinking Turley passed to replacement Warren Spragg, who just about got over for a try, goaled by Smith. Spragg had replaced Carleton, who had impaired vision.
Fylde player-coach Paul Arnold did not pull his punches, saying: “We got out-enthused, outworked and outplayed in every area.
“We started off well, scored the try and then relaxed. We thought it was going to be a walk in the park against a side who had stayed overnight and obviously took it seriously
“They were well prepared and well drilled and fully deserved the win. Because we think we are safe and everything is hunky-dory, we just relaxed. It took a bit of a telling-off at half-time to fire back but the damage had been done.
“We never threw in the towel, though. We worked hard to get the bonus point.”
Hartpury College sealed the title with their 25th straight victory, 57-2 over Old Albanian. Relegation battlers Hull Ionians and Blaydon fought out a 17-all draw.
Fylde: Carleton; Armstrong, Briers, Wilkinson, Bingham; Smith, Nicholls; Griffiths, Burtonwood, Lewis, Gray, Turley, Vernon, Stewart, Lamprey. Replacements: Wild, Gregory, Blackwell, Spragg, Arnold