Fylde RFC 20 Huddersfield 20: More last-gasp penalty drama at Woodlands
Fylde stretched their unbeaten run to five games in National Two North but had to settle for a draw after their former fly-half Chris Johnson capped a kicking masterclass with a late penalty.
With Adam Lewis at his wife’s side for the birth of their son, Ben Vernon took over the Fylde captaincy for the first time as Bevan Rodd and Cal Ford formed a new-look prop pairing, while Ben O’Ryan and Jacob Conner came into the back row and there were welcome returns for Alex Loney and Jonny Wild on the bench.
Tom Carleton and Ben Gregory both made their 50th appearance on a grey day which remained mostly dry for the first half.
Fylde took the lead in only the second minute, when Connor Wilkinson showed a clean pair of heels to the defence from 25 metres, his fine try converted by Greg Smith.
Huddersfield then shook off the bus journey and Johnson showed just how well he manoeuvres a team around a pitch with a mix of clever passing and astute kicking.
On 12 minutes, a high tackle took play into the Fylde 22 and quickly recycled ball saw Alex Battye dot down for the try. Johnson started his faultless day with the boot by scoring the equalising goal.
A feature of Huddersfield’s play was their ability to retain possession and build pressure with excellent handling. Fylde could not force an error and on 20 minutes Johnson showed what a dangerous runner he is too by crashing over, adding the conversion to give his side a 14-7 lead.
Back came Fylde as James Bailey went close after Smith’s break but the Huddersfield eight produced a mighty shove to win a scrum against the head and clear their lines.
However, they gave a penalty away at the next breakdown and Smith brought the score back to 14-10.
Three penalties on the trot to Fylde followed ,with the last resulting in a shot at goal but that drifted wide.
Right on the half-time hooter, Fylde were penalised for pulling down the maul and Johnson kicked the penalty to stretch the lead to 17-10.
Fylde wasted chances after the restart before the weather gods sent down torrential sheets of rain.
Coach Warren Spragg decided it was time for changes and brought on Loney, Matt Garrod and scrum-half Gus Warr.
Loney’s first contribution was unfortunately a crooked throw at a lineout but he quickly redeemed himself at the resulting scrum. Fylde won a penalty but again Smith’s attempt drifted wide.
Johnson continued to use the boot wisely and get Huddersfield out of the danger zone as Fylde continued to force turnovers and get back on the attack.
On the hour mark, an excellent penalty turnover at the tackle by Loney ended with Wilkinson making it to the line from 20 metres despite tacklers all around him. After his excellent brace of tries, Smith converted and it was 17 each.
The last quarter was the sort of good, hard battle the purists love in challenging weather.
On 69 minutes, Fylde forced yet another penalty in the tackle area, this time in a much easier position and Smith’s goal made it 20-17.
Huddersfield rolled their sleeves up and crept close enough to force a Fylde error on 78 minutes. Up stepped the man who won so many league points for Fylde to deny them all four with an equalising penalty.
Fylde had a few minutes to see if they could nick it and threw Jonny Wild on. His first action was an outstanding penalty turnover, though Smith’s drop goal attempt was charged down.
The second half was played in dreadful conditions but the handling and ball retention from both sides was excellent.
Huddersfield shaded the contest in that area, though Fylde definitely had the upper hand at the breakdown and won the penalty count 15-6.
There is little between these sides as is suggested by Huddersfield slipping a spot to fourth, just one place above Fylde.
Fylde’s man of the match was the excellent Wilkinson, who has performed at a high level all season.
Huddersfield’s man of the match was awarded to Lewis Bradley, if only because Fylde coach Warren Spragg couldn’t bring himself to hand over the case of beer to his old team-mate Johnson.
Everyone watching would have admired the veteran number 10’s excellent all-round display on his return to The Woodlands.
Fylde: Carleton, Bailey, Dowds, Wilkinson, Grimes, Smith, Crampton; Conner, O’Ryan, Vernon, Ashcroft, Parkinson, Ford, Gregory, Rodd; replacements, Wild, Garrod, Loney, Warr, Fowden