Fylde RFC 33 Preston Grasshoppers 17: Revenge so sweet for Fylde
Fylde and their old enemy Hoppers served up a Christmas cracker for a bumper crowd at the Woodlands.
After four weeks of atrocious weather conditions, the elements finally relented and provided a clear, dry and still day for the 1,794 spectators who filed through the turnstiles.
Hoppers brought several bus-loads down the M55 and it was great to see so many people in and around the clubhouse, with players past and present trading stories.
It was a full-blooded, no-holds-barred contest that never relented. Hoppers fielded a huge pack and they immediately started a series of hefty drives.
Fylde old boy Oli Trippier stepped in at hooker for Hoppers and Fylde were able to target his throws.
Fylde’s defence has become much more resilient since that defeat at Hoppers, though the visitors did have the better of the early exchanges, and home scrum-half Cameron Crampton was caught in possession on a couple of occasions by darting raids by his opposite number James Gough.
Fylde opened the scoring after 15 minutes from a five-metre scrum. Chris Briers threw a wonderful cut-out pass which left James Bailey with acres of space to score wide out on the right. Greg Smith added a lovely conversion and it was 7-0.
On 21 minutes Hoppers had their first chance of points when Fylde were penalised for not rolling away but Tom Davidson’s penalty hit a post and Fylde were able to clear their lines.
Fylde were showing a greater threat when taking the game away from the tight exchanges, though Bailey was just beaten to the ball from his chip and chase.
Hoppers then looked like they had the overlap to exploit just inside their half only for Jacob Connor to read the pass expertly and poach the interception.
The big number eight then galloped away like a thoroughbred with no defender able to get anywhere near him and he dived in at the left corner, much to the delight of the massed ranks of Fylde second and third team players in Santa outfits, a rather surreal sight.
Another beautiful conversion from wide out by Smith made it 14-0.
Just four minutes later Connor again read the intentions of an inside ball and picked Hoppers’ pocket once more. This time he didn’t have the legs to get scored himself and his pass went to ground.
The half ended with a full three minutes of Hoppers possession but desperate defending forced their winger into touch a yard short of the line as Fylde’s 14-point lead remained intact.
Another Fylde old boy, Alex Hurst ,came on for the second half and his first act was to concede a high-tackle penalty.
A towering lineout take by Matt Garrod laid the platform for a strong drive by Ollie Parkinson and quick ball was spun down the line for Tom Carleton to spot a gap and score the third try. Smith again converted and 21-0 was a very healthy lead.
Hoppers weren’t all grunt and muscle, and they had some dangerous runners out wide as well, notably Tyler Spence, whose dangerous chip and chase led to some scrambling in defence.
The visitors finally got on the scoreboard after Fylde gave a penalty away in the 56th minute for not releasing.
Adam Howard tidied up from a five-metre lineout and launched the move from which centre James Fitzpatrick crashed over in the corner.
Davidson showed he can slot them from wide out as well, making it 21-7.
Carleton had picked up a knock,so Ralph Dowds came on at centre for Fylde and Connor Wilkinson moved to full-back.
Fylde knew they needed the next score to calm any nerves and it came straight from the kick off.
Garrod charged down an attempted clearance and won the race to the ball as it bounced around the in-goal area, securing the bonus point at 26-7.
Back came Hoppers and on 64 minutes another breakdown penalty allowed Davidson to set up the line out near Fylde’s line. This resulted in a rolling maul from which Oga Mabaya scored. Davidson missed the conversion but Hoppers were back within two converted tries.
Hoppers now rolled their sleeves up and cranked up the pressure, forcing three penalties as they tested the durability of the Fylde defence.
A series of drives were repelled until in the 75th minute, when the dam burst and Hoppers replacement Alex Ward sliced through. Crucially the conversion was missed, meaning Hoppers would have to score twice to win or once for a bonus point.
On 78 minutes, Ben Gregory produced a tremendous steal in the tackle and a neat break by the always dangerous Wilkinson led to a penalty for offside.
Smith kicked to touch, and although the driving maul was stopped Fylde won another penalty. Nick Ashcroft’s great lineout take set up another driving maul from which Adam Lewis claimed the fifth try.
Smith bounced the conversion in off the post and there was no time to restart the game.
This was an excellent local derby played in front of a packed and appreciative crowd, and the standard of play was a real credit to both teams and coaching staff.
Jacob Connor was the man of the match for Fylde, though among the influential older heads Alex Loney was a colossus in the contact area and the accuracy of his lineout work provided a great platform.
Against a much heavier pack, Fylde conceded only one scrum penalty, while referee Ben Rayner kept charge in a calm and assured manner. Hoppers won the penalty count 10-7.
Honours are even in terms of one win each this season although Fylde can claim the upper hand having taken six points to Hoppers’ four over the two fixtures.
Fylde: Carleton, Bailey, Briers, Wilkinson, Grimes, Smith, Crampton, Connor, O’Ryan, Vernon, Garrod, Parkinson, Lewis, Loney, Horner; replacements: M. Ashcroft, Gregory, N. Ashcroft, Dowds, Hadfield
Preston: Cave, Spence, Crow, Fitzpatrick, Trueman, Davidson, Gough, Lamprey, Murray, Howard, Roddy, Proctor, Altham, Trippier, Mabaya; replacements: Johnson, Miller, Edwards, Hurst, Ward