Cinderford 37, Fylde 14
Paul Arnold’s first game as Fylde head coach ended in defeat but was always going to be a tough challenge in Gloucestershire.
Besides the long coach trip with a depleted squad, Fylde faced a desperate Cinderford side looking down the barrel of relegation from National One.
The Foresters just had to win to give themselves any chance of escaping the drop zone and they did so in fine style, scoring four tries in the second-half for a deserved bonus-point victory to cut the gap between themselves and fourth-bottom Old Albanian to eight points with three to play.
Arnold was missing some of his senior players and the cause wasn’t helped when his youngest player, flanker Jamie Brookes, was injured in the warm-up.
The unlucky 19-year-old had been named among the replacements and was expected to make his senior debut at some point in the game.
His place on the bench was taken by analyst David Wiseman, who last played a National League game in 2010.
Matters got even worse for the visitors in the first minute, when England Counties full-back Mike Wilcox jinked through a rather static Fylde defence and passed to winger Leo Fielding, who touched down for the opening try.
The conversion was missed by Cinderford’s new fly-half Callum Sheedy, though he went on to have an excellent game.
Cinderford continued to press forward, winning an eighth-minute penalty in the Fylde half.
From the five-metre lineout, the home pack drove over and lock Ed King got the final touch. Again the conversion was missed but the Foresters had a 10-0 lead.
Fylde needed a spark, and stand-in number eight and skipper for the day Gareth Rawlings provided it with a 50-metre break.
His side then earned a penalty on 20 minutes, and from the kick to the corner it was the Lancastrians’ turn to launch a driving maul.
Tom Lavelle got the touchdown and Chris Johnson maintained his fine goalkicking form to cut the deficit to three points.
Sheedy found his kicking boots on the half-hour, converting a penalty to extend the home side’s lead to 13-7 at half-time.
Fylde started the second half strongly, taking the lead for the first and only time six minutes in.
Good combination play between backs and forwards ended with winger Jordan Dorrington scoring his 13th try of a fine season in the right corner.
Once again Johnson converted beautifully from the touchline and Fylde had a 14-13 advantage, though the lead was to last only three minutes.
Fylde’s luck started to turn as centre Ralph Dowds turned his ankle and lock Simon Griffiths pulled a hamstring.
Cinderford took control and Fylde struggled to get their hands on the ball for the next 25 minutes.
In the 49th minute, Jack Adams ploughed through for the Foresters’ third try and this was quickly followed by winger Fielding grabbing his second between the posts.
Fly-half Sheedy converted one of these two for a 25-14 lead, though his kicking in open play was exceptional..
Hooker Luke Cole forced his way over the line for Cinderford’s fifth try on 58 minutes and scrum-half Clive Stuart-Smith added a sixth on 69.
By this time Jordan Dorrington had added to Fylde’s injury woes with a very painful back problem and was replaced in the back line by hooker Tom Burtonwood as the visitors ran low on options.
The Cinderford crowd was justifiably delighted and Fylde coach Arnold was able to look on the bright side.
He said: “I can’t fault the players’ effort and workrate, which was exceptional. However, our decision-making and skill levels let us down, and by the end of the game we were well beaten by a good Cinderford team.
“Missing senior players such as Evan Stewart, Chris Briers, Warren Spragg, Ryan De La Harpe, Sam Beaumont and Dave Fairbrother didn’t help, but the injuries in the warm-up and during the game also hit us hard.
“Despite doing well, a finishing backline including Richard Kenyon, Martin Wallwork and David Wiseman wasn’t quite what I imagined when I talked about giving young players a chance! Anything that could have gone wrong did.
“However, we do have strength in depth and are developing a good squad.
“We have lots to work on to prepare for the last three games of the season and I know the players will respond accordingly.”
Fylde return from the Easter break for their final home game against Coventry on Saturday, before completing the season with two trips to London to face Richmond and Blackheath.