Wharfedale 28 Fylde 32 - Full report

Chris Johnson's kicking was crucial
Chris Johnson's kicking was crucial
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Two years ago Fylde won a close Christmas clash at Wharfedale after a second-half fightback. The Yorkshiremen threatened to do likewise on Saturday but goalkicking proved the difference as both teams crossed for four tries.

But while fly-half James Guy could only convert one of Wharefedale’s quartet, opposite number Chris Johnson’s 12 points with the boot proved decisive.

Both sides were in the upper reaches of National One at the time of that Christmas contest in 2013, but this time both were in the wrong half of the table, with Wharfedale especially desperate for points in their survival battle.

A festive home crowd had plenty to cheer as the Greens dominated the first quarter of the match and put the Fylde scrummage under pressure.

In the fifth minute the Fylde backs tried to run the ball from halfway, but a pass went astray and Wharfedale were able to hack the ball towards the try-line.

Winger Oliver Fewtrell won the race and touched down in the corner, though Guy was unable to add the conversion.

In the 17th minute, Wharfedale were pressing again and kicked a penalty into the corner.

From the subsequent lineout, the Greens pack mauled towards the line and former skipper Rob Baldwin claimed the touchdown. This time Guy converted well from wide out and his side had a 12-0 lead.

Fylde’s restart kick sailed out on the full and it looked as though the visitors were in for a long, hard afternoon.

Their luck changed in the second quarter as Fylde gradually got into the game with the breeze behind them.

They began to win critical turnovers as the forwards competed fiercely at the breakdown.

This led to Wharfedale conceding penalties and fly-half Johnson kicked one of these to the left corner. The pack bludgeoned forward from the lineout and flanker Mark Goodman was last man up to claim his second try for the club. Johnson add the extras with an excellent kick.

Three minutes later, Dale offended again and Johnson kicked the 45-metre penalty. At 12-10, the visitors were back in the contest.

However, Guy punished a Fylde indiscretion by converting a penalty in front of the sticks on the half-hour, but three minutes later Fylde were in again.

A penalty set up another driving maul close to the Greens’ posts and Adam Lewis plunged over for his first try of the season.

Johnson converted and Fylde were in front for the first time at 17-15, a lead Johnson extended with another penalty two minutes before half-time.

Some Fylde supporters doubted a five-point lead would be sufficient as they had to play up the slope in the second half.

Even so, Fylde carried on where they had left off and pressed from the restart, resulting in the sinbinning of home winger Maxime Labass two minutes in from bringing down another pack surge.

Fylde took full advantage with a driving maul and another try, this time by number eight David Fairbrother.

Johnson, having a fine day with his goalkicking, converted well from wide for a 27-15 advantage.

Tries from mauls are not the usual Fylde style, but on such a wet pitch the pragmatic tactics were sensible. Oli Brennand’s pristine white shorts provided evidence of the sort of game this was.

But Fylde’s backs weren’t devoid of ambition. Johnson opened up play in his own half, and his delightful chip was read and gathered by speedy full-back Jordan Dorrington.

The upshot was more pressure inside the Greens’ 22, and winger Anthony Bingham had just enough space to sprint in at the right corner for the bonus-point try after lock Gareth Rawlings’ muscular run.

Johnson’s conversion drifted just wide but his side had a convincing 32-15 lead with 25 minutes to play.

But the Dalesmen don’t throw in the towel easily, having overcome a 15-3 deficit to win 16-15 at Hull Ionians seven days earlier.

They dominated the final quarter, launching their comeback with Guy’s penalty goal on the hour.

As Fylde were pressed back inside their own half, it was their turn to concede penalties and tiny scrum-half Philip Woodhead slipped through for a try on 67 minutes, making it 32-23.

Fylde fronted up to the physical challenge in midfield, preventing the Greens from encroaching within striking distance.

And it wasn’t until stoppage time that another powerful drive ended with replacement flanker Dan Solomi securing the final try and in the process two bonus points.

Victory moves Fylde up a place to ninth and puts them in good heart for their Christmas weekend off and then the visit of promotion contenders Hartpury College to the Woodlands on January 2.

Fylde (v Wharfedale, kick-off 2pm) Dorrington; Bingham, Briers, S Rawlings, Brennand; Johnson, Nicholls; Birchall, Loney, Lewis, Gray, G Rawlings, Goodman, Stewart, Fairbrother. Replacements: Lavelle, Mills., Moon, De La Harpe, Spragg