Fylde vs Preston Grasshoppers

Date: 16 December 2023

Fylde 33-27 Preston Grasshoppers

An epic local derby ended in heartbreak for Preston Grasshoppers and relief for Fylde, who survived a late siege to win the last National League Two North game before the festive break.

Hoppers roared out of the blocks to take a 17-point lead within 16 minutes. But the hosts fought back to overturn a 12-20 deficit early in the second half and then hold out desperately as the visitors mounted a stoppage-time blitz on their line.

Hoppers director of rugby Alex Keay said: “it’s massively frustrating. I felt for the lads – they deserved more.”
“We dominated the first 20 minutes, then lost a lot of the small margins to let them back into the game. We lost because we didn’t do the fine margins well enough.”
“We looked outstanding at times.”

Hoppers grabbed the opening score after making the most of loose ball in midfield to work Jack Lightowler over for a try converted by Will Hunt.

If the Fylde faithful were shocked by that, worse was to come after Jacob Browne and Josh Longson led a foray upfield, rounded off by skipper Scott Richardson from close range.

Hunt again converted and added a penalty after Fylde were punished for not retreating when Hoppers scrum-half Rory Brand tried to take a quick tap penalty.

Fylde’s resurgence began when skipper Ben Gregory crashed over from a line-out drive, and they repeated the recipe just before half-time, with Matt Ashcroft making the most of Ben Dorrington’s spell in the sinbin for a deliberate knock-on.

Greg Smith converted the second of the tries, but Hunt edged his side eight points clear with a long-range penalty.

Hoppers have struggled to defend line-out drives in recent games and again had no answer as Ashcroft was smuggled over for his second touchdown, converted by Smith.

Keay admitted: “We have been working on defending line-out drives in training, but the lads didn’t stick to it.”

Fylde took the lead for the first time on 62 minutes when sustained pressure brought Gregory’s second try and the bonus point.

Hoppers couldn’t put the finishing touches after a cross-kick from Hunt to Tyler Spence almost opened things up, but Lightowler was not to be denied his seventh try of the campaign, following a tap penalty.

Hunt’s conversion meant the lead changed hands again, but the irrepressible Gregory soon reversed that with his hat-trick touchdown after Fylde had pounded the visitors’ line. However, every Prestonian in the ground was convinced there was a forward pass in the build-up.

With nine minutes of stoppage time, Hoppers still had hopes of rescuing a famous victory, but the Fylde defence held firm in the face of a late onslaught for a well-celebrated win.

The victory moved Fylde up to fifth, while their neighbours’ losing bonus point kept them 11th, five points clear of the bottom three.

Report by Paul Outhwaite, pictures by Mike Craig

Fylde 16 Dec 2023

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