PRESTON GRASSHOPPERS 18-15 FYLDE
In terms of commitment and intensity, this game lived up to the pre-match hype – the first league meeting between these two local rivals for 7 years and, before comfortably the biggest crowd for some time, Hoppers took the spoils in a tight contest.
The home pack put the pressure on from the first whistle with a series of pick-and-drives, finally stopped illegally, and Hoppers opted for the scrum. Shades of last season as Matt Lamprey picked up at the base to drive over in the 4th minute, new signing Tom Davidson converting.
The wet ball dictated close quarter rugby and the Fylde pack managed a turn-over to relieve the pressure and exert some of their own. With their lineout operating effectively, they eschewed a number of apparently kickable penalties to drive for the line but Hoppers defence was sound, albeit at the expense of continuing to incur the displeasure of referee O’Brien and must have come perilously close to a yellow card.
Seemingly going down a blind alley, Fylde at last changed tactics and spread the ball to the backs and No.10 Greg Smith chipped into in-goal for Chris Briers to touch down just inside the dead ball line and the conversion levelled the scores with 22 minutes on the clock.
But Hoppers regained the lead when Ally Murray who along with Adam Howard was putting in some useful carries, was high tackled and Davidson kicked the penalty.
Hoppers then squandered a promising attack by losing a 5-metre line out and a first piercing of the visiting back line by Sam Stott lacked support and half time came with the score at10-7.
It was Fylde’s turn to restart well after the break and, after Smith had failed with a kick at goal, his deft inside pass put centre Briers through and, although he was tackled short of the line, wing Tom Grimes was on hand to touch down. The touchline conversion drifted wide but the visitors were in the lead for the first time at 12-10.
Davidson was also wide with a penalty attempt but made amends a few moments later to put his side back ahead.
With the game in the balance, coach Paul Arnold decided to join the fray for the last quarter and there followed two incidents which helped Hoppers’ cause. In some robust forward exchanges, first Fylde’s No 6 Corrie was despatched to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle followed almost immediately by No.8 Fairbrother for an off-the-ball offence.
The resulting penalty 5-metre line out was won by Hoppers and, after a drive for the line was defended, the ball was released for Sam Stott to cross in the corner but again the kick drifted wide to make the margin just 6 points.
This was reduced to 3 points as Smith decided to kick for goal from a penalty in mid-field and numbers were evened up somewhat when home centre James Fitzpatrick was given marching orders.
This resulted in Fylde enjoying a one-man advantage in the closing minutes and they threw everything into attack, scenting victory but Hoppers defence held out and perhaps the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when man-of-the-match Tyler Spence, who as always again proved that ‘size is not everything’ in defence, produced a turnover in the tackle to regain priceless possession, allowing Davidson to put the ball out to secure the win.
Paul Arnold summed up: “A big crowd, great atmosphere and great day for both sets of fans. I am very proud of the boys today, a tremendous effort all round from all the team, especially the front row who all put in a full 80 minutes. Fylde are a good side and, of course I know most of the players well and it was an important win for us. But we won’t get carried away; we have a difficult trip next week to Huddersfield who have a good home record and then the always competitive Sedgley Park at home the week after, followed by back-to-back away games. Not the easiest of fixtures at the start of the season but, after a disappointing result at Chester, today’s result will have boosted our confidence.”
Many thanks to Mike Craig for his excellent photo and to HSBC for being our main match sponsor.