Hartpury College 24, Fylde 32
Fylde travelled to deepest Gloucestershire to take on National League One newcomers Hartpury College for the first time and they fought out a tough, ‘no holds barred’ contest that was at times rather bad tempered.
The clubs have very different histories and on this occasion the ‘senior citizens’, enjoying a productive 95th anniversary season, came away with the spoils of maximum league points in a 32-24 victory, their 2nd away win of the season. This lifted the Lancastrians one place to 2nd in the table behind unbeaten leaders Ealing Trailfinders.
The game started in unusual circumstances with referee Andrew Taylorson determined to stamp his authority early on in the proceedings. In the 6th minute, Hartpury lock Joe Batley was sinbinned for pulling down a Fylde jumper in a lineout as the visitors put early pressure on the home side. Three minutes later, Fylde skipper Evan Stewart also saw yellow and the sides were reduced to 14-a-side. Hartpury fly-half Gareth Thompson took due advantage by kicking the consequential penalty for a 3-0 lead.
In the 17th minute the Fylde forwards mounted a determined attack in the College’s half and fullback Warren Spragg, having a fine season, was the beneficiary as he nipped over for the opening try. Fly-half Chris Johnson converted for a 7-3 advantage.
Back came Hartpury and they forced some indiscipline from Fylde as Thompson converted successive penalty kicks in the 22nd & 24th minutes to take a 9-7 lead.
Fylde’s backline has been in convincing form in these early weeks of the season and have scored more tries than any other in English rugby’s top three divisions. In the 35th minute Chris Johnson hoisted a trademark cross kick and young winger Jordan Dorrington fastened on to it to score a neat try wide out on the right. Johnson’s atempted conversion was wide but Fylde were further in front at 12-9. They extended this in the last few minutes of the half as Hartpury’s Luke Stafford was sinbinned and Chris Johnson kicked the subsequent penalty for a 15-9 lead at the interval.
Johnson added another successful penalty kick seven minutes into the secod half to extend the lead but Thompson reduced this advantage a few minutes later with his fourth penalty kick.
A crucial moment was in the 52nd minute when Fylde manufactured space for winger Oli Brennand to break out deep in his own half and the flyer went 70m to score under the posts. This was his eighth try of the season and puts him ahead of his old adversary Phil Chesters (Ealing Trailfinders) & Chris Davies (Richmond). Tynedale centre Ben Frankland’s five tries at Macclesfield elevated him to the top of National One’s tries ranking with nine. Chris Johnson converted Brennand’s try and Fylde had established clear blue water at 25-12 up.
Fifteen minutes later Fylde applied the coup de grâce when centre Scott Rawlings powered through some indifferent tackling to score his 5th try of his debut season at the club & earning the try scoring bonus point in doing so. Once again Johnson converted and Fylde were well clear at 32-12.
But with 10 minutes to go as the Hartpury pack pressed deep inside the visitors half, referee Taylorson awarded a penalty try. A bout of scuffling and ‘handbags’ resulted in Fylde lock Paul Arnold being yellow carded and the end of his afternoon’s efforts. Thompson converted and Hartpury trailed by 19-32.
With their opponents missing the powerful lock forward, Hartpury stepped up their efforts and almost on full-time their pack drove over the line for no 8 Lewis Ludlow to be the last man up claiming the try. Thompson missed the conversion and the game ended shortly after for a final score of 24-32. Hartpury didn’t even have the consolation of a losing bonus point although fly-half Thompson had a productive afternoon with a personal haul of 14 points.
Fylde always looked more penetrative and thoroughly deserved their victory, albeit the final score was a little too close for comfort.
They await the visit of Old Albanian to the Woodlands on Saturday (kick-off 3pm)