Fylde remain team to beat

Nicholas King goes over for the first try.
Nicholas King goes over for the first try.
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Fylde 35, Harrogate 12

FYLDE remain the team to beat at the top of Division Two North after this hard-fought win.

Fylde 35, Harrogate 12

FYLDE remain the team to beat at the top of Division Two North after this hard-fought win.

And although the match programme wrongly named Huddersfield as the opponents, by the end of the match Fylde were under no illusions who it was that had given them a game.

Their Yorkshire side were in a stubborn mood and Fylde always had a scrap on their hands to register this foruth straight win.

Despite a rather worrying fall-off in standards in the second half, Fylde had the men to stand up and be counted, not least Nick Royle who claimed a hat-trick in his final match before jetting off for England Sevens duty.

Nick King was outstanding in the second row for the second week in succession, with Jason Robinson showing more than a few flashes of his class.

Mike Waywell was creative and incisive, while fellow centre Stephen Briers got through a good shift too.

Fylde came close to producing their best rugby in the first half and must know that they are the number one team to be shot at.

They must be doing a lot that is right – 16 bonus points in 16 matches is ample testimony to that, and 16 is also the number of tries now scored by Royle.

Fylde nearly opened the scoring in sensational style in the second minute, thanks to a searing 75-yard run by Oli Brennand.

He beat man after man but couldn’t quite get to the line, knocking on as he tried to unload to Waywell.

Fylde drew first blood three minutes later, when Waywell hoisted over a snap drop goal.

Harrogate struck back, passing the ball enterprisingly. It put Fylde on the back foot for a while, the move ending when flanker Alex Rieder put a foot in touch after breaking free.

It wasn’t long before Harrogate got their reward. The visitors gained ground with a penalty, then moved the ball sweetly along the line for centre James Broadley to race through some indifferent defending and score, James Rothwell’s goal put his side 7-3 up.

Fylde’s response was another sortie by Brennand, who stepped into touch as he stretched his legs, then seconds later Royle tested the Harrogate defence with a kick and chase but the ball ran dead.

Waywell was next to threaten. He escaped a couple of challenges before shipping the ball to Paul Arnold, who could not hang on to it with the try-line beckoning.

The try Fylde deserved was not long in coming, though. On 23 minutes, Robinson helped set the platform with a jinking run from deep before King embarked on a wrecking-ball run to the line for a score. Waywell goaled to take the score to 10-7.

But Fylde certainly knew they were in a game as Harrogate stormed back, and the home side were relieved when a long spell of possession for the visitors came to a bizarre end as the ball ran through the legs of flanker Daniel Harland.

Fylde responded superbly as Richard Kenyon made a quick break, feeding Waywell. He found Brennand on the outside, but instead of going it alone the winger seemed to take the wrong option by trying to feed Briers, who knocked on near the line.

But Fylde’s persistence paid off in the next wave of attack on 35 minutes as Briers got on the end of Kenyon’s chip to plunge over.

Waywell added an excellent conversion to give Fylde some breathing space at 17-7 against worthy opponents. Fylde stretched their advantage in stoppage time as Robinson linked up beautifully with Brennand before Royle was released down the right to finish the move in style, diving over in the corner.

Waywell failed with the conversion but Fylde took a hard-earned 22-7 lead into the break.

Harrogate came out in determined fashion, ensuring that the home side needed to do plenty of defending, and were rewarded with a try after 48 minutes. Kenyon cleared his lines but Harrogate took a quick lineout and worked the ball right for Rothwell to cross in the corner.

The conversion was missed by the try-scorer, though Fylde were now only two scores in front. They required the boost of a touchdown and it arrived within four minutes.

Robinson had Harrogate at sixes and sevens with his trickery before the ball was shipped right to Royle, who kicked ahead and won the chase to touch down with time to spare.

Waywell was unsuccessful with the kick, though Fylde now had some vital leeway but could still not afford to relax. Royle then became try-saver as he put in a timely soccer-like tackle to rob Harrogate’s attacking full-back Ed Smithies, who scented a try.

Fylde held on to their lead but it was hard going, with most of the play in their half for the next 15 minutes.

Coaching consultant Brian Ashton was as frustrated as anyone, asking from the sidelines why the team had “stopped playing rugby”.

Fylde got a penalty on 74 minutes, and although Ashton – ever the exponent of the expansive game – clearly wanted to run it, replacement Steve Collins took the goal option and the ball sailed over to make it 30-12.

Right at the death, Timothy Heaton was yellow-carded for Harrogate for persistent infringing near his own line. Fylde came on strongly, and after several attacking waves Mark Stephenson passed the ball forward inches from the line.

Deep into added time, Fylde completed the scoring as Royle made it a hat-trick, all the tries bearing the hallmark of high-quality finishing.

Waywell kicked ahead and there was a touch of fortune as the ball cannoned back into his hands off a Harrogate player. The centre moved the ball out smartly to Royle, who rounded off a profitable afternoon.

Fylde: Robinson; Royle, Briers, Waywell, Brennand; Kenyon (Collins,68) Wallwork; Livesey, Roddam, Lavelle (Altham, 53), Arnold (Sutherland, 80), King (Holmes, 75), Ferguson, Stephenson, Beaumont.