Fylde 28 Blackheath 22
WINGER Oli Brennand proved the match winner for Fylde with two outstanding tries right out of the top drawer.
The touchdowns – products of raw speed, opportunism and invention – not only lifted the crowd but also proved the difference between winning and losing.
If ever there was a matchwinner, it was Brennand.
Not only could the scores be classed in the category of unforgettable, but they came at just the right time.
Coach Mark Nelson sang the Fylde wing’s praises afterwards, saying that the first try in particular had an “international” quality about it – and that was no exaggeration
And how valuable they were in a match Fylde could easily have lost.
The scores either side of half-time helped Fylde into a 28-8 lead, but then Blackheath mounted a strong comeback, which almost succeeded.
Fylde had to adopt a siege mentality in the closing stages as the visitors just ran out of time.
Brennand’s performance in this first match against Blackheath for 12 seasons stood out, but he had excellent allies in the creative fly-half Richard Kenyon and all-action second row Paul Arnold.
A spilled ball in midfield by Sam Beaumont was the spur for an early, dangerous Blackheath attack, the visitors pounding the Fylde line.
The ball was spun out to Blackheath winger Michael Canty, and just as he looked to breach the home defence, three Fylde players got across to bundle him into touch.
Next, it was Fylde who threatened on the breakaway, but Kenyon fumbled Brennand’s inside pass.
On 12 minutes, Fylde opening the scoring in comprehensive style. They had gained valuable ground with a Kenyon penalty for offside.
From the line-out, Fylde powered forward, Evan Stewart doing formidable work at the heart of it. Mike Waywell broke the line and offloaded perfectly to Chris Briers, who had a simple run-in for a try, goaled by Kenyon.
Fylde won a penalty deep in Blackheath terrain and Arnold, quick on the uptake, almost caught the opposition defence napping with a barging run. The home side continued to pin the visitors back as they sought to take advantage of the strong wind in their favour.
Next it was Gavin Cartmel to ask questions of the Blackheath defence, with a darting run down the left wing from deep.
Fylde had most of the territory in the opening half-hour with only a try and conversion to show for their endeavours.
Blackheath came close to scoring when scrum-half Ben Abrahim created space with a scything run. The ball was moved left to James Stephenson but the visiting winger was muscled into touch.
However, the referee pulled play back for an infringement and full-back Adam Armstrong slotted over a penalty.
But then Fylde added to their lead ... and how! Brennand scored a try that would have graced any rugby ground in the land.
He scooped up a loose ball 60 yards out, with seemingly little on, and with his back to the Blackheath line.
He was in a confined space on the wing, with Blackheath players advancing on him, but he managed to avoid touch while accelerating clear.
He then curved his run superbly to steer clear of another would-be tackler. Brennand was not for catching as he continued to the line, the crowd rising for as exciting a solo try as it was possible to imagine.
Kenyon added the formality of a kick and Fylde led 14-3.
Right on the stroke of half-time, Blackheath hit back with a vengeance.
They forced a penalty near the Fylde line, and from the resulting line-out their pack surged forward. The referee consulted his touch-judge and awarded a try to No.7 Dave Allen. Armstrong missed the conversion but Fylde’s lead at half-time was cut to 14-8.
Within two minutes, Brennand had extended the lead and – remarkable as it might sound – the try was just as good as his first.
It was classic counter-attacking rugby. Fylde had been under pressure and hit Blackheath where it hurt with a move that started 10 yards from their own line.
Fylde worked the ball tremendously from the left channel before Cartmel made a decisive break in alliance with Kenyon.
It was slipped to Brennand, and this time from 50 yards out he made another searing break, accelerating away for another truly dazzling score.
Kenyon goaled and within three minutes he was called to kick once more as Fylde notched a fourth try.
Waywell broke the line and offloaded to Arnold, who powered over. Fylde led 28-8 after a superb start to the half.
Blackheath replied strongly and Briers produced a saving tackle to dump centre Samuel Windsor into touch.
The visitors showed they were still in the game as fly-half Paul Humphries sneaked over for a 52nd-minute try, converted by Armstrong.
Windsor posed a threat as Blackheath started to seize the momentum but knocked on with a promising position opening up.
Fylde had a 13-point lead but it looked like being eroded, and on 67 minutes Fylde lost a vital scrum and Stephenson wormed his way over, eluding a last-ditch tackle by Stewart.
Armstrong goaled and Fylde’s lead was down to a vulnerable six points, setting up a tense finale in which Fylde held on.
It was a close call but the chief talking point was Brennand’s exploits.
They were tries of the calibre and quality that makes watching sport so worthwhile – no praise too high.
Fylde: Cartmel; Russell, C Briers, Waywell, Brennand; Kenyon, Wallwork (Depledge, 55); Griffiths, Roddam (Lavelle, 40), Loney, Arnold, Rawlings, Ferguson, Stewart, S Beaumont.