Fylde 41, Cambridge 26
NICK Royle stamped his imprint on this eventful contest in no uncertain fashion.
He revelled in the freedom of the Woodlands ground as he steamed in for five tries, as Fylde won by seven touchdowns to four.
Oli Brennand, Fylde’s other ace finisher, supplied the other two.
But it was not just the try-count that concerned Fylde coach Mark Nelson.
By the end, the Fylde pack was decimated by injury, with Paul Arnold, Gareth Rawlings and Sam Beaumont all being forced to leave the field.
It was too late to affect the outcome but it was just as well that Fylde enjoyed such a comfortable cushion.
By the finish the pack had a make-do-and-mend look about it, with so many players out of position.
Royle was in outstanding form – not only did he claim five tries, but he saved one as well with a last-ditch tackle.
Stephen Briers was always a potent threat in the centre, while lock Rawlings was a dominant figure until injury cut short his contribution.
The match underlined yet again Fylde’s commendable commitment to attacking rugby, but also exposed their lack of strength in the depth, while clearly needs addressing.
Cambridge jolted Fylde with a try after two minutes, after Callum McShane was harried and hassled into error at the base of the scrum.
Fylde surrendered possession and William Lawson easily shrugged off Mike Waywell’s attempt at a tackle.
Lawson made deep inroads into Fylde terrain and full-back Delaray Veenendaal was up in wholehearted support to touch down. Fly-half Adam White added the conversion.
Royle was spoken to at length by the referee after giving away a penalty, but was seen to better effect as he probed deep into opposition territory.
Next it was Jonny Roddam and Arnold to test the Cambridge defence with strong runs.
Fylde had Cambridge on the back foot for a spell, but tended to rush things when calmer heads were needed in a fraught opening quarter.
However, things looked altogether better as slick handling along the line enabled Oli Brennand to break free.
Though he was halted out on the left, Steve Collins stepped in and fired over a diagonal kick that landed safely in the hands of Royle, who needed no second invitation to finish the move off. Collins converted Royle’s try.
The Fylde kicker was needed again just two minutes later.
Skipper Beaumont set the platform with a tremedous charge.
The ball was worked to Royle, who twisted and turned before wriggling away to score a rapid-fire second try.
This time Collins missed the conversion but in an instant Fylde had turned a seven-point deficit into a 12-7 lead.
That was extended further as Royle claimed a hat-trick, completed in the space of six minutes.
Stephen Briers worked the opening superbly feeding Rawlings, who passed out to Royle for his and Fylde’s third try.
Collins’ conversion attempt from wide out hit the bottom of the post.
Not only were Fylde starting to dominate, but the penalty count against Cambridge was rising.
There was no holding Fylde, and the bonus-point try came up after 28 minutes.
Fylde scythed through the from a scrum and Stephen Briers, having a stormer, eluded all attempts to stop him and released Brennand, who streaked in to score. Collins failed with the kick.
Four tries in a purple patch lasting just 10 minutes had made the score 22-7.
On 35 minutes, the try-tally continued to stack up and there was no prizes for guessing the identity of the next scorer, Royle zig-zagging at speed through toiling defenders to cross for his fourth.
Cambridge had a rare attack in the closing moments of the half, when stern defence staved off White’s mazy run, and Fylde led 27-7 at the interval.
Royle tackled Albert Portsmouth right on the line, after McShane had fumbled a cross-kick, and Brennand turned defence into attack from inside Fylde’s in-goal area. He found Stephen Briers in support, and just as it looked as though fellow centre Waywell would finish off a length-of-the-field move the referee blew for a forward pass.
Brennand scorched through from a scrum and was determined to go solo, even though Royle was on the overlap. It was the right call and the individual try was augmented by Collins.
At this point, the 53rd minute, Fylde brought on Rob Taylor for his debut, replacing Arnold.
Fylde’s concentration lapsed, allowing Danny Hunter to squeeze over in the corner, the conversion striking the post.
Waywell knocked on in a promising position as Fylde entered the last quarter 34-12 to the good.
Hunter scored again in the same corner just at a time when Rawlings left the field clutching his arm.
White’s conversion made it 34-19 with 16 minutes left, and Cambridge had an unexpected lifeline as Fylde continued without any recognised locks.
Fylde needed some respite and got it when Brennand launched a counter-attack. The ball was spread to Evan Stewart, who fed Royle for his fifth try, his task facilitated by a dreadful attempt at a tackle by Cambridge’s Michael Ayrton.
Fylde’s forward power was further reduced when Beaumont left the field with a big swelling to his face.
Given Fylde’s chronic lack of pack resources with scrum-half Wallwork operating in the back three, it was hardly a surprise that they conceded a penalty try on 75 minutes. White kicked the goal.
There was a worrying scenario as Cambridge replacement Alex Kelsall went down injured, the touch-judge calling on the medics and physios.
He was able to get up after treatment, but the whistle went an estimated four minutes early, without any stoppage time.
Fylde: C Briers; Royle, S Briers, Waywell (Viney 72) Brennand; Collins, McShane; Griffiths, Roddam, Loney (Lavelle 57) Arnold (Taylor 53) Rawlings, Stewart, Stephenson, S Beaumont (Wallwork 68)