Fylde RFC 38 Preston Grasshoppers 19: Derby duel blows away cobwebs after 17 months without competitive rugby

Something very close to normality returned to the Woodlands on Saturday following a break of 17 pandemic months as a large and enthusiastic crowd enjoyed this pre-season derby.

Sunday, 15th August 2021, 12:55 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th August 2021, 12:58 pm

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Any Fylde and Hoppers clash will bring out the best in local rivalry but this ‘warm-up’ was much more important as, everyone hopes, a harbinger of a full season ahead in 2021-22.

No favours were asked for or given as 60 players all tried to stake a claim for selection when the league season begins on September 4.

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Tom Carleton on the attack for Fylde against Hoppers

With a number of experienced players missing from both squads, this was a showcase for young talent and numerous players impressed.

Rustiness was inevitable and Fylde showed a measure of this in the first 20 minutes. Their attacks were ambitious but flawed as handling mistakes let them down and they conceded penalties for a range of offences.

Hoppers took due advantage and pressed on the home line, culminating with the powerful Luke Proctor driving over from close range for the opening try. Alex Jobson converted.

Penalties continued to be given against Fylde, whose ball-retention let them down

When they exerted pressure on the Hoppers defence after 15 minutes, it took a typically incisive burst from David Fairbrother to get his side on the scoreboard as he crashed over the line. Greg Smith converted well to level at 7-7 after the first of four 20-minute quarters.

Preston maintained their hard-working, gutsy attacking and a wild infield pass by Fylde was gathered on the halfway line by Hoppers winger Jacob Browne. He kicked deep and capitalised by diving on the loose ball to score. The conversion was missed but Hoppers deserved to lead 12-7 at half-time.

By this time Fylde lock Olli Parkinson had been sinbinned for a high tackle and Hoppers’ former Fylde flanker Toby Harrison received the same punishment for a dangerous tackle.

Fylde took advantage of the fresh legs as numerous changes were made and began to dominate.

Marcus Blake stood out with strong ball-carrying and his former Kirkham Grammar School teammate, flanker Tane Bentley, capitalised on the pressure as he nipped over for a try. Smith converted and Fylde led for the first time at 14-12.

Fylde centre Tom Forster reminded his old team of his quality when he finished a move down the left, Smith again converting.

Although Hoppers were always fiercely competitive, Fylde’s injection of pace proved the game-changer.

Another attack down the left saw full-back Damon Hall score in his first game for the club and a further Smith goal stretched the lead to 28-12.

The try of the day was without doubt Bentley’s second. The wing-forward raced 40 metres down the left touchline before diving in at the corner. Hall replaced Smith on kicking duty but was unable to add the extras from wide out.

Hoppers were not done yet and a series of penalties culminated in a close-range drive over the line by hooker Noah Miller, converted by Jobson.

There was time for Fylde’s sixth try, when yet another backline move down the left ended with Scott Rawlings racing over from 25 metres.

This closed out the scoring in a match which ended earlier than expected following a worrying injury to young forward Kieran Todd. He was taken to hospital but was discharged later and has fully recovered.

This fiercely fought local derby certainly blew the cobwebs out of both squads and was a good showcase for the young talent at both clubs.

Fylde’s join head caoch Alex Loney said: “Pre-season is important for players to get minutes on the pitch and this was certainly the case with both teams using squads of 30-plus.

“This was a good contest and exactly what we needed at this stage. We thought some breakdown inaccuracy and unforced errors meant we couldn’t fully get into our flow, though there were certainly signs of the threats we will pose this season, including some bright moments from new players to the group.”

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