Loughborough Students 28 Fylde RFC 32: Withstanding hosts' second-half fightback
Fylde kicked off 2022 with an excellent bonus point away win, although not without enduring a tough examination of their credentials.
After racing into a 19-0 lead within 15 minutes, they had to withstand a fierce fightback in the second half and see out a nervy final 10 minutes.
After a deluge of rain, the weather relented and the game was played in dry conditions with only a mild wind.
Fylde started at a pace and accuracy level that threatened to overpower the home team.
With only three minutes on the clock, phased play created space for Henry Hadfield to race into the right corner and ground the ball under heavy traffic.
That 5-0 lead became 12-0 after eight minutes when a fine turnover in the tackle from Ben O’Ryan saw Hadfield take the ball on and feed Tom Forster.
He drew the last man and slipped the ball to Matt Sturgess, who showed a clean pair of heels to outstrip the covering defence and dot down under the posts, Greg Smith converting.
Fylde stretched their lead to 19-0 on 13 minutes when the prolific Tom Carleton was on the end of good work by Tom Grimes for his 19th try of the season, giving Smith another easy conversion.
Loughborough found their way into the game, forcing a penalty which led to a five-yard lineout.
Fylde defended this well and the Loughborough hooker, in his frustration, overstepped the aggression threshold and was yellow-carded, allowing Fylde to clear.
Nevertheless, Fylde shot themselves in the foot when they earned another penalty but, rather than clear, they opted to tap and run from their own 22.
A pass went to ground, Loughborough pounced and Nic Jacobsen surged over for a try, converted by Luca Caplin, to leave Fylde 19-7 up at the half.
Fylde started the second half strongly and extended their lead on 43 minutes as Sturgess went over for his second try, Smith converting, while the bonus point was also in the bag with them 26-7 ahead.
However, the afternoon was going to become anything but comfortable for them.
On 47 minutes, Loughborough again flexed their young muscles and forced Fylde to concede a couple of penalties.
It left them once again defending a five-yard lineout catch and drive but, on this occasion, they were unable to negate it.
Dave Aniebonam was smuggled over for the try, converted by Caplin, and the lead was cut to 26-14.
Loughborough now had their best spell of the game and ramped up the pressure on Fylde with strong midfield breaks and quick recycling of the phases.
This stretched the Fylde defence and created space out wide for George Barber to score a try on 50 minutes, again converted by Caplin.
The Students were suddenly within a try of Fylde at 26-21 before Smith landed a penalty three minutes later to make it 29-21.
A long-range break from Sturgess saw a move eventually snuffed out before a catch and drive chance was also turned over by the home defence.
Loughborough fought their way back upfield before Fylde were reduced to 14 men on 65 minutes when Scott Rawlings was adjudged to have been overly robust in entering the maul.
Five minutes later, Fylde were made to pay as Sam Blade’s midfield break ended with a long pass out for Dan James to score.
Alex Wainwright converted and cut Fylde’s lead to 29-28 with 10 minutes left.
The last stanza was fiercely contested with both teams knowing any error, indiscretion or missed tackle could decide the game.
Jacobsen made a break up the middle, only for a knock-on to enable Fylde to breathe again.
Smith’s attempted drop goal drifted wide and, as the tension mounted, Fylde kept the ball as they stayed camped inside the opposition half.
The Students desperately tried to force a crucial turnover but were penalised in their attempts to do so.
They had Jack Shine yellow-carded and Fylde forced one last penalty which Smith slotted over to end the scoring.
With no time left, a very hard-fought fifth away win of the season was finally wrapped up and everyone associated with Fylde could exhale.
Loughborough Students: Wainwright, Sanders (Daniel), Blade, Langston, Barber, Caplin, Petrozzi (Burgwin), Philipson, Aniebonam, Toms (Rowntree), Atuanya, Adlington, Jennings (Bell/Shine), Tunney, Jacobsen.
Fylde RFC: Forster, Grimes, Carleton, Rawlings, Hadfield, Smith, Sturgess, Ashcroft (Higgins), Gregor, Kyle-Clay (Bowker), Parkinson, Garrod (Blake), O’Ryan, Fairbrother. Non-playing replacements: Lanigan, Partington.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 per month for the first two months. Try us today by clicking here