Preston Grasshoppers 3 Fylde RFC 28: Two tries for Tom Carleton on 80th successive appearance
Fylde put their defeat at Sheffield Tigers behind them and finished off the decade in positive fashion with victory over their oldest opponents.
It proved to be a decisive victory against spirited opponents who couldn’t match the pace and precision of the Fylde backs and were rather one-dimensional against an excellent defence.
It was a fine, sunny winter’s day and a very big crowd gathered as both clubs celebrate historic anniversaries this season – 100 years for Fylde and 150 for Hoppers.
When the home scrummage caused early damage, earning a penalty as a reward, it looked as though it might prove a demanding day for Fylde in the set-piece.
Gradually, the Fylde pack established parity in the scrummages and edged the lineouts as the game progressed.
In the eighth minute a Fylde attack down their right was halted illegally and fly-half Greg Smith kicked the penalty to the corner.
The subsequent driving maul was convincing and hooker Ben Gregory was the beneficiary to claim the touchdown. Smith’s conversion was well struck and his side had an early lead.
The muscular Hoppers pack then warmed to its task and forced Fylde back into their half. They earned a kickable penalty in the 11th minute but fly-half Tom Davidson mishit it.
Fylde offended again in the 16th minute and a second penalty attempted drifted wide.
It was to be third time lucky in the 21st minute, when Fylde conceded in front of their posts and Davidson opened his side’s account with a straightforward kick for a 3-7 scoreline.
Within five minutes Fylde extended their lead. They attacked once more down the right through their dangerous backline and winger Tom Carleton received the ball 30 metres out from the Hoppers line.
He stepped off his right foot to go inside the defenders and twisted over the line for a try to his 80th consecutive league appearance for the club, a remarkable run stretching back to March 2017.
There was some argument about whether he had grounded the ball but referee Ben Davis was on the spot and awarded the try. Smith added the extras for a 3-14 advantage.
The Fylde backline looked in fine shape and began to run the ball from their own half.
On the half-hour they attacked once more down the right and Carleton raced clear down the touchline from halfway. As he approached the final defender he passed accurately inside to his old Kirkham Grammar School team-mate Connor Wilkinson, who raced clear to score a fine try near the posts. Smith added the conversion and Fylde were stretching clear.
There was enough time in the dying minutes of the first half for Preston to launch a powerful attack down their right as the rampaging former Fylde number eight Matt Lamprey burst clear.
With another former Fylde player, flanker Toby Harrison, outside him and just one defender to beat it looked a certain try. However, Lamprey’s overhead pass was forward and the golden chance was gone as the half ended with Fylde 21-3 ahead.
The early part of the second half saw Hoppers unable to capitalise on plenty of possession and territory.
Fylde battled into the home half and forced two penalties in the 44th and 55th minutes. Smith opted to go for goal both times from 40 metres but his efforts drifted wide.
Preston replacement prop forward Oga Mabaya was shown a yellow card at the start of the final quarter but Fylde’s numerical advantage was very short as number eight David Fairbrother followed him three minutes later.
Fylde’s debutant flanker Phil Mills made a promising return to the club on loan from Rossendale and was replaced by Ben Vernon, who had recovered sufficiently from a hand injury to take part in the match.
Although there seemed little chance of Fylde spurning their lead, they still needed another try for an important bonus point.
It came in the 65th minute, when the visitors ran the ball through their backs from well inside their own half.
The ball reached Carleton, and with a scintilla of space on the right touchline he skipped past a couple of defenders to score a fine try in the corner. Smith converted very well from the touchline to complete the scoring.
Hoppers battled to the end but had no more luck against a determined Fylde defence as their winless run stretched to eight games.
Carleton was the standout player for the visitors but this was far from one-man display – Fylde’s defence as a team against consistent Hoppers pressure was excellent.
The end-of-year National Two North table has changed little at the top as the leading trio all won to widen the gap over the rest.
Second-placed Fylde will enjoy the Christmas break, lick their physical wounds and look forward to starting 2020 with another traditional fixture when Wharfedale visit the Woodlands on January 4.
FYLDE: Wilkinson; Carleton, Briers (Botha 66), Rawlings, Grimes; Smith, Lanigan; Horner (Ashcroft M 77), Gregory, Lewis, Ashcroft N, Parkinson, Conner (O’Ryan 70), Mills (Vernon 53), Fairbrother.
PRESTON: Gregson; Stott, Davidson W, Fitzpatrick (Spence 52), Spence (Jordan 40); Davidson T, Gough; Blanchard (Mabaya 52), Taylor (Trippier 66), Miller (Blanchard 60), Murray (Naylor 66), Howard (Dorrington B 40), Wallbank, Harrison (Miller 64, Harrison 70), Lamprey.