FYLDE RFC technical director Brian Ashton expressed his delight and surprise after the club clinched its first league title for over 90 years.
Saturday’s 118-0 home win over Manchester confirmed the Woodlands club as RFU National Two North champions with two games still to play.
But former England coach Ashton said that on returning to the club he first served as player in the late 1960s he was unconvinced they would buy into his free-flowing style of play and cut it as promotion contenders.
Ashton said: “To be very frank, I didn’t think they would challenge themselves to play the type of rugby we are playing now.
“They were quite happy to play the game more or less how it is played everywhere else in the country – in a traditional way, with set-pieces, kicks for possession and good defence.
“But all credit to them – they have improved both individually and collectively.
“They have been challenged in training and in games, but they have stuck to their guns and played rugby the way we want, even when the weather has possibly not been conducive to it.
“The first game of 2011 at Kendal was a magnificent display in some pretty awful conditions and I think that was the turning point. “I think the players realised they had the capabilities to play rugby differently to most other clubs in the league.”
“When players are given the freedom, they should just play. It doesn’t matter where they are on the pitch or what it says on the scoreboard – just get on with it and enjoy yourselves.”
Ashton, who originally returned to the club as a consultant, has taken the technical director’s title for the coming season as Fylde move up to a higher level
He added: “The players have worked hard to play a particular style of game, which we are still trying to develop.
“We are not the finished article. We have got a long way to go yet.
“Hopefully the players can build on what we have achieved, but they have to work hard because it is probably the most difficult way to play rugby.
“I am looking forward to developing things on the field and off in a variety of ways in the coming year.
“I think we will find that it is a more physical league, but if we maintain our belief and our tempo we will produce some exhilarating and challenging rugby.
“This is a big step from a regional to a national league and it is pretty evident we are going to need extra players.”
Ashton rejected overtures from Premiership club Sale, among others, to carry the job he has started at the Woodlands.
He added: “If I was ever going to coach anywhere it was here and nowhere else because I live here now.
“I am 65 in September and should be putting my feet up, but I am not!
“I don’t want to be travelling around or living anywhere else. I love it here, living on the seafront.
“There was never any consideration of going to any Premiership club.
“Sale made an offer, which was fantastic and kind of them, and in other circumstances and at another time in my life I would have been a lot more interested.”