Blackheath 59, Fylde 22
FYLDE’S mathematical hopes of ending their first season in National One was champions were brought to a shuddering half with a nine-try defeat by the league’s form team at Rectory Fields.
Even so, Fylde remain third and are assured of a top-four finish in their first season back at this level – a tremendous achievement.
However, at the back end of the campaign the lack of depth in the Fylde squad has been exposed through injuries and the unavailability of key players.
After a six-hour coach journey to south London, Fylde got off to the best possible start, when a Blackheath clearance kick on their 22 was charged down by Richard Kenyon and winger Oli Brennand hacked the ball through to dive over in the corner. Kenyon’s conversion sailed wide.
The next 10 minutes were pretty even and the visitors could not have imagined how the dam would burst.
In the 16th minute, Fylde broke dangerously, but the ball was spilled and impressive full-back Mike Canty led the Blackheath counter-attack.
He scored after exchanging passes with winger Tom Chapman, and fly-half Sam Windsor began his good day with the boot by notching the extras which edged Blackheath in front.
By the 23rd minute, the home pack had started to take advantage of their powerful rolling maul and skipper Tom Bason drove over for their second try.
A crucial turning point came four minutes later, when Fylde were pressing only for Canty to make a brilliant interception and race 95 metres between the posts.
Not even the pursuing Nick Royle could cut him down and Windsor’s goal made it 19-5.
The harder Fylde chased the game the more errors they made and these were ruthlessly exploited. Windsor finished the move for Club’s bonus-point fourth try on 32 minutes and England counties flanker Dave Allen was driven over for the fifth five minutes later, after Fylde lock Paul Arnold was sin-binned.
After after top scorer Stephenson broke through to hand a hat-trick try to Carty, Fylde trooped into the dressing rooms at the interval thoroughly chastened at 38-5.
Their mountain to climb grew higher five minutes after the restart, when Allen was again driven over from a rolling maul.
Fylde never gave up, and sustained pressure was rewarded five minutes later, when the returned Arnold broke to send supporting scrum-half Steve Depledge in for a good try.
The visitors kept up their revival with gusto, and more pressure brought a 61st-minute overlap on the left, where Royle rounded the last defender for a fine try
Just two minutes later, Fylde attacked from their own 22 as Arnold linked up with Steve McGinnis, who created enough space for Brennand to sprint away down the left and round Canty for an excellent try.
Kenyon converted and Fylde’s spirited revival had cut the deficic to 45-22.
However, the Fylde revival stalled here as Blackheath resumed their earlier domination. Two more tries from rolling mauls and close driving play came from props Brett and Cleverly and emphasised the difference between the teams.
Alex Loney’s yellow card in the 77th minute didn’t help matters but by this time the game was well and truly up.
This was the most points Fylde had conceded since Esher hit them for 60, also in London nine years ago.
Fylde: C Briers; Royle, S Briers, Waywell, Brennand; Kenyon, Depledge; Livesey, Loney, Lavelle, Arnold, Ferguson, McGinnis, Stephenson, S Beaumont. Replacements: Altham, Griffiths, Roddam, Wallwork, Viney.
*FYLDE head coach Mark Nelson insists that fixtures against the other three top-four sides in National One are the best way to end the league campaign, despite their drubbing at Blackheath in the first of those games.
The title may well be decided on Saturday, when Fylde welcome second-placed Ealing Trailfinders to the Woodlands before journeying to leaders Jersey seven days later.
Nelson said: “I’d rather finish against the top two than against mediocre teams. There will be a great deal of media interest in these two matches and I’d rather have that high profile.”
A Fylde victory over Ealing may well see Jersey confirmed as champions but Nelson added: “We have to try to finish well and focus on ourselves. We’re expecting a big crowd and these are the games you want to be involved in.”
A win in their final home match would give Fylde a chance to overhaul the Trailfinders for second spot, though Nelson would be delighted to hold off Blackheath’s challenge for third.
As for last Saturday’s visit to The Club, Nelson said: “It was a very difficult day. To set off at 7am and not get home until midnight is very tough on the players, and in between we played a team who have won nine on the bounce and gave the best performance of any side against us all season.
“We led 5-0 and could have had a penalty for 8-0 before an interception started their scoring spree, but they were clinical in exploiting our mistakes and taking advantage when we lost the ball in contact.
“We told the players at half-time to re-establish their self-esteem in the second half and we did that with three tries.
“We are still clinging to third place, will definitely finish in the top four and are two points off a century, which is an achievement I’d clearly have settled for at the start of the season.”
Nelson hopes to have more selection options this weekend, despite losing prop Alex Livesey to international duty with Malta.