Match report: Preston Grasshoppers 18 Fylde RFC 15
Preston Grasshoppers edged home in a tight contest at Lightfoot Green, where Fylde conceded a crucial try while they had two players in the sin-bin.
With the resurrection of this classic fixture between these friends and fierce rivals, a big crowd turned out to enjoy a tense and close game.
The morning’s very heavy rain ceased as the teams came on the pitch and the artificial pitch provided a good surface for the contest.
The pattern of the game became clear from the opening moments. The heavy Hoppers pack drove into the visitors and forced them on the back foot.
In the first five minutes Fylde offended, conceded a penalty and the Preston forwards had the ideal position metres out from the visitors’ line.
Another penalty followed and the subsequent driving maul from the lineout was unstoppable.
Former Fylde backrower Matt Lamprey continued his try scoring sequence as he was last man up. Fly-half Tom Davidson added the extras for a 7-0 home lead.
Fylde got into the match slowly and started to test the Hoppers defence. The Fylde lineout was pretty much a banker for possession as the much shorter home forwards didn’t compete in the air.
Lock Nick Ashcroft was cleaning up as long as the throwing was accurate. But the sturdy Preston defence prevented Fylde’s driving maul forcing its way over the line.
It was becoming an arm wrestle, which did not suit Fylde’s open attacking style.
Twenty minutes in, Hoppers started to concede a string of penalties as the Fylde forwards warmed to their task.
Referee James O’Brien was rather tolerant, keeping the yellow card in his pocket, as a number of the offences were in the so called ‘red zone’ near the Hoppers line.
Fylde struggled to get their dangerous back line moving but in the 25th minute they broke through.
Fly-half Greg Smith put a clever grubber behind the Hoppers defence and centre Chris Briers was first to react.
He hacked the ball over the try line and won the race to the touchdown. Smith kicked the straightforward conversion to level the scores.
The visitors lost some of this advantage by conceding a penalty in their own half within a couple of minutes. Davidson kicked the goal to give his side a 10-7 lead.
Play fluctuated from end to end, with each team defending strongly. Fylde had the majority of pressure yet were unable to turn this to points against a formidable and brave defence as Hoppers held their three-point lead until half-time.
Smith missed a kickable penalty but Fylde were soon on the attack again. In the 45th minute, Briers turned creator as he broke from the halfway line.
He was pulled up short of the line but the ball was recycled for winger Tom Grimes to plunge over for the try in the left corner.
Smith’s touchline conversion drifted wide but Fylde led for the first time at 12-10.
Hoppers began to dominate possession and territory, with the powerful Adam Howard and Lamprey prominent, and they fed off Fylde errors.
Davidson missed a penalty opportunity in the 52nd minute but was successful a couple of minutes later to restore his side’s lead at 13-12.
The crucial period was between the 63rd and 65th minutes, when Fylde saw first flanker Harlan Corrie and then David Fairbrother sinbinned.
Hoppers duly exploited their two-man advantage as they pounded the Fylde line. The defence initially held but in the 68th minute centre Sam Stott found a gap and plunged over from close range. Davidson’s conversion was wide but Hoppers had an 18-12 lead.
Fylde then launched a late bid to rescue the game. In the 70th minute Smith converted a penalty to reduce the deficit to three points.
They had opportunities to attack in the closing minutes but handling mistakes undermined their efforts. Fylde’s minor consolation was a losing bonus point.
FYLDE: Carleton, Hadfield, Briers,Wilkinson, Grimes; Smith, Crampton; Horner, Gregory, Lewwis, Ashcroft (Olli Parkinson 40), Garrod, Corrie (O’Ryan 73), Vernon, Fairbrother; not used: Joyner, Forster