Wharfedale 16 Fylde 10
This eagerly awaited cross-Pennine derby visit of promotion-seeking Fylde presented Wharfedale with a chance to extent their recent purple patch – and atone for their early season drubbing at Woodlands. Any sense of muted optimism had however to be somewhat counterbalanced by the recent loss of tight-heads Chris Steel and Mark Tampin.
In the end any such worry was certainly misplaced with veteran prop Neil Dickinson happily and resplendently once more soaking up a spritely full 80-minutes’ worth for the Green cause. And with the breakdown tackling again immense and Ben Sowrey’s rampant ball-carrying in the final quarter commanding all the visitors’ attention, Fylde’s early promise and composure was shredded by the end of a compelling contest.
Even so it took a dramatic last-minute corner try by winger Simon Horsfall to seal an eventually clear-cut victory in a tight and hard-fought encounter for the rampant home side.
This fine win extends the Greens’ impressive recent run to five victories on the trot and arguably represents their best performance in this sequence.
If Wharfedale are finally finding some truer form, Fylde – though still clear challengers at the top of the table – were a something of a fading force compared to early season, happy to cling to a losing bonus point as the final home conversion sailed just wide.
Wharfedale, once more as a week ago, dominated the second-half play with a completeness that totally shut Fylde out of a match that until then they had just shaded to lead 10 -3 at the break.
In a first half where both sides had difficulty finding a top gear the visitors went ahead after 17 minutes when lock forward Gareth Rawlings broke clear from a Wharfedale ruck in his own half before placing a deft kick to touch setting up a well-delivered line-out drive corner try by hooker Jon Roddam.
Further Fylde opportunities created by their powerful rolling maul foundered on determined Green defence in which the home back row of Rob Baldwin and flankers James Holland and the ever-predatory Dan Solomi exerted a blanket grip.
Wharfedale replied with a 28th minute Tom Davidson penalty after creative play had failed to utilise an overlap. The visitors increased their lead with the one fluent move at pace either sided managed in the half. Full-back Chris Briers’ pacey incursion finished off swift short-side passing to ground in the corner to give the visitors a slight but significant interval lead.
But after the break the Wharfedale pack took charge, subjecting Fylde to a punishing examination at the breakdown where the Greens’ back-row were again in explosive form. The combative Fylde pack, intermittently destructive at the maul and neat in their close-quarters off-loading, were frequently turned over on the floor. Fylde’s meagre moments of possession were restricted to within their twenty-two and some lax relieving kicking by fly-half Richard Kenyon kept them under the cosh. Wharfedale were sharper at the tackle and retained possession impressively through the phases. Soon after the break, following constant pressure, Scott Jordan wriggled free in the corner.
Davidson’s touchline conversion sailed just wide but he added a long penalty midway through the half to give the Greens the lead and the rest was all the jubilant home side. They camped within the Fylde twenty-two, forcing them to concede a rash of frustration penalties as play became a little tetchy.
With the extra encouragement of Paul Arnold’s 73rd minute yellow card, Wharfedale completed their afternoon with their inevitable and deserved second try when Baldwin’s fine, neat interplay with Phil Woodhead at the back of a retreating scrum sent Horsfall –enjoying his best outing of the season – gliding over to complete the scoring with all four tries occurring tight in the same left-hand top corner.
The victory may have been satisfying revenge for the early season away defeat at the hands of the visitors, but they will savour the satisfaction more from the continuing excellent all-round team performance founded on a tight team spirit, focussed aggression in defence, and sensible all-round game-planning support for their foraging strength. This side, forged in the crucible of earlier successive narrow-defeat disappointment, will play for each other till they drop.
To have shut out so vaunted a side so completely and to allow them so little second-half ball as to render them, like Coventry the week before, toothless in attack is something of a real triumph. Last week the forwards largely did it on their own. This time round it was much more a whole team effort with the back play, led again with calm efficiency by fly-half Will Bell, admirable in their phase-controlling handling in support of the destructive excellence in front of them.
The resurgent Wharfedale game has flourished on the back of primary virtues like its set-piece scrum where the cornerstone experience and power of Tom McGee have been central. And what would most sides give for the back row luxury of having a player of Aaron Myers’ talent – man of the match in three successive games before his brief Dubai interlude – in support of the starting line-up.
This fine send-off to the old year is the fitting culmination of some hard work and crucial self-belief in turning the season round.
WHARFEDALE: D Hart; S Jordan, A Hodgson, T Davidson, S Horsfall; W Bell, P Woodhead; T McGee, B Sowrey, N Dickinson; R Brown (R Rhodes 76), J Quinn; J Holland, D Solomi (A Myers 59), R Baldwin (Capt)
FYLDE: C Briers; O Viney, M Waywell, O Brennand; R Kenyon, M Wallwork; A Livesay, J Roddam, P Altham, P Arnold, G Rawlings; R Stewart, S McGinnis, S Beaumont (Capt)
REFEREE: Steve Lee (RFU)