Wharfedale began this match in confident mood, looking to carry on from their splendid performance at Hull Ionians the previous Saturday – their first win in 8 outings.
They could hardly have started in a more promising fashion. A turnover ball in the first minute led to the visitors conceding a penalty, which James Guy sent to touch inside their ‘22’. The ensuing maul was ended by a knock-on, but pressure was maintained. A fumble by a Fylde defender enabled Greens centre Cameron Hudson to hack on to close to the line, where winger Oliver Fewtrell took over for the touchdown in the left corner.
The conversion was missed, but Fylde’s shaky start continued with the kick-off sent too long. The Greens were soon back, threatening the visitors’ line, but over-enthusiasm in the scrums earned a lecture from referee John Meredith, and loss of momentum.
Nevertheless, the Dalesmen continued to hold the upper hand, and a forwards’ try, claimed by No 8 Rob Baldwin, plus Guy’s fine conversion from close to the touchline, saw them to a deserved 12-0 lead on 18 minutes.
That, however, was as good as the first half got for the home side. Fylde regrouped and, based on powerful forward play, took increasing control of events. They had much the better of the remainder of the half, and the mauled tries for flanker Mark Goodman (23 minutes) and prop Adam Lewis (32), both converted by Chris Johnson, had an inevitable air about them.
Johnson also cleared two confidently-struck penalties. Meanwhile, despite a brief but furious assault on the Fylde line as the half drew to a close, Wharfedale managed just a single James Guy penalty, leaving the visitors 20-15 up at the break.
The challenge for Wharfedale to get back in contention became more testing very quickly after the restart. First, full-back Max Labasse was yellow-carded, illegally halting a Fylde surge near the line. Then another mauled Fylde try – this time No 8 David Fairbrother taking the honour – was followed by winger Anthony Bingham’s touchdown, his opening created by sustained pack pressure. Johnson added the extras to Fairbrother’s try and, at 32-15, the Greens’ cause seemed all but lost.
‘Capitulation’ has never been in the Greens’ dictionary, however. On the back of fervent support from their loyal fans, they fought on with immense spirit.
Line-out problems nullified two promising attacking positions, before Guy’s 60th-minute penalty reduced the arrears to a 2-score margin.
The home forwards, for once, burgled a Fylde line-out, setting off a sustained attack that forced a penalty, sent to a 22-metre touch by Guy. This time the take was clean and, though the attack faltered initially, pressure on the Fylde line continued. Ultimately, the defence cracked under a determined surge, and scrum-half Philip Woodhead was on hand to cap his pack’s efforts with the try (67). Crucially, the difficult conversion was missed, leaving 2 scores yet needed. A key moment came when, opting for a scrum when awarded a free-kick midway inside the Fylde half, the Greens lost the ball, giving Fylde the opportunity to lift the pressure on their line.
For precious minutes the Greens were pinned near their own line. When at last they broke out, no side was imminent, and any chance of victory was receding.
However, bonus points were still to be had, and a last furious attack had the Fylde defence back-pedalling. Twice Wharfedale fans hailed a score, but with Mr Meredith unmoved. Then, at the death, with a scrum taken on a penalty award (no time to allow for a kick to touch) the pack slowly but steadily forced themselves over the Fylde line. To a thunderous ovation, substitute flanker Dan Solomi claimed the try.
Come the end of April, the bonus points thus earned just might be ‘golden’.
Coach Tom McGee commented: –
“It was a good game of rugby. Both teams were going at it hard in a tight edgy contest. I thought we looked mentally right, energetic and in a good place. Four weeks ago we would have struggled playing against a side like Fylde. We have made game improvements. Turning this into wins has to be our priority.
Credit to Fylde, they were strong in the driving maul, which we didn’t deal with well, kicked well and played a spoiling game at the ruck. I was happy with our phase defence as we prevented them from getting their offload, quick pass game moving.
Frustratingly in the 1st 40, as it was in our control and under no pressure, we got caught playing too much in our own half, lacked precision from set pieces which cost us three soft tries that Fylde didn’t have to work hard for.
There were key moments in this game. Opportunities either side of half time to pick up relatively easy three points, along with a couple of line-outs in good field positions that we needed to convert to keep the pressure on.
That clarity in our decision making combined with the individual technical, tactical parts is where we have to mature as a team and get it right 90% of the time. That was the main message after the game and there is a complete buy in to improve. That’s important in our progression.
I want to pay credit to all the squad. November was a really tough month but the way we’ve approached our situation and performed through December has been fantastic.
Moving forward, yes we know where we are but I want us to have a real go in 2016 and be positive in our game approach. Collectively we’ll be working real hard to improve our decision making and the parts of the game I’ve alluded to above. There’s no doubt in my mind we have the players, with the right attitude, the coaches and the support to kick on in the right direction.”
Wharfedale: M Labasse (C Hudson 65); M Van Sertima, C Hudson (W Bell 50), H Morgan, O Fewtrell; J Guy, P Woodhead; M Beesley (R Cano 60), S Graham (D Stockdale 51), A Wade, G Hedgley, S Willet (A Allen 60), A Powell (D Solomi 51), J Burridge, R Baldwin.
A selection of photographs is available under the Photos tab.