At face value, another heavy and worrying away defeat for Wharfedale. But, forget the scoreline. The men in green overcame an extraordinary degree of misfortune to deliver a full-blooded performance of genuine merit and true spirit. After the match there was nothing but praise from coaching staff and travelling fans alike.
This is not to suggest that Fylde were not worthy victors – but they were the unwitting beneficiaries of a barely credible series of early injuries that hit their visitors. Before the end of the first quarter the Dalesmen had lost the core of their side to injury. Three key players – lock Richard Rhodes (with a serious shoulder dislocation), flanker Dan Solomi and full-back Taylor Prell – were to take no further part. They were joined on the sidelines later in the half by stand-off James Guy.
Despite the set-backs, the Greens had their full share of possession in the first half, and were desperately unlucky to reach half-time 14-3 in arrears. Before the injuries kicked in they might have scored twice, and the reorganised team regularly forced the hosts to dig deep in defence. Fylde’s rash tactics under pressure resulted in yellow cards for full-back Warren Spragg and flanker David Fairbrother.
The Greens had a decided edge in the opening exchanges. Tom Davidson arrowed the first of a series of finely judged penalties to a close touch, but the advantage was lost on the throw. Davidson was then presented with a kickable penalty chance, but his shot sailed narrowly wide.
In the 5th minute Rhodes went down in obvious pain, and received lengthy treatment on the pitch before departing. Fylde capitalised on the disruption to the Wharfedale rhythm to press home a forceful attack. Two well-executed line-outs racked up the pressure, and eventually Fairbrother crashed through an over-stretched defence, his score converted by stand-off Chris Johnson.
Wharfedale returned to the attack, and a 17th-minute penalty for a foul on Solomi gave Davidson a simple chance, gratefully accepted. The three points cost dear – Solomi forced to leave the field with a leg injury.
Within a minute Taylor Prell was also limping off.
To their immense credit, the Dalesmen accepted these twists of fate, and for a lengthy period held the upper hand, the game being played mostly in the home half. Sustained pressure carried first scrum-half James Doherty, then winger Scott Jordan, to within inches of the try-line. A surge following Spragg’s card broke down with a knock-on, but the attack continued with another Davidson penalty to a 5-metre touch.
However, with Rhodes, their main jumper, out of the action, the Wharfedale line-out was faltering badly, and Davidson’s accuracy again went unrewarded.
Fylde lifted what had become a mini-siege on their line. Their own line-out was impeccably solid, and pressure from a penalty to touch 16 metres out saw them over the visitors’ line, only to be ordered back for a Wharfedale scrum. The next surge into the home half caused further consternation among defenders, and resulted in Fairbrother’s dismissal.
In the 34th minute Guy joined the ranks of the injured, and it was now that the flow of the game began to turn against the Greens. Philip Woodhead – at full-back after Prell’s injury – made a superb try-saving tackle on flying winger Olly Brennand. Fylde remained on the attack and as the half drew to a close grabbed a critical try.
They were awarded what seemed a puzzling free kick as Doherty prepared to put in to a Wharfedale scrum. (It transpired that No 8 Josh Burridge had moved his position after the scrum had set.) Speed of thought and foot saw Johnson through the defence; he then added the conversion.
As the second half progressed Fylde became increasingly dominant. The Greens still threatened on the break and never let their heads drop, despite continuing to suffer the frustration of attacking line-outs coming to nothing.
In the 53rd and 74th minutes Fylde rubbed salt into that wound with clinical effectiveness. Clean line-out takes and well-organised mauls sent lock Paul Arnold over for a brace of converted tries.
With 2 minutes left, Dale’s Matt Beesley – ‘prop-cum- back-row’ – and Fylde centre Scott Rawlings were jointly adjudged the centre-piece of a brawl, both receiving red cards.
In the final action of the match Brennand set off on a sparkling run from inside the home half. This time he evaded even Woodhead to deliver a stunning coup-de-grace. Wharfedale fans ruefully joined in applause for an exceptional try, which stretched the winning margin well beyond justice for their team.
Wharfedale: T Prell (P Woodhead 17); S Jordan, L Davies, T Davidson, O Ciocognini; J Guy (J Prell 34), J Doherty; C Steel (J Altham 40), I Larkin, J Armstrong (C Steel 62), A Howard, R Rhodes (D Stockdale 5), J Mason, D Solomi (M Beesley 17), J Burridge.