Above: Adam Lewis and Stewart Maguire get acquainted on Saturday. Esher shaded the forward battle but the Fylde backs were in scintillating form, orchestrated by England Counties fly-half Chris Johnson. (Pic: Chris Farrow)
BOUYANT FYLDE TURN ON STYLE AS ESHER TOIL IN BLACKPOOL
FYLDE (21) 33
Tries: Gore, Chris Briers, Brennand, Spragg, Rath
Convs: Johnson (4)
ESHER RUGBY (0) 7
A classy Fylde performance saw them ease to a 33-7 win over Esher at a wet and windy Woodlands, scoring five tries to see off a team lacking in confidence and form.
Victory against Worthing the week before had halted a losing sequence of three games but on the west coast, Esher were undone by an opposition full of belief, exuding oodles of exuberance. Though the performance wasn’t as tame as in the losses against Old Albanians and Blackheath in particular, the level has dropped significantly since the win against Blaydon in early January.
Gareth Gore’s eighth minute effort got the scoreboard moving for Fylde and even horrendous conditions would not stop them from adding another four, through captain Chris Briers, the irrepressible Ollie Brennand, Warren Spragg and one of the northern circuit’s brightest young talents in Ben Rath.
Knowing they would have to be at their best to beat a side which had lost just once on their own patch all season, Esher started the brighter, with the game plan clearly to take on Fylde up front. The pack in black arguably won the battle with their counterparts but anyone who watches National One regularly will need little introduction to the abilities of an outstanding Fylde back division.
As it was, lock forward Gore started it all off, taking a delightful inside pop pass from second-row partner Paul Arnold to go through a gap after a series of quick offloads swept Fylde into the Esher 22. Gore stretched his long legs to gallop in, sliding in under the sticks to set the tone for the afternoon.
Esher came back; Pete Synnott and their man-of-the-match Mike Macfarlane consistently prominent and looking for work off the shoulder of Tom Whelan. Engineering themselves into an almost identical position from which Fylde scored, the ball was somehow coughed up, allowing Chris Johnson to thump it downfield and clear his lines. The England Counties man does not kick much, such is the philosophy created by Mark Nelson and Brian Ashton, but when he does, it’s long and true.
If that inability to turn possession into points was typical of the Esher performance, the exact opposite could be said of Nelson’s charges. The sheer pace and speed at which they play has ensured that no side, apart from the Raiders, has left Lytham with a win (even Worthing conceded 45 points, which shows just how good their attack was to score 50) and they were at it again midway through the half.
Keeping it alive in the opposite corner from which Gore profited, Johnson at first receiver combined to good effect with Chris Briers, and the skipper glided over for the second. The two men were on Counties duty a week previous in France and missed their side’s defeat at Tynedale – their importance was clear to see on Saturday.
Minutes later, and Fylde had a third, summing up their bohemian, Barbarian-esque attitude to the game. Stewart Maguire lost control of an increasingly slippery ball in midfield and Ryan De La Harpe was onto it in a flash. Swinging it wide, the outstanding Ollie Viney hit the line at pace, straightening and drawing as it shows in the textbooks. He had Brennand on his shoulder but the lightening winger had it all to do. Only the touchline for company, and defenders cutting off the space on his inside, he decided to have a go. The end result was a devastating one. As soon as he put his foot down he was engaged in a race he was never going to lose, ghosting past the cover defence to dot down in the corner. Johnson hit the extra two from the touchline, sending Fylde in 21-0 up as the grey clouds gathered over Ansdell and Esher.
The winger was denied a second early after the resumption of play as Fylde switched play from 22 to 22 in a heartbeat and but for a brilliant covering hit from Patrick O’Grady, Brennand would have had another to go alongside his already considerable haul in red and yellow.
The introduction of James Campbell instantly changed the mood, as the veteran hooker cajoled and harried as only he does and he dragged his side into the Fylde third for large parts of what time remained. Not one man in an Esher jersey could have been faulted for effort. The endeavour and determination was clear to see as the push to get that first score ramped up, with a couple of Tom Cheeseman dinks falling just short of their intended recipient.
It finally paid off ten minutes from time when O’Grady successfully got on the end of a kick through, freeing up Spencer Sutherland to score. That should have instigated the start of an engrossing final ten minutes, but Nelson – taking charge of his 300th game – was not going to let his men take their foot off the pedal.
Another searing Viney break took him just short but with the Esher defence stretched, the all-important fourth score was imminent. From the breakdown Warren Spragg accepted the short ball from De La Harpe, spotted a hole and attacked it with relish. Over he went to shut the door on any ambition Esher might have had of salvaging something from the tie.
Ricky Nebbett emptied the bench to try and give the small band of travelling supporters something to cheer late on and they might have, were it not for another round of unforced errors. Joe MacManus and Freddie Strange, told in no uncertain terms to express themselves, quickened proceedings to put Fylde on the back-foot as the clock went into overtime and with wave upon wave of black crashing into the home wall, it seemed there would be a second consolation try.
After the umpteenth phase, lost ball fell into home hands and just as Brennand has made long-range finishes his trademark, a new kid on the west coast is now following in his footsteps.
Adam Lewis led the break out, combining nicely with front-row colleague Tom Burtonwood. They were never going to go the full length, but in Ben Rath they had an ally who was fresh and chomping at the bit. With a shuffle of his feet, he was past the last man and haring downfield for a scintillating 50m dash – harsh on an Esher unit that had given so much, but much to the delight of a home crowd once again treated to a fine spectacle from their favourites.
It’s another of the division’s maverick sides that Nebbett will prepare for this coming Saturday, as Loughborough Students come to Hersham. The university outfit had their clash against Tynedale postponed so will be relatively fresh for their trip to Surrey. They should also have their LV= Cup contingent back, as well as their England Student representatives. Henry Taylor, Blair Hutchison and Gabriel Carroll, all involved in the U20 Six Nations for England (Taylor) and Scotland respectively, should come into the selection reckoning.
Kick-off for that one is at 3pm.
Fylde: Viney; Spragg, Chris Briers (c), Stephen Briers, Brennand; Johnson, De La Harpe; Birchall, Burtonwood, Lewis; Arnold, Gore; Vernon, McGinnis, Beaumont.
Replacements: Griffiths for Gore (70), Rylance for Arnold (74), Robinson for Beaumont (49), Wallwork for De La Harpe (80+2), Rath for Spragg (75).
Ref: Mr. Llyr ApGeraint Roberts