Preston Grasshoppers 19, Fylde 15
A full-throated local derby saw Preston Grasshoppers grab the spoils in the first league clash of these old rivals for eight years at a packed Lightoot Green.
Ultimately, the game was probably decided in a couple of minutes midway through the second half, when the visitors lost two back-row forwards to the sinbin and, almost inevitably, conceded a close-range try. But they battled to the end of an enthralling encounter and could have snatched victory when Hoppers also had a player yellow-carded.
Preston head coach Paul Arnold said: “There were some tremendous performances out there. Winger Tyler Spence had a fantastic game in defence and our front row (Oga Mabaya, Paul Millea and Pete Altham) deserve a special mention for putting in a full 80 minutes in a game where there was a lot of heat and passion.
“We had worked hard on our defence and it showed. But we gave a lot of penalties away and let a talented Fylde side back in the game. We probably made it a bit hard work in the end but we kept hold of the ball a lot better in the second half.”
Opposite number Warren Spragg said: “All credit to Hoppers. The wet conditions probably played to their forward strengths, but they were well organised and well prepared.”
Hoppers started brightly and forced some good goal-line defence out of Fylde, but there was no stopping regular try-scorer Matt Lamprey as the No 8 crashed over from a strong scrum close to the line. Tom Davidson converted,
Fylde were not quite clicking – losing the ball close to the line on a couple of occasions – and raised a few eyebrows when opting to spurn shots at goal and go for the corner as under-siege Hoppers conceded a string of penalties. None of the line-out drives came to anything but in the 25th minute, centre Chris Briers won the chase after a kick-through to touch down fractionally before the dead-ball line.
Greg Smith converted, but within a minute Hoppers flanker Ally Murray was lifted high off his feet in a double tackle and Davidson slotted the simple penalty.
Smith missed an earlysecond-half penalty after a searing run by the dangerous Tom Carleton – otherwise well marshalled by the home defence – but Fylde were still able to go ahead when a great break by Briers was halted on the line, only for the supporting Tom Grimes to burrow over in the corner.
Smith missed the conversion and Hoppers quickly regained the lead when Davidson landed the second of two penalty attempts.
Arnold put himself on to “bring a calmer head” to proceedings and then came Fylde’s moments of madness. Harlan Corrie, about to be replaced by Ben O’Ryan, was yellow-carded, shortly followed by Dave Fairbrother, both for dangerous tackles. Down to 13 men, the visitors couldn’t stop centre Sam Stott claiming an unconverted try, but Fylde refused to give up and reduced the gap to three points with another Smith penalty.
When centre James Fitzpatrick was sinbinned for a high tackle on Carleton, Fylde scented the chance to snatch victory. But, even when restored to full strength, their control wasn’t good enough and Hoppers hung on for a famous and well-celebrated victory.