Winless OAs improve but Fylde get the points
PUBLISHED: 16:26 22 October 2014 | UPDATED: 17:00 22 October 2014
A week of deep soul searching and not a little anguish followed the listless display against Loughborough Students, writes Brian Quinn.
As a result iconic skipper Billy Johnson moved forward into the engine room of the scrum with Lloyd Bickle. Sam Lunnon, Ollie Cooper Millar and Nick Stevens were given the task of taking the hosts on close up with a re-jigged back row. Elliott Reeder moved to centre, partnering Dom Regan whilst stalwart Chris Lombaard dropped to the bench. Richard Gregg returned to the fray at fly half after his long battle with injury.
The side, as selected, was hardly experimental but there are the usual worries when nearly half a dozen changes are made to a regular lineup even when those alterations are deemed necessary. The team’s task could not have been much harder.
Fylde are lying second in the division, a scant three points below Ealing Trailfinders and have scored more tries than any other side in National One. They have also been perfecting a fast moving, off-loading game which has seen them steadily rise in the rankings in the past three years so what OAs were to face was hardly a surprise.
Nonetheless Fylde took the early honours after an initial handling mishap. Evan Stewart stepped neatly off the left foot and put Ollie Brennand free under the sticks for Chris Johnson to convert.
Elliott Reeder missed the chance to reduce the deficit four minutes later when his close penalty attempt sailed wide. Scrum half Ryan De La Harpe then put a speculative kick downfield which no Albanian could gather. It was turned infield for Johnson to touchdown and convert.
Albanian charity ended at the start of the second quarter when Mike Allan charged over from 25 metres following good approach work by Lunnon and his flankers. OA pressure was maintained and Brett MacNamee drove over after a forceful driving maul. Reeder added the improvement.
Then Fylde conceded another penalty and Reeder brought the visitors to within one point just on half time. OA forward pressure had been great but there had also been five errant box kicks all collected and dealt with by full back Warren Spragg.
Lunnon’s abrasive running saw him over the line seven minutes after the restart and Reeder’s neat conversion gave A’s a six point lead and Fylde some serious thinking to do. However they are second in the league for a reason and the pack forced a series of scrums ever closer to the OA line. Scott Rawlings took advantage and Johnson’s conversion gave his side back the narrowest of leads. Spragg was on the end of a flowing attack 17 minutes in for the bonus point try which increased the lead to six points.
Albanians battled manfully but were unlucky not to make more of two opportunities as the game wound down. David Fairbrother made no mistake for his debut try with five minutes to go. Johnson converted. It was in injury time that Regan gained the visitors bonus point with a fourth try, too far out for the conversion.
This performance, for almost the entire match, was exactly what the squad and supporters have been hoping for since the season began. It did not bring victory but the fact remains that if play continues at this level, despite a disappointing start, OAs will still prosper in National One. The new attitude will be tested again at Blaydon next weekend.