Fleet­wood fall to the for­wards


ROCHDALE’S evolv­ing game plan stepped up another level at Fleet­wood with the power and ex­pe­ri­ence of their pack dom­i­nat­ing the set piece and the loose.

Un­der the damp con­di­tions, Rochdale’s dom­i­nance of pos­ses­sion was a re­sult of a nar­rower game and good con­ti­nu­ity.

It gave lit­tle chance to a pas­sion­ate Fleet­wood side that ca­pit­u­lated un­der the pres­sure, Rochdale win­ning with 21 unan­swered points.

Ar­riv­ing at the Melbourne Av­enue ground the Rochdale faith­ful looked out at the damp, grey day with low ex­pec­ta­tions for fast, flow­ing rugby.

Team man­ager Aaron Howarth con­tem­plated some in­ter­est­ing changes to Rochdale’s front and back row with the re­turn of stal­wart Tom Cal­laghan at tight head, the in­tro­duc­tion of the promis­ing tal­ent Andy Red­fern at 6 and a move from sec­ond row to 8 for the lively Sean Need­ham.

And with sec­ond team cap­tain Jed Woolfenden adding to the Dale squad, it spoke vol­umes for the depth of ex­pe­ri­ence head coach Danny Collins has at his dis­posal.

Fleet­wood have been scor­ing plenty this sea­son but have felt un­lucky with some re­sults and have been hit with a num­ber of long term in­juries. And even though fac­ing the first re­ally wet game of the sea­son the pitch was solid un­der­foot and had the po­ten­tial for more points for the sea­side team.

From a deep Rochdale kick-off, Fleet­wood be­gan their first at­tack with a real sense of pur­pose. But they soon dis­cov­ered why Rochdale has the best de­fence in the league with the vis­i­tors im­me­di­ately de­fend­ing on the front foot, press­ing the space with great line speed and dis­ci­pline.

Rochdale’s first scrum of the af­ter­noon was a state­ment of in­tent to the Fleet­wood for­wards. Their con­tin­ued dom­i­nance at the scrum is leav­ing a trail of de­jected front five for­wards across the North West.

Scrum pres­sure from Rochdale re­sulted in most scrums fly­ing back­wards that, when com­bined with con­tin­u­ous press­ing, gave the ea­ger Fleet­wood backs at best slow, messy ball.

With Rochdale’s for­ward dom­i­nance there seemed lit­tle prospect for Fleet­wood and play­ing on the back foot seemed to be get­ting into their heads as the forced er­rors mounted.

Fleet­wood tried to make the best of it but their play­book strug­gled to adapt to the Rochdale pres­sure, with their pick and go tac­tics fail­ing to make any in-roads against the highly ef­fec­tive Rochdale guards. What lit­tle ball their backs had was forced into frag­mented and iso­lated at­tacks.

Rochdale’s ag­gres­sive scrum again and again sent Fleet­wood march­ing back some­times 20 me­tres and even in cen­tral ar­eas of the pitch. Rochdale could feel this war of at­tri­tion turn­ing as the game drudged past the first quar­ter.

The tena­cious de­fence was well co-or­di­nated with many in­di­vid­ual acts of brav­ery typ­i­fied by Rochdale’s young prospect Bel­tus Non­leh div­ing on loose ball to save his half-backs from deal­ing with a messy line-out.

Chances for the tal­ented Rochdale backs were few and far be­tween. One of note was from ex­pe­ri­enced full-back Jim Fl­itcroft as he picked a great line to smash through the Fleet­wood de­fence only to be de­nied at the next breakdown.

Iron­i­cally, the psy­cho­log­i­cal break­through came with the un­char­ac­ter­is­tic bin­ning of Oliver Cold­man 10 min­utes be­fore half time.

Go­ing down to 14 men seemed to strengthen Rochdale’s re­solve with hooker Jonathan Bradley’s ever present pres­sure to the front of Fleet­wood’s li­ne­out led to a great break from winger Blair Henry, only for the slippy ball to save Fleet­wood as the first half ended with the score­board be­ing troubled.

How­ever, as Rochdale left the pitch their faith­ful sup­port­ers could sense Fleet­wood’s legs start­ing to buckle un­der pres­sure.

With the sec­ond half un­der­way Rochdale in­tro­duced Woolfenden and Jake Smith to the pack and be­came even more dom­i­nant in the for­wards.

And it wasn’t long be­fore a 10 me­tre scrum push, and con­tin­ued pres­sure, was re­warded with three points from in-front of the posts for Cold­man.

Cold­man earned another three points fol­low­ing a Need­ham catch and carry at the li­ne­out.

That was fol­lowed by another three-pointer bounc­ing off the in­side of the up­right.

With nine points on the score­board and en­ter­ing the fi­nal quar­ter of the game, Fleet­wood didn’t give up and took any op­por­tu­nity to run at their op­po­nents.

But Rochdale fly-half James Duffy kept them pinned down in their 22m with some clever ter­ri­to­rial kicks com­bined with a well or­gan­ised three-man line de­fence on the re­ceiver, with great counter-ruck­ing from Cold­man.

Fleet­wood were strug­gling to get out of their own half with Rochdale knock­ing them back time and time again.

Rochdale’s first try fi­nally came from another for­ward drive with Andy Fos­ter break­ing the gain­line and driving on another 10 me­tres to al­low Cal­laghan to score from close range to take the tally to 0-16, with the con­ver­sion from Cold­man.

From the restart, Rochdale for­wards com­bined well with the backs with linked play be­tween Red­fern and Cold­man tak­ing them back into the Fleet­wood 22 me­tre red zone. And, fol­low­ing close linkup play with scrum-half Travis Townsend and Fos­ter, Fleet­wood’s clear­ance failed to make touch and Duffy spot­ted the shal­low de­fence and slot­ted an inch per­fect cross-field kick for Henry to score a beauty in the cor­ner, end­ing the game 0-21.

Rochdale have now built an im­pres­sive squad, de­liv­er­ing a 15-man de­fence that has bet­tered ev­ery team for the last cou­ple of months. Cold­man as ever is an ob­vi­ous can­di­date for Man-ofMatch but this week it has to go to a for­ward. Any for­ward player could have been given Man-of-Match fol­low­ing their dom­i­nance and well ex­e­cuted wet weather tac­tics.

Man-of-Match went to Red­fern who, on such a day, played a text­book role at blind­side flanker and de­servedly earned the ac­co­lade this week.

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