With everything to play for and everything to lose, Ashfield went into their final league game needing a win to secure third place in the league, but didn’t bank on a spirited Tupton side that inflicted a 22-14 derby defeat on them.
It wasn’t necessarily about the players who pulled on the Ashfield jersey, more the players who didn’t, as a weakened team took the field.
With the game underway, Tupton had the slope and wind to their advantage and, following a long kick downfield by Tupton, a 22 drop out was taken by Ashfield.
Tupton caught the ball, it was fed to their inside centre, and with unerring accuracy it sailed through the posts for a three point lead with barely two minutes played.
Ashfield should have adopted a first half game plan of keeping the ball in hand as any kick would lead to unnecessary pressure on their defence.
A Tupton try and conversion soon followed following a crossfield kick by Ashfield.
The kick was only part of the problem, but it was poor tackling, a strength over recent weeks that allowed Tupton to slice through for a try.
Having seen the inside centre in kicking action a little earlier, the conversion looked to be straight forward and this is what it proved to be as Tupton went 10-0 up.
Lessons were not learned by the defence of Ashfield and Tupton crossed the line for another try, again converted after some rather inept defensive play.
At 17 points down, Ashfield needed to hold this margin until the second half to have any chance of winning, but when Tupton broke from just inside their own half the game could have been finished by half-time.
With ball in hand, their impressive outside centre, with no cover defence, kicked and chased the ball.
For all to see it looked a forgone conclusion that a try would be scored, but Ashfield’s left wing, Danny Wilson had other ideas. From almost nowhere and in a straight foot race he touched the ball down over the try line to avert the danger and give confidence to his team mates.
The tables were now turned regarding the slope and wind after the break and Ashfield’s first try of the day soon arrived through a solo run by Jono Richardson.
Cutting loose and leaving defenders in his wake, Richardson had the presence of mind to score under the posts to give Gareth Purnell an easier opportunity to score the conversion.
Purnell’s accuracy had been a key weapon for Ashfield over recent weeks and this kick didn’t present any problem for him, even when the Tupton defences tried to charge the it down.
Dan Chapman seemed to be at every breakdown, securing the ball or clearing out at rucks.
Captain Gareth Jones drove his team forward making good yardage at every opportunity and second rows Mark Denman and Gage Stephenson proved to be a great pairing, one in the line out the other in all round play.
A good team try followed. After seven or eight phases of play, Ashfield formed a ruck to the right of centre field.
Matt Upton’s spun pass was taken by Gareth Jones who, in the same movement, arrowed the ball to Danny Wilson. Around 15m from the line, Wilson sidestepped his opposite number and sprinted for the line, avoiding the covering defence to score in the corner.
The conversion kick for Purnell was tight against the line and seemed it would severely test his mettle.
However, the Ashfield team and supporters should not have worried as his boot made perfect contact with the ball, propelling it towards the uprights for the extra points and it was 17-14 with all to play for.
Ashfield’s second half dominance was clear for all to see, but fatigue and no replacements meant options were limited and, with Tupton ringing the changes, their fresh legs would be decisive. Against the run of play Tupton broke and, with one defender to beat, their centre stretched for the line to score. The conversion was missed and the final score was 22 - 14 in Tupton’s favour.
The Ashfield coaches and management now have to lift the players for their cup final on 4th May and have a difficult decision to make on the squad make up. Hopefully those missing will have a part to play in the final.
In a thrilling game, the second teams of Tupton and Ashfield produced a game literally of two halves, with Ashfield taking a 31 point lead at the break through tries from Andy Bennett, Shaun Allsop, Kenny Herring, Curtis Green and Rob Kirk while fly half Jamie Stevenson added three conversions.
A spirited response by Tupton in the second half matched Ashfield’s scoring feat, their last try and missed conversion being the final play of the game to leave the sides all square at the final whistle at 31-31.
Ashfield U15 girls secured their league title in style with a 72-5 success over Newpav.
With great running rugby and outstanding support play, the pressure applied by Ashfield soon paid dividends with tries for Beth Leivers, Katie Jones, Lucy Payne, Brianny Leivers, Laura Elliott, Katie Fox, Mariah Bartley (2) and the impressive and clinical Megan Warsop with six tries to cap a brilliant individual performance.
The pick of the Ashfield tries came from wing Laura Elliott, who unopposed raced 75m to score with Bartley adding the conversion.
The Ashfield defence was dominate throughout only conceding one try.
Already, 13 of the squad have represented their county and eight attended Midlands trials out of which four progressed to the Midlands full squad.
This was a fantastic end to a fantastic season for the girls, that saw them beaten only once.