Ashfield Rugby Club’s 21-0 half-time deficit was just too much to claw back as a spirited 14-man second half performance fell short as Buxton took a 21-14 victory in the first round of the NLD Cup.
Re-entering the NLD league structure from the North West, Buxton came with a game plan that for the majority of this match frustrated Ashfield.
The 15-man starting line-up from Ashfield included many new faces, and to their credit they all put in 100 per cent effort.
It was poor defending that was Ashfield’s early undoing, allowing Buxton to score a relatively easy try that was converted on nine minutes.
On 12 minutes Ashfield’s early misery was compounded by the loss of influential scrum-half Matt Upton, who left the field with a shoulder injury.
A reshuffle saw Josh Heald, returning from a season at Matlock RUFC, move from the open side flank to scrum-half, which seemed to give an impetus that was lacking.
Fly half Billy North sidestepped his opposite number and accelerated downfield, leaving the Buxton defence in his wake, and it looked like a score would follow.
The large crowd that had gathered to watch the first game of the season didn’t expect anything else but a try, but they didn’t foresee the resolute defending of the opposition’s wing and full back.
Wing Brent Leivers then typically broke through two tackles, only to be held up by a scrambling Buxton defence.
This galvanised Ashfield and for the following 10 minutes, Ashfield were encamped in the Buxton half, but resolute and at times desperate defending kept Ashfield from crossing the try line.
The game then changed with unfortunate injuries to two Buxton players, both treated on the field of play, only served to refocus Buxton.
When play resumed, Buxton charged downfield deep into Ashfield territory and a scrum was awarded. With Ashfield’s put-in, the danger should have been cleared, but Buxton’s forwards powered over the ball with the No.8 picking up and driving to the line. With the conversion the Buxton lead increased to 14 points.
The pivotal moment of the match then occurred. Several kicks to the head saw Ashfield captain and No.8 Gareth Jones retaliate and receive a yellow card.
From the restart, Buxton capitalised on the man advantage to score a converted try, the last action of the first half, as they led 21-0.
The second half began with Ashfield in the ascendancy and when Jones came back onto the field of play, his impact was there for all to see.
Collecting the ball at 5m out, he was unstoppable following some great forward play from Chris Houseman. With seemingly an effortless kick by Gareth Purnell, Ashfield were at last on the scoreboard.
Ashfield were now in the ascendancy, but it took a further 15 minutes to generate another try-scoring opportunity following a sustained passage of play. Forwards, Matt Turnbull, Mark Denman and Daniel Chapman fashioned what looked to be a try for prop Chris Houseman, only for the referee to disallow it.
With Ashfield’s momentum looking increasingly likely to add to their score, the referee then produced a second yellow and then a red card for an alleged stamp for Jones.
This could have easily have caused the Ashfield players to have lost their control and confidence. To their credit, they stuck to their task and it wasn’t long before inside centre Jake Manning, who seemed to have no room in which to cross the try line, crashed through four or five Buxton players to underline his strength and determination to score adjacent to the post. Gareth Purnell duly converted the conversion and it was 21-14.
Manning’s try was the last play of note on a day, the Ashfield players and coaching staff would reflect on what might have been. With a game against Worksop this Saturday, a regular fixture for Ashfield, on the opening day of the league season, the team should be fully prepared and raring to go.