Ashfield overcame a spirited second half performance by Worksop to win the Nottinghamshire RFU Junior Cup final 28-12 at the weekend.
Having experienced the joy and disappointment of two previous cup finals, their third appearance in four years ensured the cup was back in the Ashfield trophy cabinet.
Ashfield, playing with the slope in the first half, were dominant from the first to last whistle, and it was the trusty boot of Gareth Purnell who opened the scoring.
With Worksop failing to roll away after the tackle, killing the play the referee awarded a penalty. During the season, Purnell’s accuracy has been a contributing factor to Ashfield’s success and this opportunity would not be wasted.
Sailing through the uprights, the early three point lead was one that would be increased shortly after, again from the boot of Purnell after a second penalty was awarded, well within his range.
It was wing Danny Wilson who was next on the scoresheet as he took on and beat the Worksop defence to score an individual try of high quality. Taking the ball just outside the 22 and from a pass from scrum half Matt Upton, he outpaced and stepped first inside and then outside to score, leaving three players in his wake. The conversion was missed from a tight angle but Ashfield’s lead was now 11 points.
Ashfield’s constant pressure broke the Worksop defence again, this time through fly half Billy North, who, in his debut senior season, has matured into an integral part of the Ashfield first team. With Purnell adding the conversion, Ashfield were now 18 points clear at the break.
Ashfield expected a response from Worksop after the break but nothing would prepare them for the speed in which it took place.
The Ashfield kick-off went deep into the Worksop half and, now with ball in hand, their backs cut through the Ashfield defence with ease for a try and conversion to make the the score 18-7.
Over the season few sides have clawed back an Ashfield lead, and when Billy North cut loose with an injection of pace to score his second try and Ashfield’s third, the game looked all but over at 23-7 with 30 minutes to go, but Worksop had other ideas.
With sustained pressure, back came Worksop and within eight minutes they scored their second try of the afternoon. Initially looked to have been held up by the Ashfield defence, the referee awarded a try. Their missed conversion reduced the deficit to 11 points, the score now 23-12.
With a strong Ashfield defensive resolve, Worksop were held at bay, but it was a period that held the crowd fully captivated as any mistake could have changed the outcome of the game.
With Worksop committing players forward, a break by centre Jake Manning, from just inside the Worksop half saw him wrap the game up with only minutes left on the clock.
Manning, with a his trademark hand-off, left his opposite number on his back and, although the Worksop full back managed to wrap Manning up with a tackle, Manning stretched and thumped the ball down over the line for a try. A missed conversation made the score 28-12 to Ashfield.
Ashfield’s back line, especially Billy North, Pete Alldread and Danny Wilson, looked a threat throughout the game, but without the tireless forward work by Dan Chapman, Nick Brearley and captain and No.8, Gareth Jones, opportunities would have been far and few between.
It was possibly fitting that the game ended not on an attacking piece of play but a defensive tackle from wing Danny Wilson.
With his opposite number charging down the line, Wilson’s tackle took the Worksop player into touch and the referee blew his whistle for an Ashfield victory.
The celebrations started immediately and it was just reward for an excellent season but more importantly the self-belief this young squad now has.
It is unfair to single out any individual player, as this was an all-round squad performance.
This day will live long in the Ashfield memories for one, not only for the result but for the support they received giving them fantastic encouragement throughout the game.
However, in the club’s other county cup final, Ashfield’s second XV came up against a very experienced and well drilled East Retford team that eventuallyran out 32-20 winners after extra-time.
Two early tries and one conversion gave East Retford a commanding 12 point lead midway through the first half but they possibly didn’t anticipate the resolve of the Ashfield side as they hit back through tries from Jamie Stevenson and Rob Peacock.
Stevenson’s try was a fast flowing backs move that started at the base of a ruck. Scrum half Tim Gibbons saw an overlap, set the backs loose and, when Stevenson received the ball, he crossed the try line for a very good team try.
This was followed by a piece if quick thinking from Rob Peacock, who from an awarded penalty on the 5m line tapped and drove through the static defence for an individual try.
Both tries were unfortunately not converted making a two point game.
East Retford poured forward and increased their lead to five points from a penalty, but Ashfield’s impressive wing Stevenson hit back with his second try of the game to make the score all square at 15 points each by half-time.
The second half started the same as the first with one side attacking, then the other, and when a yellow card was shown to Ashfield’s Richard Hutchinson the tie looked to have gone the way of East Retford, but this was not the case.
Left wing Rob Kirk scampered through to score a good try that gave the lead to Ashfield for the first time, a lead that lasted until the dying minutes when East Retford broke Ashfield hearts to make the game all square and extra-time followed.
A try in each half of extra-time from East Retford’s Josh Nicklin, taking his individual tally to four tries during the game, assisted by one conversion, then killed off the spirited performance from Ashfield.
Looking back on what might have been, the players should take credit in reaching the final and facing an East Retford side that was strengthened by first team players returning from injury.