A cold, crisp day provided the setting for what was, possibly, Mansfield’s best home performance this season as they were beaten 45-18 by Old Northamptonians.
Memories of the emphatic beating they took at Old Northamptonians (ONs) earlier in the season were still clear in the minds of both the players and supporters.
After the loss on that day, you would have been forgiven for approaching this game with a sense of trepidation. ONs rest comfortably at the top end of the table in second place and Mansfield are too near the other end for comfort.
To their credit, this was a monumental effort by the home side against a very strong ONs team.
Disrupted by injuries and players changing positions, the final scoreline could be said to be an unfair reflection of what was a thrilling, competitive affair.
Head coach Neil Stent was left in much better spirits after the final whistle and said: “There were large parts of the game where we were the better side, but we conceded too early and tired in the last ten minutes. That’s something we need to work on.”
The game was barely two minutes old and the score read 14-0 to the visitors, having scored almost immediately from the first kick off and then again from the restart.
The scourge of questionable defence seemed to be rearing its ugly head again, both tries scored with nary a hand laid upon them.
However, the two early scores seemed to galvanise the blue-and-whites as their defence tightened up and they started attacking with real vigour.
A succession of penalties allowed Mansfield to register some points with a successful kick at goal, 14-3.
This dogged display seemed to knock ONs confidence as they started making mistakes, conceding penalties and field position.
Unfortunately, the blue-and-whites were unable to make the most of these positions: a missed lineout here, a missed penalty kick there.
Games like this run on momentum and, unfortunately, something as simple as a missed kick at goal can allow momentum to swing back to the other team.
A poor clearing kick out of defence put Mansfield on the back foot, a powerful ONs scrum on the 5m line driving them to the line to register their third try. An unsuccessful conversion left the score at 19-3.
A sign of Mansfield’s industriousness on the floor was another penalty for holding on, a successful conversion adding another three points to the scoreline, 19-6.
A deliberate knock on by an ONs defender saw him pick up a yellow card and the resulting play saw match sponsor APS Insurance’s man of the match, Josh Hall, barge over from close range.
A welcome score that not only bought this game back within reach, but also avenged the scoreless performance earlier in the season. A successful kick and the score was 19-13 as the half time whistle blew.
Unfortunately, the next two scores belonged to ONs, sandwiched between a yellow card for each team. ONs were reduced to 14 men for dissent, while Mansfield, barely a minute later, lost a man for a high tackle, an incident which resulted in a long period of injury time. This left both teams down to 14 and the score at 31-13.
The misery for Mansfield continued. Already a man down due to the sin binning and having had to make positional changes already, a further injury required more shifts in positions, a disruption that the home team really didn’t need going into the final quarter.
A second yellow card for ONs allowed Mansfield a platform to get their game back on track. ONs were awarded a free kick from a scrum, which was then reversed for time wasting.
Mansfield took this opportunity with relish, Joe Symcox twisting and turning, contorting himself to within reach of the line to register the team’s second try. A missed conversion bought the score to 31-18.
It could be said that this would be a fair reflection of the game, a scoreline that showed a much more competitive home side scarred by two lightning-fast tries in the first two minutes.
However, as the Mansfield team evidently tired, ONs showed why they are a team worthy of their placing in the league, scoring two more tries in the last 10 minutes to bring the final score to 45-18, perhaps not reflecting the contest on the field.