MANSFIELD bounced back from the disappointment of last week’s away defeat to produce a gutsy performance at Hereford against a team who were back to a full complement of players and containing one of the toughest packs they have faced all season.
Away wins are precious in this league and the importance of this victory should not be underestimated.
The long journey didn’t seem to have any effect as the blue and whites started well enough.
However, after making one or two threatening plays around midfield it was Hereford who struck first.
The pressure they were able to exert up front had the desired effect and a well struck penalty gave them a 3-0 lead after six minutes.
With the sheer size of their pack, the home side’s superiority at the scrum was evident at the first attempt as Mansfield were forced backwards.
After 12 minutes the pressure told again as Mansfield transgressed to allow the Hereford fly-half the chance to extend the lead to six points.
It was a full 20 minutes before the visitors had a chance to go for goal with a penalty of their own.
Lee Shaw duly obliged and this inspired his colleagues to press on with the task at hand.
Although Hereford had plenty of ball and made many bruising forays into the visitors red zone it was manful defence that kept them at bay.
Mansfield had their moments during this period with some strong running from Alan Symcox and Ryan Hough in the centre, who both proved to be a thorn in the side of the home backs all afternoon.
However, an indication of the confidence that Hereford had in their pack was demonstrated when a very kickable penalty was spurned and the ball was punted to the corner to go for broke.
Two things happened next which surely proved to be something of a turning point.
The throw into the lineout was poor and so the opportunity for the home team to score was squandered.
Then from the resultant scrum, rather than simply kick the ball back to the opposition, Tom Calladine picked up and broke away relieving the pressure on his team. This was brave and inspirational giving Mansfield the confidence to run back at Hereford.
The final act of the first-half produced a try which even the partisan home support graciously acknowledged was quite stunning.
Ryan Hough broke from inside his own half and the ability to side step at pace took him past his opposite number, followed by a powerful hand off to beat the next.
Finally, with one man to beat, he slipped the ball inside to Tom Calladine who, like all classy and industrious back row forwards, had tracked his colleague’s progress 60 metres up-field to cross the line just wide of the posts. Lee Shaw added the extras and Mansfield went into the break with a slender lead at 10-6.
The second-half couldn’t have started any better – for the away side at least.
After just two minutes a scrum on half way provided the platform for Adam Shaw to break down the short side, a neat dummy and step inside opened up a good deal of grass in front of him as he outpaced the cover defence to round off a fine individual effort.
Keeping the scoring in the family, Lee then converted to extend the lead to 17-6.
As we approached the final quarter the visiting pack appeared to have gained parity in the scrum, which did steady the ship somewhat.
A dogged forward display saw Pritchard, Grant and Bennett standing firm and taking the game to the opposition, aided by Hooper and Simmons, whilst Donaldson, Calladine and McGregor tackled for all they were worth on the back row.
With 20 minutes to go Lee Shaw stroked another penalty over to bring the score to 20-6.
Hereford are a tough bunch and to their credit they had no intention of rolling over.
This provided a tense final 15 minutes as they took the game to Mansfield again and were awarded a penalty 10 metres out.
This time they elected to go for a scrum utilising that strength rather than risking the lineout.
It proved fruitful and when the scrum collapsed they were granted another penalty and simply repeated the act. A powerful drive and break from the base led to a well taken try in the corner.
The home side continued their assault and Mansfield were forced into defensive mode again reminiscent of the early part of the first-half, demanding that they draw on their reserves to keep them at bay.
As the final minutes ticked away Hereford just couldn’t get over the line and with the score at 20-11 in the final seconds of the game a last ditch attack yielded a penalty in front of the posts.
The referee signalled that ‘no side’ would follow any further action and the home skipper wisely elected to go for goal.
This gave them a losing bonus point, rather than risk going for a try and coming away with nothing. The game ended at 20-14 and plenty of mutual respect for what had been a tough and uncompromising encounter.
The reward for Mansfield was moving up one place in the league and after the game coach Steve Shaw said: “It was vital we performed well and I was impressed with the way we dug in and played for each other.”
This weekend sees bottom placed Manchester travelling to Eakring Road.