A brave second-half rally was not quite enough to save the day for Mansfield in a tough and uncompromising encounter at high-riding Dronfield.
On what was comfortably the coldest afternoon of the season, Mansfield ruined a promising start by trailing 27-6 just 12 minutes into the second half. And although they bossed the final quarter, they were eventually beaten 30-20 by a title-chasing outfit who have now won seven of their eight matches this term.
Coach Wayne Robinson said: “There was no lack of endeavour from the team, and against a well-drilled side like Dronfield, it was always going to be difficult. But we came back well in the second half and were unlucky not to squeeze a bonus point from the game.”
Indeed the single most noticeable difference between the sides appeared to be continuity, which helps understanding between players and is essential in producing a cohesive effort.
Injuries meant Mansfield again fielded a side with many changes from the previous week, while Dronfield turned out a settled unit. Although there were a number of outstanding individual performances, including from man-of-the-match Cameron Muir and Ash Stirland, it clearly takes time to build a degree of understanding.
Mansfield started well enough, playing up a considerable slope and into a biting north-easterly wind as they applied enough pressure for the home side to concede a penalty, which John Ross Ward kicked successfully.
However, Dronfield, boasting a regimented pack and pace out wide, are not flying high by accident and set about putting their training-paddock practice into operation for the next 20 minutes. Mansfield defended manfully before a yellow card on the half-hour resulted almost immediately in a try that gave the home side a 7-3 advantage.
Cameos from Bobby Ogunode, Joe Ducker and Lewis Cowlishaw helped to keep the score that way until a disastrous spell either side of the interval when Dronfield scored three quickfire tries and a penalty. Ward did kick another penalty, but suddenly, Mansfield were 19 points in arrears.
The fightback was led by skipper Liam Grant and, as the pack began to make inroads, it featured two first senior tries for the club from both John Kingswood and Stirland, who rounded off a super afternoon’s work in the lineout.
This Saturday, Mansfield entertain Belgrave in the Provincial Cup (kick-off 2 pm).