For the third time this season Mansfield and Ashfield served up a feast of exciting rugby.
Following the two scheduled league encounters home and away, this time it was the final of the Notts Intermediate County Cup which was played at the Lady Bay Ground Nottingham. Mansfield emerged victorious 25-12 after a tough and uncompromising 80 minutes in which both sides produced a performance fitting for such an occasion.
Mansfield head coach Wayne Robinson was naturally delighted with the way his side performed and said: “It’s been a tough couple of years, but I’m really pleased that we were able to secure our first piece of silverware in a while.
“Credit to Ashfield they never stopped competing and made us work for it, but I’m satisfied that were able to bring a great deal of training ground material to the game.”
Although both teams produced a compelling game for the sizable crowd who had gathered to watch the game, there’s little doubt that a very strong wind blowing straight down the pitch was going to be instrumental in the outcome and who would deal with it best would undoubtedly influence the result.
Mansfield had the wind at their backs in the first half and it has to be said they proved to be very adept at taking full advantage of it. A monumental effort from the blue & whites pack produced a rock steady platform for John Ross Ward to use the wind superbly kicking into the corners to keep Ashfield at bay.
Working your way back up the pitch into the wind took a great deal of effort and keeping possession was paramount. However, for Ashfield once it was turned over, just one wind assisted punt meant 50 to 60 metres lost and the whole process would need to start again.
Mansfield displayed a sense of urgency right from the start, which they will be the first to admit, had been lacking in some league games this year. That intensity produced lots of early possession which eventually led to Ricky Wilde crossing the line for a 5 nil lead.
The pressure continued with John Ross War adding a penalty to bring the score to 8-0 just four minutes later. Ashfield fought back with some telling forward drives and their backs were dangerous and adventurous with the ball in hand.
Despite the wind making throwing the ball out wide risky business, to their credit Ashfield were determined to do this at every opportunity.
Closing in on the half hour mark Mansfield again were in a strong territorial position and a perfectly executed catch and drive set up a pressure situation sucking in players from the fringes.
This left the blind side exposed and following an audacious dummy Steve Repton darted over for the first of his two tries. John Ross Ward added the extras and it was now 15 nil.
The final few minutes of the half saw two more scores, one apiece. With just four minutes more rugby played Repton completed his brace and shortly after Ashield’s adventure was finally rewarded with them putting together a sublime string of passes to wend their way from forty metres out to score.
The half time result read 20-5 in Mansfield’s favour.
The wind showed no sign of letting up for the second half and although Ashfield kicked well for position the opportunity to do so was restricted by Mansfield’s pack dominating possession for large parts.
This was a day for Skipper Liam Grant to smile and together with veteran Hooker Lee Kirk and the pack, they kept their focus and the pressure on. With sixteen minutes played, former Captain, Kirk’s day was topped off with a typical front rower’s one yard try of his own, ably assisted by the evergreen Ian Coleman. The score was now 25-5 with just under 20 minutes to play.
A yellow card for Ashfield as the third quarter started did not help their cause but again to their credit they handled the added pressure superbly and prevented Mansfield from scoring again.
Another veteran Steve Mower entered the fray for his final senior outing and produced a typically confident cameo as retirement beckons and the boots are consigned to the bin.
Although the wind continued to make a lottery of the lineout for both sides, perhaps fittingly it was Ashfield who had the last word given the effort and endeavour they shown throughout.
Their second try after 30 minutes came after some determined and robust defence afforded them possession in the right part of the field and a chance to strike back. This they did and with a successful conversion the final score ended at 25-12.
After what seemed a distant memory of winning the senior County Cup a record eighteen times previously, Mansfield had at last secured their first silverware after a lengthy drought putting a welcome smile on the faces of their faithful followers.