Mansfield edge out improved Manchester 34-21

Mansfield Rugby Club v Manchester.
Mansfield Rugby Club v Manchester.

Despite conventional wisdom dictating that shoring up the league is not a good place to be, this result was by no means a foregone conclusion - and Mansfield did well to keep a much improved Manchester outfit from snatching a first victory this season.

The visitors looked anything but a team that had not won a game for longer than they cared to remember as they fought doggedly to the very end and showed no signs of rolling over.

That said, the way Mansfield started had you believing a drubbing was on the cards as a scrum on the 5m line gave No.8 Tom Calladine the opportunity to pick and drive down the short side, crossing for a well taken try after just three minutes.

Although the conversion was missed, it was only two minutes later that Lee Shaw had the chance for another shot at goal, following a try by Russ Coleman in the corner.

A break by Adam Shaw saw him slip the ball to Ryan Hough who made good ground before feeding Coleman to crash over. This had the home team 12-0 up with just five minutes played.

If the home team thought this signalled an easy afternoon, they were very much mistaken as Manchester settled into their stride and began to take the game to Mansfield.

Both sides had the opportunity to throw the ball around for the next 20 minutes and, as we entered the second quarter, the visitors took full advantage of some uncharacteristically poor defence as their backs weaved their way through several defenders to cross near the posts.

Although the Blue and Whites had plenty of ball leading up to half-time, they were not able to convert this into points.

Their efforts were aided by the fact that the Manchester lineout didn’t function well and the ball being thrown in crooked three times on the bounce did not help matters for the visitors.

Despite this, they were about to be gifted a try to take the lead on the stroke of half-time as a speculative kick found the Mansfield defence all at sea.

Although the kick wasn’t dealt with particularly well, the chase was good from the visitors and their determination paid off as the centre pounced on the ball as it crossed the line.

The conversion made it 14-12 to Manchester as the half-time whistle sounded.

Manchester’s lead was short-lived as Mansfield, clearly frustrated with the way the first half ended, started the second stanza at a whirlwind pace.

Several drives down the short side forced a lineout from which the pack crashed over and Eddy Simmons emerged from the darkness as the man with the five points after just three minutes. A beautifully struck conversion from near the touchline by Shaw put Mansfield back in front.

One of the sub-plots of the afternoon was the centre pairing of both teams, who provided spectators with the spectacle of a ‘game within a game’ as both duos had a fine afternoon demonstrating strong running and courageous defence.

Manchester with some new personnel were much improved from the team that Mansfield played before Christmas.

The home team continued to pile on the pressure and after 12 minutes the visiting resolve was dented again as their scrum conceded two penalties on the 5m line and, inevitably, at the third scrum Tom Calladine picked up and drove over to bag a brace of tries. Shaw converted to bring the score to 26-14.

For the next 20 minutes we saw a pattern of Mansfield applying the pressure and Manchester defending strongly.

It was entertaining to see the home pack taking the game to the opposition and the visiting centres doing the same.

As the game was drawing to a close Manchester were awarded a penalty on halfway and, with nothing to lose, they went for broke.

A quick tap saw the ball fed out to the centre who stepped inside one opponent and then outsprinted the defence to score under the posts, rounding off a fine individual performance.

The conversion brought the score to 26-21 and the visitors looked like they had bagged a losing bonus point as the clock ticked to 44 minutes played in the second half.

However, the Blue and Whites were awarded a penalty 40 metres out on the touchline and opted to go for goal.

Lee Shaw struck it sweetly to produce the kick of the match and bring the score to 29-21, earning him a joint Man of the Match award from match day sponsors AIPS Insurance.

With one final play of the game left, the restart didn’t go 10 metres and from the resulting scrum Tom Calladine picked up and transferred the ball to the other joint Man of the Match, Adam Shaw, who set Tom Lowery free, making good ground.

He slipped the ball back inside to the supporting Adam Shaw, who crossed for the final score and the game ended at 34-21.

Coach Steve Shaw was pleased with the way his side went and said: “We were vastly improved in some areas coming off last week’s performance.

“But clearly there are things we need to improve on.”

They had the chance to do so sooner than normal as Mansfield were due to host Paviors in the NLD Cup semi-final last night, followed by West Bridgford on Saturday in the Notts County Cup semi-final when, to allow for extra-time, kick-off is 2.15pm.

Follow both games on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.