Newly promoted Sandbach kept the home side scoreless to leave Eakring Road with a hard earned 18-0 victory.
It’s easy to see why they dominated North One (West) to gain promotion last season and have enjoyed the success that has come their way in these two games. That said, although the final score appears emphatic the game was stalemate for the first three quarters and all the damage was done in the last twenty minutes.
Mansfield definitely had their chances throughout the game and although Sandbach took an early 3 nil lead after just seven minutes with a well struck penalty, the home side had already missed one penalty attempt previously and three minutes later Ben Holmes was despatched to the sin bin for foul play at the ruck.
The first quarter was a fascinating display from both sides that appeared to emulate two boxers that knew little of each other and what ensued was a cagey affair akin to a game of chess. Both sides tested each other without giving an inch and the collisions and contest in the loose were both wholehearted to say the least.
For the most part this game was played around half way and between both 10 metre lines which meant a lot of work was required to get into a scoring position. Both defences were good enough to cancel each other’s attempts at forays out. The normally reliable Lee Shaw was unable to make the most of another penalty attempt on the half hour mark and frustratingly for him this was repeated ten minutes later as the half drew to a close.
The blue & whites did manage to get across the line but the ball was adjudged to have been held up. The point was not lost on anyone watching that this score or even just converting the penalty opportunities at this point may have led to a different outcome ultimately.
However, the half ended with the score still 3 nil and a move that saw Sandbach incur the displeasure of the official with a player sent to the sin bin for a deliberate knock on and Wayne Robinson leaving the field with a shoulder injury. He was replaced by Elliott Gwynn for his first outing in a Mansfield Shirt.
In a carbon copy of the first half, Mansfield started the second half well but conceded another penalty after seven minutes to give the Cheshire side a 6 point advantage. One of the highlights of the game for Mansfield was a masterful display of lineout work from the match day sponsor, Stopford Associates ‘Man of the Match’ Aiden McGregor. Helped by some pinpoint throwing by young Hooker James Ford, McGregor also managed to steal a couple of the opposition’s lineout too.
As the third quarter drew to a close and a further penalty attempt was missed by the home side, a kick out of defence was charged down and pounced on quickly by the advancing midfield resulting in Sandbach recording their first try and conversion bringing the scoreline to 13 nil.
When it’s your day, it’s your day and five minutes later we saw the first real lapse in concentration as the visitors Winger received the ball on half way and after stepping the first defender he weaved his way past two more would be tacklers to score a delightful try after 25 minutes which was also converted bringing the score to an unassailable 18 nil.
With just ten minutes to go Mansfield had the best of the play. Both sides pride themselves on having a robust and resolute back row unit and throughout the game it was demonstrated why both reputations were richly deserved as they were tested time and again.
In the final plays of the game Adam Shaw also crossed the line but a double movement resulted in a penalty for the visitors to clear the danger. A foot in touch cancelled out yet another would be try out wide and the frustration mounted. With the minutes ticking away Mansfield were awarded more penalties and with the target now to try and secure a bonus point each one was taken quickly. However, the Sandbach defence held firm and as the final whistle sounded the scoreboard still read no points for the home team.
If points were awarded for endeavour then the blue & whites would have amassed quite a few but there’s no denying that the visitors made the most of their chances and although this was two evenly matched sides for the most part, not many sides prevent Mansfield from scoring at home and they thoroughly deserved their win.
Coach Steve Shaw was reluctant to blame losing key players for this defeat as it was clear that Mansfield had their chances and so are clearly good enough to compete.
It is however, time for others to step forward and declare themselves leaders on the park. He said: “The lads did really well for large parts of the game but getting over the line twice and not finishing it off is frustrating for all of us”. The blue & whites travel to Newport (Salop) on Saturday where both sides enjoyed home wins last season. You can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby