ThE eagerly awaited clash between second and fourth was the fast and furious encounter anticipated between two sides vying for Rugby Union’s Midlands East One play-offs.
In the end it was a close game, but the scoreboard failed to reflect that as Ilkeston left Mansfield RUFC with a 17-0 success.
The attacking prowess of each side was matched by their organised and determined defences, and unrelenting closing down of man and ball.
However, Mansfield wasted three try scoring opportunities, and Ilkeston capitalised on a lack of clinical finishing.
After a pitch inspection an hour before kick off, the game went ahead largely thanks to the diligent preparation by the Mansfield ground staff, which brought praise from the opposition on their arrival.
Mansfield took advantage of a slight breeze and slope, when Storey and Robinson moved play to the visitors’ 22.
Calladine supplied for Hough and he was inches from sending Coleman in at the corner, but for a last ditch Simmons tackle.
On their next charge forward, it took three tacklers to bring Joe Symcox to a halt, who was unfortunate to be judged holding on. Lee Shaw kicked deep into the 22 and Hough and Robinson were held five metres out.
A Mansfield score beckoned, before they hit the self-destruct button. From a wild, speculative pass, the Ilkeston skipper was running free to the posts.
Despite a valiant chase from Robinson to pull him down a metre short, Mansfield were stretched and a stoppage for a head injury to Robinson only brought temporary respite.
The restart scrum saw quick play off the back row and a dive in at the corner from the right winger.
Attempting to roar straight back, with Johnson and Symcox proving too hot to handle, the backs were released but, not for the first time, frozen fingers spilled the ball.
Mansfield’s pack continued to hold sway as the Shaw brothers gave Williams a chance to run through the middle, but he lacked support to continue the move.
Symcox wriggled away from tacklers and found Adam Shaw charging towards the line.
With defenders closing in and the line only two strides away, he attempted to find Holmes, but a low pass spurned the chance.
Relieved by the let-off, Ilkeston came away with the ball, facing a wall of Blue and White shirts.
They opted to kick it high for the towering figure of ‘Garryowen’.
As the ball swirled behind the Mansfield line, a fumble was followed by hesitation and Ilkeston’s centre was first to drop on the ball.
Gift number two could have been punished more except for the missed conversion and in the final eight minutes of the half Mansfield could have been on the scoreboard.
With a quick ball Lee Shaw found a gap and it appeared Hough had got away and in for a try under the posts.
The narrowest of margins for a forward pass saw the ‘score’ cancelled out.
With a 10 point deficit, Mansfield needed early second half points.
Calladine charged forward and Adam Shaw released the backs, only for a knock-on to halt the move.
Pritchard’s run then set up a penalty, but the effort faded wide of the posts.
Johnson and Calladine kept ball alive and the latter made it to within two metres, but attempting to pass their way over the line, the over-elaborate approach was too predictable and intercepted.
There was a single player heading for the Mansfield posts again, with a vain attempt to catch him from Williams.
Despite Donaldson coming on and linking well with Johnson, Mansfield ended up pointless for the first time this season.
It felt as though Mansfield did more to lose the game than Ilkeston did to win it.
Those sentiments were echoed by coach Steve Shaw, who said: “You cannot gift three tries and hope to beat sides at this end of the table.
“We had enough of the game to have won but didn’t take the chances and presented them with three they took.”
This week the Blue and Whites make another long journey south to Leighton Buzzard. This fixture usually serves up plenty of points and Mansfield will look to sharpen their finishing, get back to winning ways and maintain fourth place, keeping an eye on teams above them.
The club also announced this week that the Nottinghamshire Cup quarter-final against West Bridgford will be on Tuesday, 22nd February with a 7.30pm kick-off.