Mansfield RUFC produced a dogmatic and resilient performance on Saturday which saw them win 23-18 in a game where visiting Old Northamptonians (ONs) dominated in terms of territory and possession for much of the game.
Such was the visitors’ early domination that, leading up their first try with 12 minutes played, Mansfield had barely touched the ball.
ONs’ forward pack were constantly winning quick clean ball and their back line fizzed with promise when they had ball in hand.
After much recycling of possession they eventually crossed out wide as repeated attacks brought its reward.
It was starting to look ominous for the Blue & Whites as ONs continued their hitherto successful plan of batter up front and then spin out wide with precision.
With 18 minutes played the visitors struck again in similar fashion and produced a second try, this time a little close to the posts and the conversion was successful giving them a well earned 12-0 lead.
If most of the final quarter of the game belonged to Mansfield, then what happened in the next few minutes laid a very firm foundation for that success.
The home side had defended manfully under great and constant pressure from their opponents. However, as we approached the half-hour mark they were starting to win more possession and take the game back to Ons.
Two superbly struck penalties in two minutes from AIPS matchday sponsor joint man of the match Jonathan Williams gave his side hope, bringing the score to 12-6.
Ten minutes later and, on the stroke of half-time, Jonathan Williams spliced the uprights yet again to bring the score to 12-9 and the half ended with Mansfield very much back in the game and ONs no doubt wondering quite how, having secured so much ball and field position, they weren’t out of sight.
ONs started the second half in much the same manner as they had played the first and continued to throw everything including the proverbial kitchen sink at Mansfield.
After 13 minutes the pressure told and ONs were awarded a penalty which was successful and extended their lead to 15-9.
The pattern of the game continued and Mansfield’s defence was tested again and again, but the fowards, to a man, stood firm with lock Josh Hall and joint man of the match Joe Symcox leading the way with some impressive hits.
As we entered the final quarter the Blue & Whites were forcing their way more and more into the game and, with 25 minutes on the clock, the ball had been recycled several times as Mansfield made a concerted assault on the visitors’ line.
Eventually the dam burst and Josh Hall crashed over, putting Mansfield within one point at 14-15.
Seconds later, Jonathan Williams sent his team into the lead for the first time with a superb conversion, making the score 16-15.
Mansfield grew in stature from this point as ONs had seen their slender lead evaporate.
The home scrum started to push back their opposition and, with Aiden McGregor, Liam Grant and Patrick Johnson leading the way, the Blue & Whites became more dominant.
With just three minutes left to play the final drama was about to unfold as the ONS were awarded a penalty and reclaimed the lead once more at 18-16.
Three minutes into injury time and Mansfield had a chance with a penalty of their own which sailed agonisingly wide.
It was go for broke time for Mansfield now as they threw everything they had into one final push.
A catch and drive from a lineout was secured and the forwards pressed again and again.
After several attempts to get over the line, Joe Symcox was halted just inches away and it was big brother Alan who gathered up the ball and bundled his way over in the eight minute of injury time.
Jonathan Williams produced another superb kick to end the game, bringing the final score to 23-18.
Although very satisfying, the win came a cost, which was the reason for a lengthy injury time, as Mansfield lost full back Wayne Robinson and winger Jordan Cleaver, who both sustained serious knee injuries.
Mansfield visit Paviors this weekend in another local derby sure to excite. Kick-off is 2.15pm and you can follow the action on Twitter, just go to @MansfieldRugby.