Race is hotting up for play-off spot

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Mansfield RUFC avenged a 25-15 defeat in Lincolnshire with an impressive win on a weekend which saw more twists and turns in the jostling for the promotion play off second spot.

Mansfield overcame a determined, physical Spalding side with guts, commitment and plenty of skill.

The addition of a bonus point and an improvement of 36 in points difference were significant as a late first half score paved the way for five second half tries.

The opening exchanges set the tone for the day, both sides driving and counter rucking with Calladine and Symcox to the fore and McGregor landing big tackles. Robinson reacted quickly to a flighted ball into Mansfield’s 22 and a simple clearance was expected.

Instead two long passes opened the pitch in front of Donaldson and Wills. Perfecting timing in passes gave Wills the chance to show his pace as defenders vainly chased across and Lee Shaw converted for 7-0.

Spalding rallied immediately and desperate defending was ruled to include a high tackle by Wills, which sent him to the sin bin and concede a simple three points.

His 10 minutes saw Mansfield apply themselves, not just to hold out without conceding points but through drives from Simmons, Calladine and two breaks by Coleman threatened to increase the lead.

A penalty was adjudged to have gone over the top of a post, Calladine was pulled back before receiving a pass for a certain score and Robinson crashed through but couldn’t send Hough clear.

Restored to 15, Wills and Coleman fed Lee Shaw who set Spalding a defensive line out. Johnson was quick to react to loose ball and Symcox wrestled ball clear only to be halted illegally. Lee Shaw kicked the penalty for 10-3.

With just a one score lead Mansfield needed more points before half time, and got them. A penalty award saw Mansfield opt for a scrum wide on the left.

Calladine picked, the Shaw brothers moved the ball to Wills who squeezed through a gap and Hough accepted the pass to muscle in at the corner.

Lee Shaw made it 17-3 and the chance to build a win was there for the Blue and Whites.

Having made the switch between Gripton and Grant at the break the latter was soon back on the bench, unlucky in a flare-up to be the only man to see the yellow card.

There was more controversy moments later after Adam Shaw broke clear, chipped and outpaced the close defence, only to be scythed down off the ball in cynical fashion.

Showing great discipline Mansfield put the incident behind them, turned the screw through the forwards and Pritchard forced his way for a try.

Before the player numbers got back to parity the Blue and Whites showed confidence with ball in hand as Wills, Adam Shaw and Hough linked and the winger also made ground with Donaldson.

Williams benefited from the recovery powers of Donaldson and Robinson to drill balls from 22 to 22 to maintain pressure on the visitors.

Going into the final quarter Johnson’s accurate throwing met FOAF Man of the Match Donaldson’s leap, three swift passes and Williams darted in for the bonus point try and a 27-3 lead.

To prove there was still life in the game the next score went to the visitors as Mansfield’s defence was stretched wide.

Hooper, Wills and Robinson turned a 22 drop out in to an attacking weapon, but team work turned to individual skill as Adam Shaw, tight to the touch line and 40 metres out jinked through five defenders for a virtuoso try.

Coming straight back from the restart Mansfield’s dominant scrum again allowed a quick break and Stokes flat footed the defence and provided Lee Shaw with an easy conversion.

A final surge, Spalding conceding the scum put in after being turned and Calladine interchanged passes with Adam Shaw to round off the scoring at 44.

A more German like approach to penalty taking and conversions could have added to the tally, but thoughts of those lost points evaporated as news filtered through that Ilkeston had beaten Derby 18-12 and the play-off place was a three horse race.

Coach Steve Shaw said: “That was a great team effort today and we have to carry it forward to every game for 80 minutes.”

l This weekend Mansfield travel to Coalville and will look to repeat their performance of late February which brought a 61-19 victory.

However, Coalville are a different prospect on their own ground and nothing will be taken for granted.

Before then, the end of season trilogy with Paviors will have played out its first act, during the NLD semi-final at Burnt Stump.

Saturday, 16th April brings the league season to a close at Eakring Road when a repeat of Mansfield’s opening day victory is needed to maximise the points for promotion.

Mellish will host the third part with a Notts Cup Final for the second year running between the local rivals, 20th April the probable date.