Relieved Mansfield kick-started their rugby union season into action with their first win and an improved, measured performance to dispose of Yorkshire visitors, Birstall, at Eakring Road.
Both sides had opened their Midlands League, Division Three East (North) campaigns with two defeats. But the blue-and-whites of Mansfield surged to a 26-15 success that pleased head coach Wayne Robinson, who is now confident that more progression is on the way.
“To get the win was important, and we’re really gelling well at times,” said Robinson. “There are still improvements to be made, though, and missing out on the bonus point is something we need to work on.”
The game was largely a back-and-forth affair, with both teams playing some good running rugby. But an early try and a succession of penalties by fly-half John Ross Ward saw Mansfield open up a 16-3 lead by half time.
Both forward packs played an important part in the structure of the contest, with matchday sponsor John Heath’s man-of-the match Ash Stirland putting in a tiring shift at the coal face.
The scrum was largely even throughout the game, but it was early turnover ball, won through the forwards, that allowed Ward to collect the ball and dart through the defence to open the scoring under the posts, making his conversion much easier.
Opportunities then fell to both teams, who also defended robustly. However, three sweetly-struck penalties by Ward and one by the visitors were the only
remaining scores of the first half, which ended with Mansfield pleased they enjoyed a lot more possession and territory than in previous weeks, and had made it count.
Birstall didn’t look like the kind of team who would just roll over, though, and they applied some real pressure in the second period, winning penalties and turning ball over. But it was the blue-and-whites who broke through again as Ryan Hill scampered through the defence to place the ball over the line, ahead of another successful conversion from Ward.
To their credit, the visitors regrouped and managed a score and conversion of their own to reduce the deficit to 23-10. But their momentum was soon halted when they were reduced to ten man, losing a player for a clumsy use of the boot as he tried to clear a loose ball.
Mansfield took advantage to add three more points, and then withstood a final flurry and second try from Birstall. This weekend, they head to Buxton, who have won two and lost one of their first three fixtures.