Ashfield’s best of the season?
Ashfield RUFC bounced back to winning ways with possibly their best display of the season, running out 36-10 victors over Cleethorpes on Saturday.
Cleethorpes always provide stern opposition for Ashfield, but this was a performance to savour from a far superior side.
On the back on two consecutive defeats, Ashfield had to get back to winning ways.
With a display that had the crowd entertained from the kick-off, the game plan was simple - a back to basics approach that was clinically executed.
With Matt Upton returning at scrum half, Dan Morgan back to full fitness and the returning Scott Chapman, the team had a balance and purpose to dominate from the outset.
Direct running by the forwards soon had the Ashfield pack deep inside their opposition’s half.
Dan Chapman and Matt Turnbull carried the ball to devastating effect and crossed the 5m line.
With a ruck formed, it was the turn of Gareth Jones, who looked certain to score but was held up over the try line.
Ashfield were not to be denied. From the base of the scrum, Gareth Jones picked up and set off. He fed Matt Upton and two passes later centre Gareth Purnell crossed the line for the first try of the afternoon, with a missed conversion.
From the restart Ashfield drove forward again, but a handling error presented Cleethorpes with an opportunity that they graciously accepted with their centre crossing the line for a very good individual try that was converted to go 7-5 ahead.
The early dominance gave Ashfield belief, the forwards again providing a try-scoring platform for full back Tom Childs, who didn’t need a second invitation to cross the line. Gareth Purnell added the conversion and Ashfield were now five points ahead.
Front row Greg Newbutt added a third Ashfield try from close range, again after some great work by the forwards, although the conversion was missed.
Gareth Jones, who went close during the opening drive of the game, would not be denied.
Two phases of play later he crossed the try line, taking two Cleethorpes players with him, Gareth Purnell again adding the conversion, Ashfield extending their lead to 17 points.
On a rare Cleethorpes attack, Ashfield gave away a penalty some 24m out and kicking into a strong head wind.
However, the Cleethorpes fly half added three points that was to be the final play of the first half which saw Ashfield 24-10 to the good.
The pace and intensity of the first half was not reproduced in the early period of the second half, but the strong running of Dan Chapman and Gareth Jones re-energised the Ashfield forwards.
There was, however, a short stoppage of play when tempers flared, the referee having no alternative, giving a yellow card to two players, one from each side.
The game restarted with Cleethorpes in possession, and trying to run the ball out of their 22, Ashfield’s Dan Chapman intercepted a crossfield pass raced forward, but fell short of the line.
But Billy North, in close support, went over the try line and, without a conversion, North’s try increased Ashfield’s lead to 19 points.
Jordan Shead was introduced at flank, making his first team debut for the last 15 minutes, his a story in itself.
Some five years ago he finished his playing days with Ashfield Colts squad and had back surgery, not knowing if he could play again.
But with his never-say-die attitude he is back playing again, and what a fine cameo performance he put in.
The confidence of Ashfield was now in abundance, forwards Jones, Chapman and Dan Morgan assisted by backs Childs and Jake Manning, with some pinpoint kicking by North, had Cleethorpes back peddling time and time again. But credit to their defensive strength as they held fast.
Their respite was short-lived as Billy North drove the Ashfield pack deep into the Cleethorpes’ half, resulting in a line out.
A steal by Mark Denman set up a rolling maul and with Gareth Jones taking the ball on the 5m line he drove over for his second try, Ashfield’s sixth of the match.
A conversion by Purnell made the score 36-10 to Ashfield.
With time running out, Cleethorpes had their best period of play, forcing Ashfield to concede penalty after penalty that tested the resolve of the referee.
Ashfield’s Mark Denman eventually paid the price for this persistent foul play and was given a yellow card.
But the game ended with no further score.
This high-tempo Ashfield performance was just the tonic they needed prior to their NLD Cup game, away to Buxton on Saturday, kick-off is 2.15pm.