Depleted Mansfield go down in the Lions’ den
Mansfield travelled to the Lions’ den more in hope than expectation as team preparations were severely disrupted by dent of an injury list that grew as the week progressed.
This meant a number of players were called upon who were either on a debut or a first senior outing this season.
The Lions, having already won the league and secured their promotion to National Three, were in no mood to party just yet, though, as they were also protecting their impressive home record.
The early exchanges looked promising for the visitors, especially in the scrum where young Zak Walters acquitted himself well on his debut at hooker alongside lock Gareth Gripton, pressed into action at loose head, and the evergreen Ian Coleman, facing the challenge at tight head with his usual pragmatism.
A penalty ensured good field position for the Lions who took full advantage from the ensuing line-out and slipped the ball deftly to their right wing. He enjoyed a personal battle with his opposition number Emmanual Ogunode all afternoon.
The home flyer won this particular exchange, thoug,h fending off the first tackle and then beating the full back to score in the corner.
The home stand-off had a faultless afternoon with the boot as his first conversion gave his team a 7-0 lead.
Despite the scoreline suggesting otherwise, there’s no doubt that Mansfield were not going to roll over and if they were guilty of anything throughout the game it was kicking away good possession when they most needed it.
It was a full half-hour before the Lions registered their second score with another try out wide. Again this was no challenge for their kicker who struck it straight through the middle again.
The half looked like it was about to be played out at 14-0 with the visitors restricting a strong Lions outfit to two scores, but a lengthy period of injury time eventually took its toll and the home side managed a third try right on the whistle to bring the half-time score to 21-0.
The Lions came out strongly after the break and took just two minutes to extend their lead to 28 points.
Despite some manful defending the Blue & Whites couldn’t stop the home side from extending their lead further through some skilful back play.
The third quarter ended with another two tries and the scoreboard recorded 40 unanswered points for the league winners.
The Cambridgeshire outfit paid tribute to Mansfield’s resolve and the visitors earned respect from their opposition by not quitting at any point.
Though engaged in a rearguard action, Mansfield did manage to bring about sustained periods of pressure of their own.
However, as close as the visitors came to scoring on several occasions, the home defence held firm and, frustratingly for Mansfield, they repelled all efforts they made to cross the line.
With 25 minutes played Ogunode again came face to face with his opposite number.
He initially went high and the flying wing nearly broke through, but this time the Mansfield winger was not going to be beaten as he produced an impressive morale-boosting tackle which drove his man back 5m and pride was restored.
Mansfield’s pressure came from assaults on the opposition through James Hooper, in his first senior outing this campaign, and Liam Annable, who produced a man of the match style performance.
Two youngsters in the shape of Jack Parr at scrum half and Will Limb on the flank also impressed.
This pressure resulted in a yellow card for the Lions, following a catch and drive at the line-out ,and with three minutes of that expired, a further yellow was issued which temporarily reduced the home side to 13 men.
It’s testament to their resolve and an indication of why they have won this league that they managed to keep a clean sheet during this period.
Despite being camped in the home 22 for long periods the Blue & Whites still couldn’t break through and the Lions managed a further score to round off the afternoon 47 points to the good and their home record intact.
For their part, Mansfield can take some comfort in the way they attacked the opposition at every opportunity and battled to the very end against a side that are destined for bigger things.
Mansfield’s final league game is at Market Rasen & Louth this weekend.
Kick-off is 3pm and you can follow the action on Twitter, just go to @MansfieldRugby.