Mansfield restore pride with rousing fightback
A tremendous fightback against high-flying Belper almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for Mansfield and averted what could have been a disastrous start to the New Year.
Mansfield looked dead and buried when trailing 25-0 in the opening half. But a seemingly impossible task wasn’t far off being completed as they reduced the deficit to 32-28 by the final whistle of the National League, Midlands 3 East (North) fixture to at least restore their pride.
Belper, who sit second in the table, took their early chances well, benefitting from some wayward kicking by the hosts to register four tries and a penalty before Mansfield could have any real possession or territory.
It all left the blue-and-whites with a mountain to climb, but the recovery started once they shored up their defence and started to pass the ball, instead of kicking it away. Centre Ricky Wild scored the first of their tries and a successful conversion by John-Ross Ward gave a glimmer of hope at the half-time break.
Seven more points were registered at the start of the second period when the ball found its way again to Wild, who carved through the oppposing defence to score his second try, which was again converted by Ward.
Belper responded with a try of their own, which killed off any hopes of a Mansfield miracle. But there were still two bonus points up for grabs and there’s no doubt that the rest of the match belonged to the home side.
A succession of penalties enabled them to employ the driving maul to make inroads. And while they were not all successful in breaching the visitors’ line, hooker Pat Johnson made sure his team weren’t going to leave the red zone with nothing as he was at the bottom of the pile of bodies that finally broke the spirited Belper defence for a try which, followed by a conversion, cut the score to 32-21.
Helped by man-of-the-match Phil Pogmore, whose industriousness around the park went largely unseen by the casual spectators, Mansfield’s pack began to find their feet, with the bonus points looming ever close.
By now, the visitors were somewhat unsettled, and Mansfield took further advantage with more penalties and a yellow card to set up another maul. Again, Belper did their best to disrupt the charge, but they were unable to deny the home team. From the pile of bodies emerged Lee Kirk, a veteran whose return to the team has certainly bolstered the forward pack’s spirit. Another successful conversion by Ward completed the blue-and-whites’ heroic rally.
There is no rugby for Mansfield’s first 15 this coming weekend because national cup-ties take precedence. However, they return to action on Saturday, January 21 when they travel to Birstall in Leicestershire for a league game (kick-off 2.15 pm).