A win, a bonus point and a defeat for rivals Belper give Ashfield three reasons to be happy with Saturday’s display

Ashfield v Skegness
Ashfield v Skegness

Ashfield had a hat-trick of reasons to enjoy Saturday night, after a win, a bonus point and events going in their favour elsewhere.

Director of rugby Mark Denman had issued a rallying cry ahead of Ashfield’s game against Skegness, saying only a bonus point win would be good enough.

And the players responded with a 40-0 victory, that was made to look even better in the light of leaders Belper going down 8-7 at home to Rolls Royce.

The six tries and 10 points from the boot of full-back Gareth Purnell put Ashfield just three points behind Belper.

Skegness, who had lost nine consecutive away games, never gave up and for the first 20 minutes frustrated Ashfield with some last ditch tackling.

From the Ashfield kick-off, Skegness were deep in their own half and that is where they would remain for much of the game.

There were so many good ball carriers for Ashfield throughout the opening quarter, in particular Jake Manning, Billy North, Reece Courtney, Gareth Jones and the impressive Josh Heald but poor decision making kept the scores level until Adam Roebuck’s opening try.

From a Skegness line-out on their own 22, Mark Denman was hoisted above the opposition for the steal.

A rolling maul was formed and it trundled towards the Skegness line and when Roebuck peeled off the back he was unstoppable from close range.

Purnell added the two point conversion for a seven-point lead that was immediately increased from the re-start.

Gareth Jones collected the ball and off loaded to wing Dan Wilson, Wilson and Rob Kirk both made good ground before a scrum was awarded to Skegness.

Ashfield pushed Skegness off the ball, something the Ashfield forwards did time and time again to set free their backs.

The ball was worked out to Manning and it looked like he would take on the last defender and score, but he unselfishly offloaded in the tackle to Wilson who crossed the line for his first try of 2015.

The conversion was missed by Purnell, but Ashfield led 12-0 and although Ashfield held good field possession, this could not be converted into try scoring opportunities and no further points were scored in the first half.

Looking back, the first 40 minutes could and possibly should have resulted in more points but this would be rectified with a further 28 points in the second half.

The second half commenced with Ashfield setting a high tempo that led to their third try by Jono Richardson.

Ashfield were 10m from the Skegness try line when the referee awarded Ashfield a penalty and instead of kicking a certain three point a quick tap penalty was taken.

Richardson, back in the starting line-up, ran a great line as he took the ball at pace and scored with ease.

Purnell added the conversion and took Ashfield to 19 points on 44 minutes.

This early score killed off Skegness, but again they kept playing until the final whistle.

Captain Jones was rolling back the years as time and again he broke the gain line to set up wave after wave of attack, and following one such run another quick tap penalty was taken by Ashfield.

Manning, breaking three tackles in quick succession, raced over the try line for the bonus point try, Purnell converting.

The Ashfield set plays had worked well all game and from another line out Mark Denman took the ball setting up another scoring platform.

After 4 phases of play, Manning again broke free to score his second try of the afternoon with Purnell adding the conversion.

A reward for prop Chris Houseman’s endeavours during the game came in the dying minutes as he ran in from 20m going through four or five tacklers for a great solo try.

Purnell added the conversion via the inside of the upright to complete the scoring.

Head coach Paul Hodson heaped praise on his side at full-time.

“Another solid team performance today with tight defence led us to another job well done,” he said.

“It’s always good to keep a side to nil and our defence is something we have been proud of all season.”

“Special mentions this week for Man of the Match Adam Roebuck and a typically strong all round performance from captain Gareth Jones who both set the tone and tempo for the battle up front.”

The five point victory and Belper’s defeat keeps the league title dream alive.