Underdogs Sutton Bonington made Ashfield RUFC fight all the way before booking their place in the Nottinghamshire RFU Junior Cup final.
A break from league duty saw Ashfield play host to a largely youthful side from the Agricultural College in South Nottinghamshire.
As expected, the more experienced Ashfield side progressed to the final, 31-17, a scoreline that didn’t reflect the possession Ashfield had but did reflect the 80-minute commitment of the Bonnington players.
The opening 10 minutes of the game saw the Ashfield pack dominate deep into the Bonnington side.
The drive of flankers Dan Chapman and Gavin Appleby set the tone and, when Ashfield gained a penalty and in good field position, it looked as though a relative easy kick at goal would follow.
Captain and number 8 Gareth John had other ideas. Taking a quick tap penalty, he crashed through the line of defenders and over the line for Ashfield’s first try of the afternoon, the conversion was missed.
Ashfield looked to have increased the score following a good break by fly half Billy North and with second row Tom Payne in support.
Payne received the ball and broke the remaining tackle and 35m lay between Payne and the try line. But Bonnington’s scrambled defence caught Payne, secured the ball and scrambled the ball away to safety.
Ashfield would not be denied, and from a scrum on the 10m line centre, Jake Manning received the ball and took on his opposite number.
He broke the gain line and unselfishly off-loaded to centre partner Jono Richardson to score unopposed, the conversion again missed.
A period of pressure by Bonnington led to a penalty opportunity for Billy North.
North, taking the ball on in his own half, arrowed a ball deep into the Bonnington half.
The resulting line out was won by Mark Denman, a key feature this season to set up a rolling maul. Bonnington took the maul to ground, giving North the chance to further increase Ashfield’s lead only to see his kick missed and the lead remain 10 points.
Bonnington came again and this time their persistence led to a try, thanks largely to some woeful defending by Ashfield. The missed conversion was the last play of the half as Ashfield led 10-5.
From the restart, a scrum was awarded to Ashfield and a rolling maul followed,.
This led to another penalty that was also missed but back came Ashfield to score their third try. Nick Bearley broke through two tackles, setting up a two man overlap, Bearley to Jono Richardson, and with Dan Wilson on his outside supporting the run, Richardson dummied a pass, drawing the covering full back and he ran under the posts for a good try. Gareth Purnell adding the extra points and Ashfield were now in the driving seat.
Ashfield were now in full cry. Finding themselves in the Bonnington 10m area, a penalty to Ashfield for again pulling down the rolling maul saw Chris Houseman’s quick thinking gave him a try under the posts from a tap penalty.
Gareth Purnell’s conversion further extended their lead to 24-5.
A yellow card to a Bonnington player for questioning a referee’s decision, threatened to open the try-scoring floodgates.
From the resulting passage of play, a scrum was awarded to Ashfield and Jones from 2m out was unstoppable, scoring his second try.
With another Purnell conversion Ashfield looked good value at 31-5, but could not have foreseen the near capitulation of the last 10 minutes.
With Bonnington now at full strength, it was Ashfield’s turn to have a player sent to the sin-bin after Gavin Appleby cynically stopped what could have been a try-scoring opportunity, leaving the referee no alternative but to show him a yellow card.
The last 10 minutes fall from grace by the home side was a combination of change in personnel, poor decision making and inept tackling that Bonnington exploited to great effect, scoring two tries that made the scoreline look respectable and was reward for sticking to their game plan.
Their second of the match saw some good interplay from the backs.
The outside-inside ball is seldom seen but when executed it can be devastating.
Raiding down Ashfield’s left flank, Bonnington’s outside centre passed the ball to the wing who drew in the defender.
He drew the Ashfield winger and in one movement passed the ball back inside to the supporting centre to score close to the corner, the conversion missed.
Bonnington’s third and final try came from some flat-footed defending by Ashfield that allowed their scrum half to weave his way past five or six defenders to score a try of individual class, the conversion giving a scoreline of 31-17.
That was the final play of the game and Ashfield were through to the final.
This will be a busy finals day for Ashfield on 4th May as their development squad also progressed to their final a few weeks ago, for the third year in succession.