‘Immense’ hero North kicks Ashfield RUFC to gritty victory

KING BILLY -- man-of-the-match Billy North fires Ashfield RUFC level with the first of four penalties.
KING BILLY -- man-of-the-match Billy North fires Ashfield RUFC level with the first of four penalties.

Deadeye Billy North was the key player as Ashfield showed tremendous resilience in terrible weather to graft their way to a hard-earned victory over Lincoln.

There were few scoring opportunities for either side in the Midlands 3 East (North) division fixture. But when they arose, fly-half North made no mistake, kicking all of Ashfield’s points in a 12-3 triumph over a side sitting just above them in the table.

Coach Gareth Jones was quick to praise the youngster, describing North was “immense all afternoon”.

“His display will be remembered most for its four penalties, but it was his all-round play in attack and defence that stood out for me,” added Jones.

“When needed, North relieved the pressure with his sure-footed kicking out of hand, and I don’t think he missed a tackle all afternoon. It was a near faultless performance.”

The victory cemented Ashfield’s position of fifth in the division, now just a point behind visitors Lincoln and eight behind leaders Loughborough, whom they visit this coming Saturday (kick-off 2.15 pm). Loughborough have been beaten only once in their ten matches so far this season, but Jones’s boys are determined to start transferring their fine home form to their travels.

Mind you, home form off the field was not so healthy for Lincoln’s visit. For Ashfield’s day started with the sort of challenge no amateur clubs wants -- a roof leaking water into the away-team changing room that resembled an indoor swimming pool!

It forced players and officials to reshuffle their normal facilities. And what’s more, the club’s generator then failed, meaning no lighting or hot water for showers. On such a wet and wretched day, that was the last thing everyone wanted.

The off-field problems may have contributed to Ashfield’s slow start as they fell behind to a Lincoln penalty in the sixth minute.

The home side had the opportunity to reply three minutes later through a North penalty, but his first chance of the day fell just short of the crossbar.

It wasn’t long, though, before the fly-half was on the scoresheet. North brought Ashfield level on 17 minutes with a sweetly struck penalty after another mistake by the visitors.

The referee intervened moments later when reducing the home team to 14 men by deciding to issue a yellow card to flanker Greg Utting for not retreating ten metres after a quick tap penalty.

However, the game continued to ebb and flow with neither side really taking full control, and Lincoln failing to make the extra-man advantage work in their favour.

Encouragingly for home fans, there was a calmness to Ashfield’s defensive play that looked assured and unbreachable all afternoon after the visitors’ early penalty.

With two further penalties, successfully kicked by North in the first half, Ashfield took a 9-3 advantage into the break, and maybe they should have led by more as a glorious chance went begging when it looked easier to score from just one metre out.

Hooker Dan Morgan, a late replacement in the opening period, took the second half by storm with his physical presence causing Lincoln problems around the fringes as the game progressed.

Centre Guy Jones was also immense in defence, smothering everything Lincoln threw at the Ashfield backline. And forwards Greg Newbutt and Chris Warnes also enjoyed impressive games with their driving runs. Warnes starred even though he was hindered throughout the game by a deep cut to the bridge of his nose, sustained in the pre-match warm up.

The small but enthusiastic crowd had to wait until the 76th minute for the only score of the second half, but it was well worth waiting for because it secured Ashfield’s excellent victory. Lincoln were penalised for not rolling away after the tackle, and North did the rest to complete his 12-point tally for the match.