It might have been a tough, brutal affair, yielding no fewer than seven yellow cards. But what mattered most was an improved performance by Mansfield that earned their second successive win in the Midlands 2 East (North) division.
At a wet and blustery Eakring Road, the sinbinfest made it difficult for Mansfield or mid-table visitors Coalville to settle into their stride. And the hosts were further frustrated by just coming up short of a fourth try to secure the bonus point.
But Wayne Robinson’s side were more than happy with the 20-13 victory, which was achieved with help from the coach himself, who dusted off his boots to produce a fine performance.
“The boys dug deep and stuck at it, and that’s all I can ask for,” said an elated but exhausted Robinson after the game.
The coach’s return to the paddock was also the catalyst for two other former first XV ‘retired’ stars, Tom Newton and Rob Storey, to join in the fun. Newton did play 40 minutes the previous week too, but this was Storey’s first appearance for five years. Both unveiled displays that left Mansfield supporters wondering why they had retired in the first place!
It was truly a game of two halves, with a change of shirt by the referee also seemingly bringing about a change in temperament. For six of his yellow cards, most of which left spectators slightly bemused, came in the opening period. They forced both sides to reshuffle and reorganise more often than they would have liked, before the game finally settled down for a more orthodox second half.
Despite the conditions, both teams showed real attacking intentions, throwing the ball wide and breaking up tackles. Mansfield were the first team on the board after an early penalty by Robinson sailed clear through the posts.
Coalville didn’t take that lying down and after a 40-metre sprint by Mansfield’s Emmanuel Ogonude, who offloaded to Storey to make his first impact, the visitors launched a thrilling counter-attack of their own.
Coalville built pressure through repeat phases, gaining momentum and inching closer to the Mansfield line. A piece of indiscretion on the floor saw the hosts’ man-of-the-match Olly Stamford sent to the bin for ten minutes with no warning given, and the visitors gladly took the points to even up the game.
A couple of penalties later and Coalville saw one of their own sent to the sin bin. Mansfield went for the posts but the kick dropped short.
Matters took a worse turn for the away team as a second player was dispatched to the bin for ten minutes, reducing their numbers to 13, and Mansfield took full advantage when charging down a clearance, allowing the alert Tom Key to scoop up the loose ball and score the first try of the game. The conversion was missed but Mansfield had pulled into the lead 8-3.
Unfortunately, the rest of the half was a mixed bag for the home team. Stamford redeemed himself with a splendid try to take the score to 13-3, but then both Gareth Gripton and coach Robinson were dismissed after separate incidents.
Thankfully, the second half was a much different affair with the referee’s refusal to go to his pocket allowing play to flourish and phases to develop. As an ominous low mist descended on the pitch, the two teams teams thundered into each other with ferocity and although Coalville began to gain dominance in the scrum, the home back row of Newton, Josh Hall and new man Ash Stirland did superbly well to tidy up.
Storey crowned a successful return with a try and after Robinson had slotted the conversion, Mansfield led 20-8.
To their credit, Coalville reacted gamely and continued to apply pressure. They bagged a try, successfully converted, after the ref’s patience had eventually worn thin and he sent Lewis Cowlishaw to the sin bin for the seventh yellow card.
The away team even had an opportunity to steal a draw in the final few minutes, but they were stopped by a superb-last ditch tackle from Joe Ducker that sealed Mansfield’s victory and set them up nicely for a trip to high-flying title-chasers Dronfield this coming Saturday.