The second home league game of the season kicked off at Eakring Road on Saturday and ended with a well-earned victory for Mansfield against Birstall.
Head coach Wayne Robinson was pleased with an improved performance and is confident further improvement is on the way.
He said: “We were gelling really well at times, but there are still improvements to be made. To get a win but miss out on the bonus point is something we need to work on for next week.”
The game was largely a back and forth affair, with both teams playing some good running rugby. An early try and succession of penalties by fly half John Ross Ward saw Mansfield open up a 16-3 lead by half time.
Both forward pack’s played an important part in the structure of the game with Matchday Sponsor John Heath’s Man of the Match Ash Stirland putting in a tiring shift at the coal face.
The scrum was largely even throughout the game, if Mansfield won one scrum, Birstall replied in kind at the next. It was early turnover ball won through the forwards that allowed Ward to collect the ball and dart through the defence to score under the posts, making the conversion attempt much easier. He was successful with his kick, seeing the score go to 7-0.
There was further opportunities to extend that lead further in the next quarter of the game. However, robust defence by the visitors saw them either force a knock on or steal the ball out of Mansfield’s hands, nullifying the attacking threat posed by the blue-and-whites. That said, once they’d acquired turnover ball, Birstall were unable to turn that advantage into points.
Much like Mansfield, the visitors had their opportunities: a scrum penalty deep in the blue-and-whites 22 saw an excellent attacking platform. However, it was Mansfield’s turn to defend well and they turned the ball over before clearing their lines.
Three sweetly struck penalties by Ward and one by the visitors were the only remaining scores of the first half. Mansfield had enjoyed a lot more possession and territory than in previous weeks and had made it count. For their part, 16-3 down at half time, Birstall didn’t look like the kind of team who would just roll over.
So it proved as the definitely didn’t. The second half saw the visitors apply some real pressure to Mansfield, winning penalties and turning ball over. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be turned into points and large parts of the game were played in the centre of the park, neither team able to really break through committed defences.
Eventually, the blue-and-whites broke the deadlock, Ryan Hill scampering through the defence to place the ball over the line and create some much needed daylight on the scoreboard. A successful conversion from Ward saw Mansfield’s lead extend, 23-3.
To their credit, Birstall regrouped as a team and, through some nice interlinking, managed a score of their own, a successful conversion taking them to 10 points. That momentum was soon halted as they were reduced to ten man, losing a player for a clumsy use of the boot to try and clear a loose ball. Mansfield took advantage of the opportunity and scored three more points, bringing the score to 26-10.
Birstall had one last say in the outcome of the game, some back and forth between the teams seeing the visitors finally gain control of the ball and dot down their second. A difficult conversion was missed, bringing the final score to 26-15 to the blue-and-whites. A measured performance by a team starting to really get to know each other, they can take some confidence from this as they head to Buxton this weekend.
Mansfield 26 – 15 Birstall.