Mansfield RUFC were knocked out of the NLD Shield despite a valiant late fightback following a 29-20 defeat to Ashbourne.
Eakring Road was home to the first game of the 2016/2017 season and it was another drizzly afternoon that greeted the first outing of the season against Ashbourne in the NLD Shield competition.
The Derbyshire outfit are one league above Mansfield and giving them an early lead didn’t help their cause.
Head coach Wayne Robinson saw great potential but knows his team has to get out of the blocks a bit quicker.
He said: “We had a great last quarter and we put pressure on them at some really crucial points but we need to stamp our authority on the game much earlier.”
Much of the first half was played in the middle of the park. Visiting Ashbourne established their dominance in the scrum early on, something they would continue to enjoy as the game unfolded.
Outside of that the two teams were largely evenly matched, with some youngsters showing themselves well in their first senior outing. None more so than match day sponsor Greene King’s man-of-the-match Sam Holmes.
The weather, as it did with much of last season, made conditions difficult with dropped balls halting any momentum the teams were trying to muster.
Ashbourne, not surprisingly, appeared the more confident team and weren’t hesitant to throw the ball around, though a cross-field kick and a blind pass were perhaps not the best tactics in a game dominated by rain.
Nevertheless the first score of the game was by the visitors. A missed kick saw the score read 5-0 to Ashbourne.
Mansfield struck back shortly after, the impressive Mark Wallace the beneficiary of a steal by the blue-and-whites to register the home team’s first score. The score was now tied up at 5-5.
Another brace of tries by the visitors and a penalty by John Ross Ward for the home side saw the half time score read 17-8.
Mansfield were by no means beaten but they had a big task ahead of them as the conditions showed no sign of improving.
Despite constant scrum dominance by Ashbourne, they were unable to convert that pressure into points for large parts of the game.
They finally reaped their rewards with a try from a driving 5 metre scrum to extend the lead further. A missed kick saw the score read 22-8.
However, the blue-and-whites are not a team to just lie down and some industrious work by Regan Hubbard saw him hack at a dropped ball and showing great tenacity he outmuscled the covering defence to score Mansfield’s first try of the second half.
The youngster delivered a lesson in never giving up if ever there was one. The score read 22-13 and Mansfield had their fingertips back in the game and were gaining in a new found confidence and self-belief.
Equally defiant, Ashbourne fired back with their final score of the game shortly after, a successful conversion taking their final score to 29.
The last score would belong to Mansfield, a sustained period of possession and territory, the best spell of the game by far, saw youngster Ricky Wilde cross the line in his first game for Mansfield. A successful conversion by Ford bought the final score to 29-20.
Mansfield had one more opportunity to bring the score closer together as a succession of penalties saw the visitors reduced to 14 men. However, a dropped ball, perhaps symbolic of the weather’s grip on a messy affair, signalled the end of the game.
This Saturday, Mansfield play host to Bakewell in the first league game of the season at Eakring Road. Kick off will be 3pm and you can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.