Two clubs sporting a Stag as their emblem locked antlers in a game full of contradictions on Saturday as Mansfield RUFC won 40-3 at Huntingdon.
Huntingdon & District, known as the Stags, enjoyed all the territory and possession for the first 40 minutes, but couldn’t breach the steadfast defence of the visitors
In contrast, Mansfield secured just two clean pieces of possession and led 14-3 at the break and ultimately recorded a first away league win in an age plus the full five points haul on offer.
The visitors got off to the best possible start when, from the kick-off, the ball was recycled to find No.8 Alan Symcox, who produced a sublime offload, registering the first of a number of try assists throughout the game for Adam Shaw to cross the line under the posts, Jonathan Williams converting
Any thoughts of complacency quickly evaporated as the home side secured possession and, but for a few phases of play where Mansfield had a go back, Huntingdon were rarely out of the opposition half and clearly determined not to let go of the ball.
On the odd occasion that Mansfield did win some clean ball, they were clinical and decisive in thought and deed.
One such move saw the ball move 60m up the field, interchanging between Ash Wills and Russ Coleman, for the latter to ultimately outpace the defence to go over in the corner.
Jonathan Williams added the extras with a delightful touchline conversion and Mansfield led 14-0.
Despite throwing the kitchen sink at the Blue & Whites, the home side’s only reward was a well-struck penalty after 18 minutes.
This brought the score to 14-3 and recorded what was to be their only score of the game.
The second quarter played out with the visitors struggling to gain any real continuity of possession and with Ash Wills picking up a harsh yellow card after 25 minutes.
Although they were still not having it all their own way, the second half saw Mansfield start to take shape a little more and gather some momentum.
As the third quarter was drawing to a close and the visitors were pressing, Adam Shaw broke out on halfway to feed Jordan Cleaver, who smartly outpaced the cover tacklers to score by the posts and Williams extended the lead to 21-3.
If that took the wind out of the home side’s sails, then what followed certainly sealed the game. From the re-start the ball found its way to Ash Wills, who passed inside to Adam Shaw before returning the ball back to Wills for him to cross in the corner.
In a repeat of his earlier effort, Williams, who with Adam Shaw, was clearly now running the show, added another impressive touchline conversion for a 28-3 lead.
Another outstanding performance from Alan Symcox, together with skipper Phil Donaldson, kept the pack going forward at every opportunity.
That said, it was Mansfield’s defence that impressed the most both up front and with John Ross Ward at full back.
Huntingdon were placed above the visitors going into this game, and deservedly so given their tenacity and never-say-die attitude to the game.
It took every ounce of effort and concentration to keep them at bay and the ever-improving Chester Scott stood firm with Josh Hall and Gareth Gripton in defence.
The home scrum was solid all afternoon, but Mansfield were quick to get the ball away and the forwards pressed through Andy Simms and Liam Annable.
Danny Ellis secured the ball for Joe Symcox to crash over for the bonus point try with 25 minutes played, bringing the score to 33-3.
With five minutes to play, the home side were trying to break out of the vice-like grip that Mansfield had on the game now, and a kick that was meant to clear the danger shot straight into the welcoming arms of Williams.
He slipped the ball to strong-running centre Jonathan Colley who, in only his fifth game back, crossed the whitewash unopposed for the first time in six years wearing Mansfield colours. Williams rounded off a fine afternoon by adding the conversion.
The game played out for the last 10 minutes as it had done for much of the first half with Huntingdon pressing at Mansfield’s line and, although the game was lost, the home pack impressively refused to concede.
Mansfield are due travel to Nottingham Casuals this weekend in a County Cup fixture which is still to be confirmed.
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