Muddy marvels Ashfield stormed into the quarter-finals of the Midlands Senior Vase with victory over Staffordshire visitors Newcastle in a pulsating tie at Larwood Park.
Converted tries by Michael Elliott and, ten minutes from time, captain-for-the-day Jake Manning, secured a 14-10 win in the kind of poor, wet conditions that Ashfield are fast becoming used to this winter.
The conditions meant neither side could play an expansive game, but the success continued the unstoppable home form of coach Gareth Jones’s team.
“We fear no-one at Larwood Park,” said Jones. “The team ethic and workrate was exceptional, even though we had to withstand sustained pressure from the visitors, who had a much heavier pack.”
According to Ashfield, Newcastle resorted to intimidation tactics from both players and officials, with their coach lucky not to be red-carded after going on the field and clashing with an Ashfield man.
“We were missing three or four players, but credit to those who played,” added Jones. “Every one of them was immense and didn’t succumb to 80 minutes of intimidation. Billy North, in particular, was outstanding. His kicking out of hand relieved so much pressure at vital times of the game.”
North’s charge-down also led to Elliott’s try, which opened the match as he scored under the posts, after a searing run from 30 metres out, to set up an easy conversion for Gareth Purnell.
Newcastle reduced the deficit with a penalty, but mystified all by giving up three further chances from the kicking tee, opting instead to kick for the corners. It was a move that backfired, even though they went on to score a converted try down the right flank to to go 10-7 up at the interval.
Ashfield were hit by an injury to wing Dan Wilson, who sustained a torn bicep and ruptured tendon after one of his trademark tackles. And Newcastle took advantage by edging the second half. However, the visitors failed to make the most of their extra possession and, with time ebbing away, Ashfield grabbed a dramatic win as Manning crossed the line in the corner after a rare flowing move and Purnell kicked a tight conversion.
In a nervy finale, the home side stood firm with some resolute defending and last-ditch tackling, and now hope to maintain their terrific home form against Ashby in the Midlands 3 East (North) division this Saturday (2.15 pm).