Mansfield produced a mercurial performance on Saturday characterised by flashes of brilliance and inspiration countered by a lapses of concentration and organisation.
There is no doubt that Dudley Kingswinford are a very impressive outfit and fully deserve their second placed billing in a fight for the play-offs.
That said, given the test they had just been through, which was tough, physical and demanding, they graciously accepted the final score didn’t really reflect the arduous nature of the game on Saturday.
This was scant consolation for Mansfield who, despite losing, could have taken two points from this game if they had secured a fourth try bonus point and a further bonus point for keeping the score to seven points or less.
Frustratingly they could do neither in the end, and this is the third game in as many weeks where they have scored three tries.
Coach Steve Shaw acknowledged January was going to be a tough month and league points would be hard to come by, having to take on Newport and Syston away and then the top two clubs in Rugby Lions and DKs.
He said: “We have demonstrated that we are more than capable of competing and can make the best sides in this league look ordinary at times, but we have to be more consistent.”
It is certainly true that the home side paid dearly for a lack of consistency, and that’s not to ignore DKs’ speed to the breakdown and swift recycling that ultimately proved to be too much.
Although Mansfield took the lead for the first and only time in the game after seven minutes with a well-struck Lee Shaw penalty, there were one or two occasions when the home side offered up rather too much assistance to their opposition and made life a little too easy.
The first example of this came after 17 minutes when DKs took a quick-tapped penalty and darted over the line before most of the home side had got organised.
The conversion made it 7-3. Perhaps it was the absence of skipper Tom Calladine, normally organising the defence, who had been harshly exiled to the touchline for 10 minutes for a much debated high tackle offence that led to the lack of organisation?
Maybe, but despite Shaw slotting another penalty to bring the score back to 7-6 , the home side contrived to assist a further DK try with a poor kick out of defence which led to their forwards forcing their way over the line.
With half an hour played and the score at 14-6 the game was finely balanced.
DKs looked dangerous whenever they ran free, with their outside centre being the star of the show, cutting some great lines.
Mansfield’s lineout work was stellar as well as their ability to turn ball over, which they did with regularity.
This was when the game was at its best; the opposition trying to spread the ball at every opportunity and the home side’s arm-wrestle tactics of keeping the ball tight and powering their way upfield.
Just on the stroke of half-time the gap widened further as DKs demonstrated their skill at recycling the ball quickly to cross in the corner and the half ended 19-6.
Mansfield made their customary whirlwind start to the second half and struck first. Strong running by Ryan Hough saw him stepping past one defender and then handing off another to set up a ruck.
Tom Calladine took it on further to feed Adam Shaw who slipped the ball to his brother Lee, who ghosted through untouched under the posts.
At 19-13 it looked like it was ‘game on’ again, but a lack of concentration allowed the visitors to break too many first up tackles and score again, taking the score to 24-13.
The home side were always playing catch-up throughout the game and even a Russ Coleman try that narrowed the gap to 18-24 was negated a few minutes later by conceding a penalty and then a further try, following questionable defence, as DKs extended their lead to 32-18.
Despite this, the home side’s forwards were still attritional.
Adam Shaw was sparking superbly throughout, which earned him a shared man of the match award with Andy Simms.
With 15 minutes left on the clock, Mansfield proved to be architects of their own downfall again as another poor kick out of defence gave the slick opposition backs an opportunity to shine, which they did, resulting in a try that brought the score to 37-18.
Even if the Blue and Whites have a tendency to be a little too erroneous at times, their gritty bullishness and determination is always evident and their emphatic refusal to lie down earns the respect of both opposition and spectators alike.
This earned them a further try as replacement James Bennett ran the ball from halfway on the 39 minute mark and, joined by his colleagues up front, they powered into the opposition 22 and eventually to the try line with Tom Calladine smuggling himself over the whitewash to bring the score to 37-23.
Inevitably when sides are chasing the game they chance their arm, and a flicked pass out during a promising assault on the DKs’ line landed in the grateful arms of the opposition centre who finished off a fine afternoon by intercepting the ball and sprinting 50 metres to bring the final score to a somewhat flattering 44-23.
Although DKs were worthy winners, Mansfield can take some consolation from their ability to cross the line consistently against the best sides and maintain a peremptory attitude that will surely bring dividends in the long term.
This weekend the Blue and Whites travel to Broadstreet who were defeated at Eakring Road and currently sit one place below them.
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