A thrilling 21-21 draw against Bakewell Mannerians kicked off the new season for Mansfield after the shock of their relegation last term.
Mansfield went down from the Midlands 2 East (North) division of the National League after winning only five of their 22 matches in 2015/16.
And they started life in Midlands 3 East (North) with a home fixture against the side who were relegated alongside them and one who had an even worse record, with just one victory and three points.
The encounter was tense, but while Mansfield lacked the killer instinct, they showed lots of endeavour and industriousness, and there was a real sense of cohesion and drive, bolstered by experience brought into the pack and the growing confidence of some of the younger players.
Head coach Wayne Robinson was pleased with an improved performance, but also recognised that his team missed a number of opportunities.
“We played extremely well in parts and certainly could have won the game,” said Robinson. “We created enough chances. We just need to find that finishing touch.”
The opening minutes were so nervy for Mansfield that they found themselves 7-0 down after an early score and a conversion from Bakewell. Thankfully, the rest of the game was much more combative, with the home team enjoying a dominant scrum.
The work of veteran front-row stalwart and former captain Lee Kirk, returning to the first time after several years away, strengthened the pack and helped organise a solid defensive effort.
Sam Holmes broke through to register Mansfield’s first try, which John Ross Ward converted, and after an exchange of missed penalties, the hosts surged 14-7 ahead by the break as Joe Ducker scooted round the defence. It looked like he’d been bundled into touch, but the referee deemed it illegal and awarded a penalty try.
Mansfield lost their grip on the game when both Regan Hubbard and Mark Wallace were sent to the sin-bin, and Bakewell took advantage to draw level with a converted try.
The blue-and-whites hit back when the sponsors’ man-of-the-match, Ryan Hill, bounded over the line to help restore the lead at 21-14. But Bakewell responded in kind as Mansfield lost control of the ball and enabled the visitors to punt it towards the line and pounce on the bounce.