Head coach Wayne Robinson was visibly frustrated after Mansfield came off second best to determined visitors, Southwell, in their first league match of the new year.
When the two sides met earlier in the season, they were separated by just a single point. But this time, Mansfield went down 11-3 after a performance as grey as the skies overhead, and Robinson could not disguise his disappointment.
“We threw too much ball away and didn’t utilise the territory we had,” he said. “Our decision-making wasn’t sharp enough and we didn’t do what we needed to do to secure a bonus point.”
The defeat left the blue-and-whites in the bottom three of the National League, Midlands 2 East (North) table, meaning that this Saturday’s trip to Spalding, one of only two teams below them, becomes a vital fixture.
The day started well enough for Mansfield as they registered the first points of the afternoon, courtesy of a penalty slotted by fly-half John Ross Ward. Unfortunately, that was to to be their sum total of the game and the only time they were in front.
They defended well enough for large parts of the game, but offered little in the way of co-ordinated attack. Good territory was lost either through conceding a penalty or turnover ball by the visitors. Many phases of possession saw too many isolated players taking the ball forward, leaving the next phase hard to react to. And opportunities to gain momentum and push up the field were lost too often.
Mansfield’s growing list of indiscretions led to Southwell registering two penalties and an unconverted try, with the final three points, early in the second half, following a yellow card for the home side for a transgression at the ruck.
Frustrations were evident and tempers boiled over as both teams struggled to get a hold of the game. Mansfield were desperate for possession, while Southwell were desperate to add to their tally. The remaining 35 minutes of the second half resulted in stalemate, with the visitors receiving a yellow card of their own and the blue-and-whites still battling for territory.
In the last five minutes, Mansfield could have snatched a bonus point when they were awarded two penalties, both within kicking distance. But instead, they chose to utilise other tactics, which yielded nothing.
Given the progress made before the Christmas break, a display that lacked cohesion and failed to make the most of their individual talent represented a sorry start to 2016.