Report by Andy Foster
Mansfield overcame a spirited Newark side in the most appalling conditions last Sunday by the tightest of margins to retain the Notts County Cup for a record 17th time. Also as the game was a ‘double header – winner takes all’ affair, they also won the Three Counties (NLD) Cup, which they won last year.
This game marked the end of a quite outstanding season for the blue & whites, which has seen them finish in 5th place in National League 3 (Midlands) and win the only two pieces of silverware on offer. This means that for the first time ever Mansfield RFC is ranked as the second highest club in the Three Counties behind Nottingham RFC.
Sunday’s final was tense and exciting and a credit to both teams that they were able to produce a spectacle worthy of a final. With regard to the weather conditions ‘inclement’ doesn’t really do it justice. The previous games had suffered immensely and this game was no exception. It didn’t take a rugby genius to work out that this battle was going to be won up front and fizzing out long miss passes in centre field was not on the agenda.
From the start it was clear that Newark’s scrum was going to prove a big challenge and in the first exchange they claimed the bragging rights as the Mansfield pack were nudged backwards. With just six minutes played Mansfield were awarded a penalty from 40 metres out near the touchline. It was vital to take every opportunity on offer and Lee Shaw stepped up to strike the ball and secure the 3 points giving Mansfield a narrow lead.
Both packs were totally committed and as Newark were edging the scrums and the lineouts were even it became a battle for who would dominate the breakdown area. The Mansfield back row trio of Ben Holmes, Joe Symcox and Phil Donaldson were simply outstanding in this area. Joe Symcox produced a ‘Man of the Match’ performance by taking every opportunity to drive the pack forward and Ben Holmes was in a typically rumbustious mood.
Mansfield had to play to this strength as Newark’s driving maul was also very effective and pushed the blue & whites back on several occasions. This was a tactic they employed to great effect once they got themselves into a strong position territorially. It was good to watch and difficult to defend against.
To their credit Newark were giving the game everything as you would expect from a side newly promoted and unbeaten this season. At times it would have difficult to for anyone to discern that there was two leagues separating these sides on the strength of this encounter. However, Mansfield were in no mood to let their crown slip lightly and Skipper Tim Pritchard rallied his men superbly throughout.
The blue & whites were making the pressure count in the rucks and by securing possession were able to pin the opposition back in their 22 for long periods. Eventually the pressure told after 25 minutes and as Newark tried to clear their lines Lee Shaw pounced to charge down the kick and win the race to touch down to score Mansfield’s only try of the game. He also converted the goal kick and it was now 10-0.
The pressure continued as a Newark player was sent to the sin bin and Mansfield were awarded a further penalty and again Lee Shaw stepped up to take the conversion. The kick was good and Mansfield went in at half time with a 13-0 lead with Shaw securing all thirteen points.
Newark came back strongly at the start of the second half it was Mansfield who incurred the wrath of the official as Joe Symcox took his turn in the bin. Both sides enjoyed a good deal of possession as the game developed and Newark were able to make the most of their driving maul, which eventually yielded a try for them in the corner. The conversion was successful and this brought the score to a tantalising 13-7.
A penalty followed for Newark making the score 13-10 and setting up a tense final quarter. An injury to the Newark front row and a second yellow card, together with no suitable replacement, mean that the game went to uncontested scrums for last 10 minutes or so. Although both sides had their fair share of possession and territory and both defended manfully neither could enhance their scoreline and a tense end to the game came concluded with 46 minutes played and Mansfield maintaining their slender 13-10 lead for the win.
Regrettably the real winner was the weather as neither side could execute their full game plan which would undoubtedly have involved plenty of running rugby but the conditions simply did not allow this to happen. Both clubs will no doubt look forward to this competition next year.
There are four finals played on the same day and Mansfield Second XV also made it to their County Final last Sunday for the Ron Rossin Shield against Paviors. Despite the weather all four were played but in a bizarre twist this game was the only one abandoned. It happened just before half time at the request of the opposition Captain; citing the weather conditions as too severe. Paviors were ahead 3-0 and although the driving wind and rain was largely cross-field there, was a considerable slope. Mansfield were about to have their turn with the geographical advantage when the decision was made. It is unclear at the time of writing is the game will be shared or replayed.