Injuries meant that Coach Steve Shaw
had to contend with another vastly changed side who took to the field on Saturday to try and keep Mansfield’s impressive record in the Notts Cup intact. The Eakring Road outfit have won the tournament a record 16 times, which is more than any other club in the County.
Their opponents for this quarter final tie, Nottingham Casuals RFC, were also their opponents when they claimed their first ever Cup Final win on 26th April 1978. Although the score that night was just 3 nil to Mansfield, it was a thrilling and hard fought contest against a side considered to be one of the best in the three counties.
Mansfield as a club were just 22 years old at the time and to even reach the final was considered a significant achievement, let alone to win it. It was a bruising encounter, as the writer of this report can testify to, having played in it and the victory proved to be something of a watershed for the young club.
To the present though and Casuals arrived at Eakring Road in confident mood after beating tough league rivals Belgrave last week. They looked self assured and spirited throughout, taking the game to Mansfield in a manner that would seem to suggest that they were not the slightest bit intimidated by the home side’s league seniority. In fact they had the best of the early exchanges and tested the blue & whites defence as they searched for a weak link.
Both sides had to contend with a very strong wind, which at times had an adverse effect on the game producing passages of play that at times proved erroneous. It is perhaps a little too strong to say that against the run of play Mansfield scored after 11 minutes, but in fairness to Casuals the home side had not enjoyed too many opportunities during that period.
When the try came it was the forwards who took control wisely keeping the ball in hand, given the wind factor and pushed play deep into the opposition red zone. Andy Simms
eventually claimed the ball and skipped his way the last few metres over the line untouched. Although the conversion was missed it looked as though this might be the catalyst for the National 3 side to take advantage. However, the Casuals had different ideas and came straight back with several attacking forays of their own.
For the next 20 minutes the visitors battled to get over the line and only resolute defence kept them at bay. Individual pieces of excellence, such as Donaldson stealing line out ball and Bennett’s determined tackling frustrated the Casuals and thwarted any chance of crossing the whitewash. A few minutes before half time the Nottingham side did have a chance to get on the scoreboard with a penalty attempt that sailed just wide of the posts and the half ended in a very credible 5 nil for them.
To their credit the visitors continued their assault on the Mansfield line and after just 4 minutes were awarded a penalty in front of the posts. Just as everyone assumed the score was about to be 5-3 the Scrum Half tapped the ball and ran at the defence in one of those acts that prove to be brave and heroic if you cross the line or foolhardy if not. It’s a fair bet that he now wishes he’d taken the three points on offer because at the next breakdown Mansfield were awarded a penalty of their own and a kick for touch allowed them to relieve the pressure.
Within five minutes, following a number of forward drives, the ball came out to the versatile Alan Symcox
, plying his trade at Fly Half this week. He continued his scoring spree by muscling his way over the line taking three would be tacklers with him. Coleman added the extras to take the core to 12 nil.
As the third quarter drew to a close Andy Simms
, who had a fine afternoon, snatched his brace which proved to be the final score of the game. Frankie Hawson
playing at Scrum Half tapped a penalty and set off beating a couple of defenders then slipped to the ball to his forward support in the shape of Pritchard who bundled his way past two more to find Simms who smashed his way over the line for an unconverted try.
Still Casuals came back and with nothing to lose every time they were awarded a penalty they either ran it or kicked for the corner for a catch and drive. It was only in the last ten minutes did they succumb to the pressure and repeated infringements resulted in two players being sent to the bin. Despite this the visitors defended bravely throughout especially in midfield where they marshalled the home backs well. In the final minutes with Aiden McGregor now on the pitch an uncharacteristic act of generosity saw him blast past the Casuals winger bowling him over only to then pass him the ball as he climbed back to his feet, which somehow managed to sum up an encounter that provided moments of excellence, clarity, courage and humour!
The Notts Cup semi-final beckons and the opportunity to extend that impressive record awaits and as Coach Steve Shaw
pointed out, “with the number of changes we had we are just pleased to get the win”. However, it is back to league action and 2.15pm kick-off this Saturday as Mansfield entertain Old Northamptonians RFC at Eakring Road. You can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.