Report by Andy Foster
The last time Mansfield played Old Northamptonian’s (ON’s) was two years ago in the Midlands One League and the blue & whites suffered heavy defeats both home and away. The ON’s went onwards and upwards that year as they won the league and gained promotion to National League 3.
Therefore they have had an extra year over the home side to acclimatise to life in this league and although they arrived at Eakring Road placed second from bottom, for long periods of the game you would never had known that as the two sides were pretty evenly matched.
Both sides had to contend with what can only be described as a fickle wind, which affected the kicking game so much it made more sense to run the ball at every opportunity. This made the game more exciting to watch as both sides fully embraced this strategy. Sadly after 20 minutes during a sustained attack on the ON’s line Phil Donaldson suffered a neck/shoulder injury in a heavy tackle that resulted in loss of feeling down one arm. This delayed the game for some considerable time as he was stretchered off the pitch and an ambulance was summoned. Thankfully he has regained the feeling in his and arm there appears to be no permanent damage.
With replacement Andy Simms now on, both sides just got on with things and the game continued in the same brutal gladiatorial fashion as before with each giving as good as they got. It was a testament to the defensive quality of both teams that the game remained scoreless until the 45 minute mark.
As Mansfield applied the pressure ON’s were forced into a wayward kick out of defence which Tom Lowery gathered and ran back finding Ash Wills out wide. He slipped the ball to Ryan Hough and he outpaced the defence to cross the line in the corner. Returning to Fly Half after a long injury lay-off, Lee Shaw missed the conversion as he had the unenviable task of goal kicking into the strong wind.
The blue & whites continued to take the game to ON’s and played to their greatest strength, which was the forward pack. Eddy Simmons led the charge superbly supported by match sponsor Jolly’s Jewellers Man of the Match Aiden McGregor, who had probably his best game of the season so far. The front row of Simmons, Bennett and Grant provided the impetus to inflict enough pressure in the scrum that the match official saw fit to award Mansfield a penalty try for repeated offences. Shaw converted bringing the score to 12 nil after a 53 minute half which was extended due to the Donaldson injury.
In the second half Mansfield continued where they left off with their forwards making energy sapping charges deep into the opposition 22. After just 7 minutes of the half and to their credit the ON’s were attempting to run out of defence when a pass was intercepted by Coleman and he raced into the corner for the try. Making amends for his earlier missed kick, Shaw mastered the wind on this occasion and produced an outstanding touchline conversion to bring the score to 19-0.
This seemed to spur the ON’s into action and led by their superb blind side flanker, who had an excellent afternoon, they started to apply some pressure of their own. Together with their lively Scrum Half they were catalyst for the ON’s revival. The wind seemed to change in their favour and they made full use of it pushing Mansfield back into their own half at every opportunity.
Their efforts finally paid dividends as the third quarter drew to a close. Following a number of forward drives the ball was spun out wide and a defensive gamble to try and steal an interception failed as the wide pass found the winger who slid over in the corner. Stung by this the home side struck back almost immediately and secured their fourth and bonus point try when the effervescent Adam Shaw found Wills, who combined with Tom Lowery to go over in the corner. Another superb touchline conversion from Shaw brought the score to 26-5.
With a yellow card for each side, the final quarter belonged to the ON’s in many ways as they threw everything at Mansfield. The visiting Scrum Half got his just reward for an impressive performance as he tapped a penalty from 20 metres out and backed himself to dart over the line unmolested. The conversion made the score 26-12 and try as they may the homes side’s outstanding defence ensured that the ON’s couldn’t improve the score.
New boy to Mansfield Mark Woollard enjoyed a fine debut from the bench making his presence felt with a scything run deep into the opposition strike zone and Tom Holland ensured the scrum remained solid as replacement for Grant who also enjoyed another impressive outing.
Coach Steve Shaw commented, “We needed to impose ourselves as much as possible and we did just that. Defence was excellent and we took our chances when they came”. To be fair to ON’s their league position belied this performance and they deserved at least a losing bonus point for their efforts as they were still running everything right to the bitter end. Nevertheless the blue & whites secured all 5 points on offer and they will be looking to extend their unbeaten run to 9 games as they travel to Longton on Saturday for a pre-agreed 3pm KO. You can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.