Report by Andy Foster
Still smarting from a painful defeat at Longton back in December, Mansfield were in no mood to let that happen again and delivered an outstanding performance in spectacular style to end the 4th placed side’s recent run of six wins on the bounce. In doing so they also elevated themselves one place in the league to a very credible fifth position with one game to go - quite an achievement for the first year in national leagues.
The home side were keen to take the game to the visitors from the start and early pressure resulted in a penalty advantage that Fly Half Lee Shaw made the most of by striking a dropped goal from 40 metres out to give Mansfield a 3-nil lead after 5 minutes. The pressure continued and just two minutes later the blue & whites were awarded another penalty converted by Russ Coleman bringing the score to 6 nil.
Longton are a tough, resilient outfit and struck back immediately with a penalty of their own making the score 6-3 and the next ten minutes were intense as both sides vied for superiority. The forward battle was immense and for the most part the Mansfield scrum was dominant creating a solid platform from which to build pressure. Time and again the home side worked the short side with telling charges from Wayne Robinson at Full Back with James Bennett and Jimmy Hooper in support.
The front row of Tom Holland, Bennett and Eddy Simmons were the corner stone of this performance and their strength in the set piece was becoming a real factor in the way the game was being played out. A lineout steal from Phil Donaldson, who covered himself in glory all afternoon, led to a forward drive that pushed Longton back into their half. The ball was recycled quickly and a trademark snipe down the short side accompanied by a sublime dummy and Adam Shaw was over the line. Russ Coleman converted and the score was 13-3 in Mansfield’s favour with 20 minutes played.
Bennett and Robinson both gave blood for the cause and whilst the former was off the field receiving treatment Ian Coleman entered the fray. As the intensity built, the game became frantic at times and more erroneous. Just as Mansfield were guilty of losing ball in turnovers and unforced handling errors which cost them territory, Longton’s indiscipline and propensity to dispense unwanted advice to the official also cost them dearly at times.
As the first half drew to a close a Longton break and tenacious chase on the kick forward brought a try which was converted resulting in a half time score of 13-10.
The second half started as ferociously as the first and Longton immediately took advantage crossing the line in the corner prompting a somewhat dubious celebration. The lead was now theirs and Mansfield were about to be tested to the full.
A number of skirmishes around the park ultimately led to Joe Symcox and the opposition Fly Half both being despatched to the sin bin for 10 minutes after just four minutes played. Clearly this had an effect on both teams as Symcox, along with his back row partner Ben Holmes and Skipper Tim Pritchard, had provided much of the forward impetus coming from Mansfield. For their part Longton lost their key play maker at the back and this stifled their ability to spread the ball wide.
After fifteen minutes played and both sides restored to their full complement the visitors struck a telling blow with an impressive try under the posts. The successful conversion gave them a 22-13 advantage. In reply Robinson and Tom Lowery broke out from their own 22 and put Mansfield in a great position and as we entered the final quarter the Referee’s patience finally ran out and Longton received their second yellow card.
Determined to take advantage of this the Mansfield forwards pressed on and were awarded a penalty 5 metres out. Three more penalties followed as a result of scrum infringements and each one was taken in the form of a scrum again. However, despite what seemed inevitable, the match official was not disposed to go under the posts for a penalty try and eventually Longton cleared their line, albeit briefly.
The Mansfield pack came back again and a punishing drive saw a pile of bodies cross the line and Eddy Simmons emerge with the ball. With just seven minutes to go and a scoreline of 18-22 it was compelling stuff and the final blow was about to be dealt to the visitors. As if to compound their forward superiority the Mansfield pack stole a put in against the head in the scrum and number 8 Joe Symcox wasted no time in picking up and driving down the short side from the base. He handed the ball on to Adam Shaw who rounded off a, Glenair UK Man of the Match performance, by outsprinting the cover defence to score in the corner. Russ Coleman added the extras and the home side had regained the lead 25-22.
A tense few minutes followed but this was the final score and Mansfield had avenged their previous defeat. Coach Steve was naturally delighted with his side’s performance and commented, “That was some of the best rugby we have produced this season. I was particularly pleased that we didn’t panic when we went behind and keeping to the plan produced the result in the end”.
Next week will be the final league game of this campaign as the blue & whites travel to Scunthorpe. You can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.