Pulsating end to league season!
Report by Andy Foster
Mansfield finished the league season in some style just as they started it with a victory over NLD rivals Scunthorpe. Unlike the first meeting this one was clinched with a sensational last gasp penalty to regain the lead and claim the game.
Saturday September 3rd 2011 marked the start of the league campaign for the newly promoted Eakring Road outfit as Mansfield took on Scunthorpe and recorded an impressive 32-16 victory. However, the blue and whites were under no illusion that travelling to Scunthorpe for the return match last Saturday would provide anything other than a full blooded bone crunching encounter; they were right.
This one went to the wire and provided both sets of supporters with an end of season spectacle that was a credit to two very committed teams. There was no threat of relegation or indeed promotion for either club; just bragging rights, as whoever won this game would be the highest ranked NLD club apart from Nottingham, so in that context there was a great deal to play for.
Scunthorpe started at a ferocious pace and put the visitors under a great deal of pressure with Mansfield barely touching the ball for a full 5 minutes. Once they did get their hands on it they were able to move up-field and create some chances of their own. This led to a penalty being awarded and Russ Coleman stepped up to give Mansfield a slender 3-0 lead.
Just two minutes later and Scunthorpe had the opportunity to draw level with a very kickable penalty. It ultimately proved to be a costly miss as it sailed wide and Mansfield were able to then build on a period of sustained pressure.
The forward pack, led superbly by Skipper Tim Pritchard, had an outstanding afternoon from one to eight and although the lineout didn’t function particularly well at times the scrummage was muscular and impressive with the front row of Simmons, Bennett and Holland picking up where they left off last week. Pritchard and his second row partner James Hooper rarely seek or get the limelight but close examination of their contribution on Saturday revealed a tenacious and committed performance.
With 12 minutes played former Skipper Ben Holmes signalled a return to form with a trademark blast through the middle of the park repelling three would be tacklers and creating a ruck just 10 metres out. From this Eddy Simmons picked up the ball and drove down the blindside to find the gate open and no one home. The conversion was missed but Mansfield now had an 8-0 lead and control of the game.
Joe Symcox continued in fine form with damaging forays into the green and whites half and his back row partner Phil Donaldson consistently made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown. The pressure continued with Wayne Robinson taking every opportunity to counter attack from Full Back and although Mansfield had penalty chances they were not able to extend their lead.
The latter part of the first half saw Scunthorpe come back strongly and their flying wing Viamoso and Full Back Chris Neal made several telling runs. However, Alan Symcox and Ryan Hough stood firm and defended well in midfield along with the players ‘Player of the Year’ Adam Shaw. The Lincolnshire side made the most of territory and possession and a successful penalty meant they went in at half time with the score at 3-8.
Although Mansfield started the second half well Scunthorpe came back strongly and started to create some momentum and bagged another penalty to bring the score to 6-8. After 12 minutes an unfortunate collision left the home Wing Will Harrison knocked unconscious. The game was delayed by 25 minutes whilst an ambulance was summoned. As the game restarted Coleman added a penalty kick for his team and Mansfield extended their lead to 6-11. After some great defence and impressive running Wing Tom Lowery had to leave the field injured and Ash Wills made a welcome return off the bench, now fully recovered from an angle injury that left him sidelined for a month.
Over the next 20 minutes it was a compelling and frantic display and Scunthorpe were able to secure another penalty bringing the score to a tantalising 9-11. Coleman had the opportunity to extend the lead with a difficult long range kick at goal but frustratingly it just sailed wide. With just three minutes left to play, the home team took full advantage of their penalty kick and snatched the lead for the first time in the game as the scoreboard read 12-11 to the home team. However there was more drama to come and it made for a tense final period.
There was a scrum forty metres out and it was Scunthorpe’s put in - Mansfield stole the ball and then annoyingly fumbled to allow the home team another scrum and put in. The front row knuckled down and repeated the act to secure the ball again. The scrum collapsed and Mansfield were awarded a penalty 35 metres out and close to the touchline with just seconds left on the clock.
Ironically it was Mansfield’s Fly Half and former Scunthorpe player Mark Woollard who stepped up to take the kick. He struck it beautifully and as the ball sailed towards the posts both sides players and supporters, who were barely able to watch, then experienced polarised emotions as it spliced the uprights and gave Mansfield the lead again at 14-12. This was to be the very last kick of the game and Mansfield had secured a double win over their NLD rivals.
If proof were needed of the blue and whites commitment to this game then the most interesting statistic of all provided it: this was the only game this season that Scunthorpe were unable to cross the whitewash, which when you consider the talented firepower they have in their back line is some achievement in defence.
The final game of the season will see Mansfield take on Newark in a double header ‘winner takes all’ Final this Sunday as they play for the Notts Cup and the NLD Cup. The venue will be Mellish RFC and kick off is at 4pm. Prior to that game Mansfield Second XV also play in the Ron Rossin Shield Final at 1.30pm against Paviors RFC. Follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.