Disappointing end to season as County Cup slips away for Mansfield

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Mansfield missed the opportunity to finish a frustrating and ultimately forgetful campaign on a high with another disappointing defeat against local opposition on Saturday.

The occasion this time was the semi-final of the Nottinghamshire County Cup, the venue Burnt Stump Park and the result, a 24-3 victory for home side Paviors.

Mansfield had won this trophy 19 times and held it for the past six seasons.

The final score might suggest otherwise, but this was a game either side could have won.

The differences on the day were small in a game that promised greatness, but with neither side able to find anything close to top gear, it delivered very little.

Post-match found head coach Neil Stent in reflective and refreshingly upbeat mood as he pondered what most observers agree has been a difficult season.

Despite relegation to Midlands 2 and a rare trophyless season, Stent was full of praise for his young charges, who he is confident will learn from the experience and bounce straight back next season.

Stent was rightly eager to highlight the performances of all the young Colts drafted into the squad during the season as all had made a positive impact and grown in stature as the season progressed.

The day started in beautiful spring sunshine as Paviors got proceedings underway, and an uncharacteristic error from Phil Donaldson at the kick-off gifted possession to the home side, who in turn proceeded to turn over ball to the Blue and Whites.

Whilst certainly not error free, the early indicators were encouraging as the match official appeared willing to play a long advantage to encourage the game flow.

Any early promise for a free-flowing game were soon dispelled as the first three scrums all resulted in penalties for the home side, who clearly had the edge at the set piece against a reshaped Mansfield eight.

Fortunately the Paviors kicker left his boots in the changing room, missing two early chances to get the scoreboard moving.

On 10 minutes Mansfield found another gear with firstly superb work from Donaldson at the breakdown drawing the penalty.

John Ross Ward nudged the ball deep into Paviors territory where the resultant line-out was tidied up by Josh Hall and Joe Symcox in tandem, who combined to draw another penalty. Ward made no mistake and Mansfield were first on the scoreboard with three points.

The set piece continued to prove problematic for Mansfield with seemingly every scrum resulting in a penalty for Paviors, who were now declining kicks at goal in favour of an attacking line-out.

On 15 minutes the initial catch and drive was easily repelled by the Mansfield defence, but they ran out of bodies on the fourth phase out, allowing Paviors to cross for a try, though the conversion was missed.

The game was about to change again on 16 minutes. Firstly the Paviors blind side was given 10 minutes reflection for what appeared to be retaliation, and then a threatening black cloud decided to empty its contents on the ground with some vengeance. The extreme April showers negated the yellow card and if anything favoured the Paviors pack.

With the half fading out, the expectation was for the stalemate to continue to the break.

The official clearly had other ideas, somehow finding another eight minutes playing time.

The Mansfield cause wasn’t helped when wing Bobby Ogunode received a team yellow card for persistent offside in the red zone, and Paviors capitalised with a converted try to extend their lead to 12-3 at the break.

The second period continued in a similar vein to the first with neither side able to hit their stride, although the Paviors half-back had clearly found his kicking boots during the interval and used them to good effect, constantly pegging Mansfield inside their own half with some excellent tactical kicking.

Nine minutes into the second period the yellow card was out again. This time it was the Paviors hooker who received 10 minutes. The card coincided with the return of Ogunode from the bin and this was Mansfield’s opportunity to regain a foothold in the game.

The Blue and White cause wasn’t helped by the increasing dominance of the home 10, who was now running the show, pushing the ball deep into Mansfield territory at every opportunity.

Paviors then stole line-out ball and Mansfield were again on the back foot, only illegal side entry at the ruck preventing the score but resulting in a yellow card which restored numerical parity.

Paviors took full advantage, superbly executing a move off first phase ball to score out wide to make it 17-3.

While there were still 25 minutes on the clock, the game was effectively over.

Mansfield had plenty of possession but just couldn’t get field position to launch a meaningful attack. The majority of the game was being played out between halfway and the Mansfield 22. Paviors received another yellow card on 65 minutes, but this did nothing to alter the balance of play.

The final word was Paviors’ as Mansfield increasingly attempted to force the game; an error at the scrum gifted the ball to the Paviors eight, who galloped clear to score a simple try, conversion successful and the final score 24-3.

Paviors now head to Southwell on 6th May for a final against West Bridgford while Mansfield can head to the beach and start planning for next season.