A five try haul for in-form Ashfield saw them beat Long Eaton 25-5 on Saturday.
Ashfield v Long Eaton has always served up games to savour, even if this was a curtain raiser to their league meeting on Saturday, and this one would be no different. With some good team and individual performances that gave Ashfield a victory with performances that will pose a few questions.
The tone was set by left wing Daz Jones, who in one play seemed to take on the Long Eaton team single-handed.
With Ashfield defending, Jones tracked and smashed through his opposite number, forcing him to the ground.
Long Eaton, with support players, picked the ball up and set off, but Jones didn’t allow the second or third player to escape his grasp.
Up he jumped and wrestled the players to the ground and, whilst on his feet he ripped the ball free, making sure in one inspirational play that Ashfield were here to win a game.
The first of five tries soon followed. A quick tap penalty set centre Jake Manning free.
Not one to decline a physical challenge, he attacked the Long Eaton defence, beating two players and made good forward progress.
But his run was stopped and an Ashfield ruck was formed. From the base of the ruck, flanker Chris Warnes gathered the ball and crossed the try line, the conversion missed.
A second Ashfield try soon followed after a line out taken by second row Tom Payne, set the backs free and a crossfield attack developed.
Right wing Danny Wilson, making his long awaited return from injury, emulated Manning’s earlier run, gaining good yards.
This led to a quick passage again culminating with the impressive Jake Manning crossing the line to extend Ashfield’s lead to 10 points as the conversion was missed.
Captain Chris Allen made good ground prior to offloading to Jake Manning.
Manning, in one movement, fainted one way and passed the ball to Danny Wilson. With 15m to run, it would be Wilson’s turn to cross the try line.
With only one thought, he brushed aside two tacklers, hurdling another on the try line and scored a deserved try in the corner, again the conversion was missed, but it was 15-0 to Ashfield.
It wasn’t all one way traffic for Ashfield who had shown, when required, some resolute defending.
A yellow card shown to Ashfield’s scrum half Tim Gibbons meant a back line reshuffle, Manning now at scrum half and Wilson in the centres, with a man advantage, and Long Eaton knew this could this be the opening they required.
Indeed it was, as Long Eaton laid siege to the Ashfield try line with a passage of play that looked to exploit the man advantage.
Wilson was called upon for his defensive qualities, making a last ditch tackle on the 5m line, but with the ball quickly recycled, the Long Eaton right wing dived over for a try.
The tight angle didn’t favour the kicker and the missed conversion made the score 15-5 to the home side at half-time.
Both clubs rung the changes at half-time and this affected both sides, but possibly Ashfield more, whose first half attacking flair was missing in the opening 10 minutes, bearing in mind that Ashfield’s team still only had 14 players on the field of play.
But slowly, and to a large degree off the strong running from prop Gage Stevenson and the great lineout jumping from Curtis Green, Ashfield built the momentum that formed a scoring platform.
The Ashfield forwards set up a rolling maul and the forward momentum could not be contained by Long Eaton.
Going to ground, the solid ruck tied in the Long Eaton pack and, with space at the fringe, Jake Manning picked the ball up and was unstoppable in his desire to cross the try line. Another missed conversion made the scoreline 20-5.
Back to 15 players Ashfield looked to close the game out, but another infringement, this time by flanker and second half replacement Gavin Appleby, led to the referee reaching for his pocket and Ashfield were back down to 14 players.
This didn’t deter the home side from pressing forward and their adventurous play was rewarded with a further try.
A flowing backs move, involving Billy North, Liam Ulyett, and Tim Gibbons, with possibly the best passage of interplay in the whole game, put in Gareth Purnell for a great team try. Once again the conversion was missed.
Appleby returned to the game, only to be replaced on the sidelines by flanker Daniel Chapman as the referee showed his third yellow card of the game.
This meant that for 30 minutes the Ashfield team had played with 14 players, something that emphasised how hard they played.
The game petered out without further incident, with good team and individual performances from forwards Warnes, Stevenson and Gary Jeffries for great ball carrying and unselfish work at the breakdown and from backs Manning and Wilson for their inventive forward and dogged defending which meant Ashfield were well worth their victory.