Newark mastered the poor conditions the better to beat Mansfield 28-5 in the old rivals’ NLD Cup tie at Kelham Road on Saturday.
It’s fair to say that the expectations of this game were far higher than the final outcome delivered. After several high scoring games in the past two seasons between these two old rivals, it looked sure to be another pulsating meeting.
However, as with many games around this time of year, the great British weather decided that we would not be treated to a riveting spectacle.
Instead, we were treated to a cold, wet windy day that made flowing rugby almost impossible. Credit to both teams, they tried to play in the conditions but, ultimately, this was a victory for the conditions.
Disappointed Mansfield Senior coach Neil Stent: “We’ve had a good run of form lately so it’s frustrating to lose by such a big margin.
“Our decision-making let us down at times, but that’s something we can work on for next week.”
A positive start by the away team was soon undone with a try by the home side after less than five minutes, some questionable defending allowing a rather clear path to the line.
The resulting conversion was missed, not the first one to be thwarted by the unpredictable wind, leaving the score at 5-0.
A penalty soon after allowed Newark to increase their lead, Mansfield being penalised for holding on. It was an easier kick in terms of field position, but still difficult owing to the weather conditions.
Mansfield were not to be silenced and a strong scrum allowed them turnover ball.
The scrum was a positive all afternoon, dominating the home pack and winning them counter-attack ball.
A try for the away team from winger Scott ensured Mansfield were still in touch, however the conversion was missed, leaving them trailing 8-5.
Unfortunately, the rest of the afternoon would be bleak for fans of the Blue and Whites as lots of promise and potential failed to be capitalised on.
This can be partly attributed to the weather as it’s hard to play consistent rugby in such varied and intermittent conditions.
However, inexperience also played its part. Mansfield were unable to hold on to possession in key areas and sometimes good decision-making proved to be in short supply.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a lot of guile and gusto, but Mansfield will learn some harsh lessons after this game, and how to handle the inclement weather must be top of the list.
Most of the remainder of the first half was played between the halfway line and Mansfield’s 22, the home team receiving a succession of penalties but unable to convert masses of territory into any points.
The pitch seemed heavy for both teams, the rain doing its best to make the ball into a giant bar of soap.
Promising attacks were cut short by dropped balls, penalty kicks to touch were taken off course by the wind, ominous dark clouds covering the sky, parted only briefly by futile attempts of rays of sunlight.
So it was always going to be difficult to execute any real, running rugby. The first half ended with the score still at 8-5, a game for the purists if ever there was one.
The home team started the second half much livelier, scoring their second try within the first two minutes. The conversion this time was successful to bring the score to 15-5.
Mansfield were still very much in the game at this point. However, a lack of possession and weather-induced mistakes meant that the Blue and Whites were very much on the back foot and looking at an uphill battle to get back into the game.
At this point the sky had cleared somewhat, with patches of blue visible between the charcoal smothering the sky. But, it was too late, the winter weather had played its part, it was still victorious.
The grass was still wet, the wind was still cold and the blue sky’s optimistic assault on the suffocating cloud was in vain, failing to lift the gloom from both the match and the away team supporters’ hearts.
An unsuccessful penalty attempt was Mansfield’s only real challenge on the scoreline in the second half.
A yellow card for skipper Phil Donaldson and a successful resultant penalty from Newark meant the away team were now looking at a seven point deficit and a man disadvantage.
Two further Newark tries took the scoreline to 28-5 and saw them through to the next round of the cup.
It ended a disappointing day for Mansfield, but the home team were good for their win and thoroughly deserved it in the final analysis.
This Saturday (2.15pm) week sees Mansfield return to league action, hosting Bugbrooke at Eakring Road. You can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.