A polished and professional performance saw Ashfield ease past Long Eaton 22-8 in a game that could have been remembered more for some unsavoury incidents from the home side than a clinical attacking and resolute defensive display from the visitors.
Ashfield kicked off into a strong head wind that saw the ball stall and didn’t give the Ashfield players time to pressurise the Long Eaton ball catcher.
He set off to launch an attack that led to a sustained period of pressure, resulting in an early score for Long Eaton.
The Ashfield defence was breached from the boot of the Long Eaton full back, with the wind at his back and from 30m out his effort arrowed centrally through the uprights.
Although the score reflected the home side’s early pressure, it also detracted from good defensive work from Nick Brearley, Greg Newbutt and Mark Denman.
Ashfield looked to strike back and, when wing Danny Wilson came inside to support centres Jake Manning and Jono Richardson, an opening was soon fashioned.
Wilson went through two tackles to set up a ruck that drew a penalty against a Long Eaton player.
Ashfield, in good field position, had the opportunity to draw level and up stepped Billy North. Showing great composure, he struck the ball with unerring accuracy, the ball sailed over and it was all square.
The game turned from one of running to one of territory, with each side trading kicks.
This gave both Long Eaton and Ashfield opportunities to practice their line outs, and with Tom Payne making his first team appearance of the season alongside Mark Denman, Ashfield’s set piece was putting pressure on Long Eaton.
Penalties were traded and Long Eaton, after an injury delay to Jono Richardson, seemed to unsettle their full back who missed to the left of the uprights.
Ashfield’s miss came from the boot of North, who on contact with the ball slipped and pulled his kick also to the left of the uprights.
With Ashfield in their own half, the backs looked to run the ball through hand.
Wilson on his own 10m line looped round his opposite number into open ground.
With their full back the only obstacle Wilson faced, he feinted to come inside, and at the same time moved outsid,e leaving the full back in his wake to cross the line for the first try of the afternoon.
The conversion was missed, and with no further score, Ashfield led 8-3 at half-time.
A couple of changes to the Ashfield team set them on their way for the second half, but it looked to have disrupted their pattern of play.
A Long Eaton try drew them level in the first few minutes and it looked like Ashfield would be over-run, especially when the visitors found themselves with 14 players.
With the Long Eaton winger threatening to break loose from deep inside the Ashfield half, Brent Leivers, a second half replacement found himself having to serve a 10 minute sin binning for a ‘collar’ grabbing offence. On reflection, Lievers looked to have taken the card for both teams for a lack of patience on the referee’s part.
But Ashfield’s desire to secure the league’s third place would not be in question.
Jake Manning broke deep into Long Eaton’s 22 and was caught by two defenders.
In the tackle, Manning offloaded to prop Chris Houseman who in a last ditch tackle was stopped only metres from the try line, giving a scrum to Ashfield.
Ashfield Chris Houseman hooked the ball back and eventually Billy North spotted the overlap, threw a looping pass, missing out the two Ashfield centres for Gareth Purnell to take the pass in his stride and cross the try line in the corner. With North’s conversion, Ashfield were back in front at 15-8.
An unsportsmanlike event threatened the game when Ashfield’s Nick Brearley was tackled off the ball by a Long Eaton player and a scuffle broke out only for another Long Eaton player to become involved.
This act saw players from both sides involved, luckily the referee chose not to punish those who instigated or retaliated.
The referee, calling for calm, saw Ashfield captain Gareth Jones severely reprimand his players, stressing that their discipline would win the game.
On 70 minutes, Ashfield closed the game out with an individual try by Tom Childs.
Picking the ball up at the base of the scrum, he raced unopposed to score a try from around 28 metres out.
In grounding the ball, Childs, getting to his feet, was felled by a late, high and cynical hit from a Long Eaton player.
Convinced the played would serve at least a 10 minute sin-bin, the crowd was silenced as the player went unpunished by the referee.
However, North composed himself, stroking the ball through the uprights, taking the score to 22-8 in Ashfield’s favour.
Long Eaton’s intimidating tactics failed to work as Ashfield closed the game out with credit and completed a satisfactory victory against a very physically strong Long Eaton side.