There were positive signs, despite Mansfield RUFC losing their opening game of the season 45-12 at home to Kettering on Saturday.
A much changed and youthful home side chose to play up the incline in the first period and received the kick-off in front of an expectant and vocal home support.
The visitors made their intentions clear from the off, reversing the kick-off to their lively backs, but the Blue and Whites comfortably collected and cleared deep into Kettering territory.
The two sides cancelled each other out in the opening 15 minutes as they both blew away some early season cobwebs, two teams probing for an early advantage.
Both sides generally executed well, although the early exchanges were notable for the number of basic errors, particularly at the line out. It was the visitors’ dangerous back three who settled into the fray first and were ultimately to prove to be the difference between the two sides.
On 15 minutes a kick through by the Kettering full back was defended by lock Aiden McGregor deep inside his own 22.
The resultant 5m line out was over-thrown and gratefully collected at the back by the Kettering flanker, who set off towards the try line. A great defensive effort halted his progress but the visitors had sufficient support to score the try. A successful conversion gave the visitors a seven point lead.
From the re-start Mansfield took the game to the visitors, winning a penalty for a high tackle which was kicked to the corner.
Line out ball secured, McGregor, supported by the Symcox brothers, set off towards the line only to be halted by a fumble on the ground.
From the resultant scrum Kettering cleared long and gathered the kick to take possession deep into Mansfield territory, only a superb covering tackle from young wing Scott Bailey preventing what looked to be a certain score.
The danger was, however, only temporally averted as the visitors recycled the ball from the scrum, eventually releasing the dangerous full back to score unopposed in the opposite corner.
Mansfield then enjoyed a sustained period of pressure inside the Kettering red zone, but were unable to convert their advantage into points through a combination of their own errors and a mounting penalty count against the visitors which, to the surprise of the gathered faithful, only resulted in a conversation with the visiting skipper.
Having absorbed the pressure with a significant advantage in the penalty count, Kettering dominated the remainder of the half, running in a further two tries, both a direct result of home side errors, to make it 26-0 at half-time.
The start of the second period was to be a mirror image of the first with Mansfield pressing in the visitors’ half but lacking the finish to trouble the scorers.
On 13 minutes the Blue and Whites had a scrum on halfway. Good work from Joe Symcox off base fed centre Jonno Colley just inside his own half, who shrugged off would-be tacklers to touch down under the posts.
The home side now had the momentum and Symcox again made ground from the restart.
A penalty resulted which fly half Elms kicked into the corner. McGregor rose salmon-like at the front to claim the ball and the forwards took over with prop Liam Grant eventually smuggling the ball over the line to make it 26-12 with 16 minutes played and it was game on again.
A knock-on from the restart gifted possession and inexplicably the momentum to the visitors, a position Mansfield were never quite able to regain.
The scrum was taken against the head and the ball cleared downfield, only to be gratefully received by the Kettering winger on halfway. Superb interplay from the back three then saw them make it 31-12.
This appeared to take the wind out of Blue and White sails as the restart failed to make requisite 10m. Whilst McGregor and Symcox continued to make inroads, it was the visiting back three dominating in the last quarter, assisted by some poor decisions from the home side, who ran in two more scores.
It was certainly a difficult opening day at the office for the Blue and Whites against a good Kettering side, but also offered much positivity to give encouragement for the season ahead. Individual errors and some naivety in their game management certainly didn’t help Mansfield’s cause, mistakes that were punished by a streetwise Kettering back three and ultimately cost Mansfield the game.
This Saturday Syston who were last season relegated from the National Leagues, are the visitors to Eakring Road (3pm) and you can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.