Mansfield secured a hard-fought 16-8 victory on Saturday and continued to build on recent performances, which have shown a steady and sure improvement, as they entertained Northamptonshire club Bugbrooke at Eakring Road for the first time.
Bugbrooke arrived in confident mood, being newly promoted into Midlands One and currently occupying fourth place in the league table.
They were keen to show how they had achieved this and made an impressive start as they took the game to the home side.
With the slope in their favour, the visitors enjoyed plenty of possession in the early exchanges and used the strength and size of their forward pack to great effect.
A strong scrummage was complemented by sustained forward drives which resulted in Mansfield being forced to defend, a steady stream of penalties ensuing.
It was obvious from the early forays that both sides had a talented back line, but they were underused as the game was in danger of turning into a forward-dominated arm wrestle.
Finally the deadlock was broken as joint man of the match Joe Symcox and the ever improving Gareth Gripton halted the opposition back row with ‘Gripper’ living up to his name by ripping the ball away in the tackle. The ball was zipped away to Russ Coleman, who fed Jonathan Williams with a slick inside pass for the fly half to cross beneath the posts and convert his own try.
With the score at 7-0 Mansfield were beginning to grow in confidence and all thoughts of league positions were banished.
Bugbrooke continued with their energy-sapping forward drives and, although for the most part in terrier-like fashion Mansfield were equal to it, this policy did force errors in defence.
Once such transgression allowed the visitors to get off the mark with a penalty kick after half an hour that brought the score to 7-3.
Match day sponsors were Mansfield RFC Ladies, who made another wise choice for the second joint man of the match in Jonathan Williams, who produced another impressive performance both in attack and defence.
With five minutes of the first half remaining Williams was able to extend his personal tally to 10 points, putting a little daylight between the teams once again.
With two minutes to go, a quick throw-in from the restart forced a dangerous tackle from the visitors to halt the move which resulted in their man being sent to the sin-bin.
From the ensuing penalty Jonathan Williams was able to extend the lead further to 13-3.
Bugbrooke had a penalty attempt of their own shortly after but were unable to close the gap, and the home side squandered the first of three potential tries as the ball was dropped during a breakout just before the half ended.
Mansfield started the second half with a flurry and crossed the line in the shape of strong running Jonathan Colley, but excellent defence by the visitors gave the official no other choice but to adjudge the ball to have been held up.
With just four minutes played and the visitors’ sin-binned player about to return to action, a deliberate knock-on meant they were about to go down to 14 men again.
Despite this, Bugbrooke pressed on and broke out of their own half for the first time with eight minutes played.
A combination of forward strength and slick balling handling in the back line resulted in a try just wide of the posts and the score was now 13-8. This left the crowd wondering what might have been had they chosen this strategy earlier in the game rather than continual forward-dominated attacks.
The rest of the half saw the home side completely dominate in terms of territory but not always possession as they tried in vain to get over the Bugbrooke line.
Excellent work by Danny Ellis, Liam Grant and Chester Scott kept the front row honest.
However, the visitor’s defence was outstanding as they weathered attack after attack.
The game had just entered the final quarter when the visitors broke out again and were only halted by some excellent defensive work from Richard Donaldson and Adam Shaw.
With just over half an hour played, skipper Phil Donaldson led the charge back with Joe Symcox and Liam Annable exerting pressure of their own. This gave Jonathan Williams the chance to make the kick of the game from just inside the opposition half and extend the lead to 16-8.
This score remained as Mansfield pressed again only to see another certain try go begging as the final pass fell frustratingly short.
However, within the context of the season so far this win showed great character, following a fruitless September, as the improving Blue & Whites remain unbeaten in October.
Mansfield visit Leicestershire side Coalville this Saturday (3pm) and you can follow the action on Twitter, just go to @MansfieldRugby.