A game full of second half errors saw Buxton edge their NLD Plate semi-final 14-13 which didn’t reflect the dominance visitors Ashfield enjoyed in the first half on Saturday.
The stop-start second half failed to ignite the Ashfield faithful who had made the trip to North Derbyshire, who were left to rue what might have been.
The early exchanges didn’t suggest anything other than a thrilling encounter would ensue with Ashfield playing the high tempo game that had served them well last week.
This led to an opening for Ashfield on four minutes and, but for a little indecision by Jake Manning, a try may have been scored.
Forwards Dan Morgan and Nick Brearley charged into the opposition’s half, both ball carrying to good effect.
With the pack in the ascendancy and at the base of one ruck, Matt Upton fed Manning and, with players on his outside, he chose to take on his opposite number, who with assistance from his team mates, saw the ball recycled by Buxton and the danger averted. A further opportunity was fashioned on seven minutes when the backs were unleashed.
Manning looked to have made amends when he burst through two tacklers and offloaded to Gareth Purnell, who a few metres later, fed Jono Richardson.
Richardson, making his first team return after a long injury, would, prior to his injury, have burned his opposite number.
But he was tackled on the 5m line and again Buxton cleared their lines following a knock-on.
Ashfield, enjoying long periods of possession in the opening 20 minutes, finally got on the scoreboard with a penalty from Gareth Purnell.
This should have been the initiative Ashfield needed to further extend their lead, but Buxton had other ideas by putting Ashfield under pressure.
That pressure told with the Ashfield defence coming under pressure they gave away a penalty that the home side missed which looked to be a let-off.
However, the referee ordered the kick to be retaken as Ashfield were adjudged to have been too noisy and the Buxton fly half made no mistake this time, the score now all square. It was Ashfield’s turn to score with a typical forward’s try, after a rolling maul
All eight forwards played their part in fashioning an opportunity for James Kirk that he gratefully accepted close to the posts. With the conversion by Gareth Purnell, Ashfield extended their lead to 10-3 Back came Buxton, and again the pressure on the Ashfield defence gave away another penalty in kicking distance.
This time the Buxton fly half didn’t need a practice kick as he reduced the deficit.
With no further score, Ashfield led by four points at the break.
The opening drive by Buxton didn’t suggest that the pendulum had swung their way, but again a penalty was awarded against the Ashfield forwards, Buxton’s fly half accepting a further opportunity and it was 10-9 to the home side. The following 15 minutes or so were relatively uneventful from scoring opportunities.
But the physical challenge of the home side was thrown down and, not one to disappoint, Ashfield accepted it.
Skirmishes broke out on several occasions, and the referee choosing to allow this aggression to continue unchecked looked to have spurred Ashfield on.
Back they came and this time the Buxton defence didn’t have an answer for the Ashfield pressure generated by Gareth Jones, Mark Denman and Dan Chapman.
A further penalty to Ashfield saw Gareth Purnell accept the opportunity, stretching Ashfield’s lead to 13-9.
Credit must go to the kickers on both sides, who had to judge their kicks to perfection under very blustery conditions.
Could Ashfield hold out for the final five minutes or so? Looking at how this game had ebbed and flowed possibly not, and it was Buxton who capitalised on poor defence again.
With ball in hand, the Buxton backs set off on what was a try-scoring phase of play, and when their full back hit the line at pace he was unstoppable.
A missed conversion gave Buxton a one point lead. With time almost up, the restart was safely gathered by Buxton, who looked to close out the game in their own half.
The referee signalled time was up and Buxton’s second row threw the ball out of touch, only for a penalty to be awarded to Ashfield.
So the final play saw Gareth Purnell need to hold his nerve and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as his kick went agonising wide of the left hand upright. However, Purnell should not be held accountable for the defeat as , without his kicking skills Ashfield would not have been as close as they were.
The defeat was more down to poor decision making in key areas of the pitch, something that will have to be put right.
Ashfield’s next opponents, Keyworth away (2.15pm), on Saturday should provide the confidence boost required to get them back to winning ways.