Visitors Huntingdon helped themselves to 22 unanswered second half points as Mansfield slipped to a 39-12 defeat in their final home game before the Christmas break on Saturday.
On a crisp, clear winter’s day, both teams had begun the day on the same number of points, knowing a victory would give a much needed boost up the table.
Senior coach Neil Stent summed up what was in the end a disappointing second half, saying: “It was always going to be a tough game, but I think we were our own worst enemy at times.
“We were disappointed with the second half performance, but Huntingdon took their tries well and came away deserved winners.”
The first few minutes saw much of the play taking place in the middle of the park, with both teams trading penalties.
The first real threat came from Huntingdon after being awarded a 5m scrum from a Mansfield knock-on.
The home team’s scrum stood firm but, as has been a recurring theme for much of the season, some missed tackles allowed Huntingdon a try under the posts, making the convertion almost unmissable and it was 7-0 to the visitors with barely 10 minutes played.
It took 15 minutes for Mansfield’s forward dominance to become apparent.
A brilliant catch and drive at a line-out saw Mansfield win a penalty as Huntingdon, unable to cope with the pressure, collapsed the maul.
This resulted in a yellow card for Huntingdon’s number six and a buoyed Mansfield pack opting for a scrum.
Huntingdon again struggled to cope and scrum-half Alan Symcox picked up the ball and powered over. A successful conversion bought the scores level and we had a game on our hands.
However, as is often the case in rugby, Mansfield showed a lack of discipline soon after scoring, giving away a penalty in a kickable position and losing a player to the sin-bin at the same time. This allowed Huntingdon to increase their lead after slotting the resulting penalty.
The lead could have been extended even further but, thanks to some brilliant last ditch tackling by matchday sponsor Greene King’s man of the match, Alex Miles, the danger was snuffed out.
The biting weather wasn’t letting up as much of the next 10 minutes was a messy stalemate played in the centre of the park.
Both teams tried to use their strengths, the Mansfield pack and the Huntingdon backs, to advance upfield but it was a free kick to Mansfield that brought about the next score.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a Mansfield score.
Opting to kick the ball away, the home team allowed the Huntingdon full back to gather just outside his own 22 and set off on a counter-attack.
Some poor tackling allowed the away team to work their way 80m up the field to score, again under the posts. A successful conversion bought the score to 17-7.
As with Mansfield earlier, it was now Huntingdon’s turn to give away field position soon after scoring.
A penalty awarded to Mansfield for offside saw the home team opting to kick for touch with the clock approaching half-time. Another catch and drive from the resulting lineout saw Symcox again come away with the ball and squeeze himself into the corner to dot down.
It was a magnificent score from the scrum half who had no space to work with.
The conversion was missed but Mansfield were within five points as the score read 17-12 at half-time.
Unfortunately for Mansfield, the second half belonged to Huntingdon, scoring those 22 unanswered points.
Mansfield’s pack dominance continued and a series of penalties followed.
However, another yellow card for the home team saw the away team take advantage and score a try that allowed a little bit of daylight between the two teams.
The conversion was successful and, at 22-12 with a man down, it looked a tough ask for the Blue and Whites to come back.
Another period of stalemate followed, broken by a Huntingdon penalty to add three points to their lead.
Mansfield were back up to a full complement by this point, but substitutions in the pack saw the scrum lose the dominance it had enjoyed in the first half.
More questionable tackling allowed Huntingdon to add another seven points to take the game further away from the home team and well out of losing bonus point range.
As if to emphasise the misery of the day, a clearance attempt by Mansfield with only a few minutes to play bounced straight into a Huntingdon player’s arms, who gladly took the opportunity to dot down with very little opposition.
This time the conversion was missed but the game was over by that point.
Mansfield travel to Ilkeston this weekend and you can follow the action on Twitter just select @MansfieldRugby.