Although this game was an NLD cup competition, newly promoted Henry Mellish OBs RFC arrived at Eakring Road full of confidence having successfully gained promotion into the same league as Mansfield last season. Both sides played with great verve and determination with the visitors eventually coming away with the spoils progressing to the next round of the competition. An indication of how evenly matched these two sides were meant that the contest was forced into extra time in order to separate them.
Head Coach Wayne Robinson, for his part was disappointed to ultimately lose the game, but had much to take away from it, “Clearly we have demonstrated that we can score tries and plenty of them” was his first observation. “They looked like a side used to winning which is to be expected from a team that has just gained promotion. However, I was delighted that we matched them pound for pound in most areas of the game and thrilled by the performance of our three 17 year olds!”.
More on the youngsters later but it’s true to say that Mansfield’s ability to create opportunities and finish impressively matched their spirited opposition. However, it’s also true to say that there are a couple of areas that need to be addressed, particularly in the set piece and defensive lines.
Having not played each other for many years there was a great deal of sizing up by both teams in the opening exchanges. Mellish opened the scoring with a well taken penalty after 13 minutes. With the restart barely taken and Mansfield pushing up towards the Mellish danger zone, enter the first of the bright young stars of the future, scrum half Reece Lane.
With his pack driving forward in the maul he somehow managed to wriggle free when the piece broke up to race 30 metres unchallenged under the posts to record the first senior try of his career. Judging by the way he conducted himself for the rest of the game bringing a feisty and determined attitude to the field of play, this is sure to be the first of many to come.
Enter the second 17 year old, Taran Elms who kicked the conversion to put his team 7-3 in front and then went on to produce a masterful display throughout the game, not just in kicking but bringing a level of distribution and control that belied his years.
Clearly the visitors did not win their league last season by accident and they showed their mettle and resolve by bouncing back just as quickly to take the lead once again with one converted try then a further score after 32 minutes making it 7-15 to the visitors.
Determined not to lose touch Mansfield rallied again as Mark Wallace powered his way over the line to bring the half time score to 14-15 with Taran Elms adding the extras.
The second half saw the introduction of another 17 year old in the shape of Cam Seaton, an exciting runner who showed great confidence, skill and pace. Although Mellish had posted a try after 12 minutes to extend their lead, it was his intervention with an impressive dart down the blind side and a deft off load which led to Zane Chiappetta scoring under the posts, himself a Colt only a season ago.
With the score at 21-23 it was becoming ever more tense with only the final minutes to be played out. The visitors were awarded a penalty after which they snatched another well taken try to bring the score to 21-28. So, with a few minutes remaining it looked ominous.
However, it was the youngsters who had the final say of normal time as Zane Chiappetta broke through two tackles to power his way over the line for his brace and then handing over to Taran Elms who executed an impressive conversion from out wide to bring the final tally at the end of normal time 28-28 with extra time to follow.
Perhaps muscle memory kicked in for visitors as they did what they had clearly being doing best for most of the last season, which is not knowing how to lose. They posted two quick tries in the first half of extra time to shake the home team and take the score to 28-40.
The Eakring Road faithful may have been forgiven at this stage for thinking that maybe all was lost and this was how it would end. Not so, this was the time for Cam Seaton to show his pace as he broke away and impressively outsprinted the Mellish defence to dot down 50 metres later. Taran Elms converted yet again and the score was now a tantalising 35-40 as we entered the second half of extra time.
The final period saw two more scores with one for each team. If it was Mansfield’s youngsters who burned brightly throughout to take the headlines, then it was time for the old guard to show what they could do. This came in the dying minutes as sprightly 47 year old veteran Terry Titley finished off an impressive driving maul from the forward pack to level the scores at 40-40.
However, it was the visitors who had the final say, bringing heartbreak to the blue and whites as they crossed the line one final time to take the game and progress to the next round. Both sides showed much flare and ingenuity in attack, if a little profligate in defence at times. However, this was an exciting encounter that surely sets up two great games to look forward to as they meet each other again in the new league season which starts this coming Saturday.
This week, Mansfield host Kesteven at Eakring Road. Kick off will be at 3pm and you can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.