Mansfield came in to this game desperate for a victory. The second half of the season has not gone to plan for the blue-and-whites and a run of narrow losses leaves them with a lot to play for as the season winds to a close. However, another narrow loss means that at least one of the remaining two games become a must win to stay safe in this league.
Head coach Wayne Robinson epitomised this frustration: “I thought we played well for large parts and dominated the second half completely, but we have to turn that pressure into points. The lapse in concentration at the end cost us dearly.”
Mansfield started the game in fine form, pressuring the visitors enough to win an early penalty. A successful kick at goal by fly half Taran Elms saw the home team register an early lead, 3-nil.
The visitors were not about to lie down and roll over, however. They managed to find some territory and possession of their own, cruising through poor home defence to register the first try of the match. A successful conversion saw them take the lead and, after a positive start, the home team were now needing to find a way back in to the game.
Despite having lots of possession and territory, the home team just couldn’t get a grip on the game. Dropped passes, missed overlaps and wayward kicks all saw the visitors regather possession when they could and start pressurising the home defence. Another try was soon added to their tally. Though the conversion was missed, they were now 12-3 in front.
A penalty for the home team saw some opportunity for a regrouping and maybe the opportunity to close the gap on the scoreboard. Instead of going for the posts, the blue-and-whites opted to kick for the corner, something that initially seemed questionable. However, a good catch and a solid drive saw Mark Wallace, outstanding all game, power over the line. To take Mansfield to within one point with the kick to come. The conversion was slotted from a difficult position and the home team were back in front with the slenderest of leads, 13-12.
That elation was soon to come crashing down as almost immediately, and right on the stroke of half time, the visitors replied with a try of their own, again carving open a vulnerable defence. A successful conversion saw the home team now trailing 19-13 at half time.
The second half began with the visitors being reduced to 14 men after a high tackle. Despite having a man advantage the home team could only add 3 points to their tally, closing the gap once more and leaving the score reading 19-16 to the visitors.
The home team began to show some dominance in the second half, forcing the visitors to kick away possession, much more than they did during the first half. Setting up field position and recycling the ball with some speed, Mansfield finally burrowed over the line, Conway Evans coming up with the ball after fending off more than one would-be tackler. A difficult conversion was just pushed wide but the home team were back in front, 21-19.
A penalty for the visitors could have seen them push back in to the lead but, thankfully for the Eakring Road faithful, it dropped just short. Minutes later, and with the end of the game looming, the home team had a chance to push further in to the lead with a shot at goal of their own. Unfortunately, it was missed but the resulting 22m restart should have seen Mansfield regain possession and close out the game. The restart from the visitors was sloppy but Mansfield failed to control it cleanly and lost possession. Tired bodies were unable to make the necessary tackles and, as has become an all too familiar site since Christmas, the visitors stole victory from defeat with minutes to spare. It was perhaps the only time in the second half the visitors had made the foray into the Mansfield 22 area but they were clinical with their chance. A relatively easy conversion was missed but it didn’t matter, the visitors had regained the lead, 24-21.
A final penalty for Mansfield, just outside of kicking range, provided a glimmer of hope. However, the resulting lineout was lost and Kesteven closed out the game to record a victory and condemn Mansfield to another narrow defeat. Mansfield had their chances and showed some real dominance in the second half but just couldn’t take advantage of the opportunities when they occurred.
Next week, Mansfield host Tupton. The kick-off is 3pm and you can follow the action on Twitter @MansfieldRugby.