Mansfield came into this game looking to start the season on a positive note, the first league game of this new campaign coming up against a team who had registered a comfortable victory in the last meeting. Kesteven were not about to let the home team forget that result. However, after a spirited, back and forth affair, the home team pulled a deserved victory out of the bag to start of the season in the best way.
Head coach Wayne Robinson was, unsurprisingly, very happy with the performance: “There are a few things we can work on but we didn’t let our heads drop and fought back to claim a good win.”
The visitors were put under pressure fairly quickly with the home side winning a penalty and choosing to apply pressure with a kick to the corner. However, the Mansfield lineout faltered and Kesteven regathered the ball and quickly took advantage of some phases and scored the opening points of the game within the first five minutes. Mansfield went from an attacking platform to being behind in the blink of an eye. The conversion was missed but the gauntlet was laid down, Kesteven, in the lead 5-nil, were here to play.
This galvanised the home team. Where previously they may have dropped their heads and lost structure, this time they hunkered down and forced penalties from the visitors. Those penalties yielded little, but the intent was there, and the blue-and-whites were not going to let a few missed opportunities stop them.
A clearance kick from defence should have seen the visitors have a little breathing room after repelling Mansfield attacks. However, a penalty for offside, an infringement they would be repeatedly pinged for, put them right back under pressure on their own try line. Regan Hubbard, thinking quickly, tapped the ball and dived over the line before the defence could set themselves. A successful kick by joint Man of the Match Taran Elms, selected by match day sponsor John Heath, saw Mansfield take the lead at 7-5.
This exchanging of points would continue through the remainder of the game. Almost immediately, Kesteven his back with a 3-point penalty to take them back into the lead by a point, 8-7.
Industrious play by the forwards and creativity by the pack, in particular matchday sponsor John Heath’s other man-of-the-match Emmanuel Ogunode, saw play go 30 metres one way before being turned over and coming back 30 metres the other way.
While much of the play was determined and numerous chances were created, the final play from both teams saw these chances squandered. The home scrum was establishing some dominance, but a stray ball would end that particular play. Some nice interlinking by the visitors would see some field advantage created only for a penalty to be awarded against them.
A slew of penalties in the red zone saw the visitors go down to 13 men for an infringement on the floor but, surprisingly, it took the home team 3 attempts to go for the posts and re-establish the lead. They did eventually reclaim the lead, another penalty from Elms making the score 10-8 as we neared half time.
However, the half time lead went to the visitors as well worked phases of play saw them trundle up to and over the line. A successful conversation saw them gap just 5 points at the break, 15-10 to the visitors.
Mansfield’s ambition continued at the start of the second half with a penalty and well set rolling maul. However, that lack of finesse also continued, with some useful field position not fully exploited. The first try of the half went to Ross Elms, who gladly took the opportunity from hard-worked field position from the forwards. Another successful conversion saw the lead change again, Mansfield up by just two points, 17-15.
A penalty attempt from Kesteven sailed wide before another attempt by Elms hit the post and fortunately fell the right side of the crossbar. At 20-15 Mansfield were in a better position than they had been all game. However, it was all about to go wrong.
A red card for a high tackle, deemed by many to be a harsh saw Mansfield down to 14 and Kesteven immediately take advantage, slotting the penalty to close the gap to just 2 points. Not long after they made the advantage pay again with a converted try, meaning they were the leaders by 5 points now, 25-20.
With a large chunk of the game still to play, advantage was with Kesteven. However, they were about to shoot themselves in the foot with a red card of their won for a seat belt tackle. Kesteven had lost the man advantage and now both teams were back on an even footing. Taking advantage of the penalty that lead to the second yellow, Elms added another 3 to his and the team’s tally, bringing the gap back to 2 points and all to play for.
Both teams were desperate to keep hold of the ball which lead to a tense but enjoyable final 10 minutes. Mansfield secured a penalty with only a couple of minutes to go. Not a particularly difficult kick for someone of Elms’ calibre but with the added pressure of potentially being the difference between a victory and a loss it may as well have been from 100 metres away. Nevertheless, Elms slotted it over to see the lead switch once again, this time for good, 26-25.
As if to perhaps solidify this was to be Mansfield’s day, the restart from Kesteven, pinpoint up to this moment, didn’t travel 10m meaning the home team had a scrum on the halfway line. Securing the scrum and clearing the ball into touch saw the final whistle blow and Mansfield claim the spoils. With so many games seeing the home team on the wrong end of a scoreline as close as this the players were visibly overjoyed with the victory.
There is a league break this weekend, so no game, however Mansfield will host Southwell on the 28th September. You can follow the game on Twitter here @MansfieldRugby.