Midlands One East: Mansfield 34 Spalding 7
If Spalding were going to win a match this season in the league then the trip to Mansfield, lying fourth from bottom in Midlands One East, was perhaps going to be the best opportunity.
As a result of a works injury, vice-captain Sam Cooke was sidelined – giving Jimmy Rowlands his first start of the season at hooker after successfully coming off the bench last week.
In the back row captain Ryan Chappell was starting at blind side flanker with Luke Scotney on the other flank with the ever-present Harry Brown at No 8. With Tom Deurden and Mark Haighton as the two locks, the scrum was looking promising.
Likewise a more settled feel to the backs was also encouraging with Harry Lane coming back onto the left wing being the only change from the previous week together with George Brown back in at outside centre.
With Chappell having electing to play with the slope advantage in the first half, Mansfield kicked off and immediately gained territory and possession in the Spalding half.
The home team forwards were prominent and it was not long before they were on Spalding’s try line looking for an early opening score but Harry Brown came to the rescue, ripping the ball away and Josh Broome clearing.
But on the quarter-hour mark the Mansfield forwards with their strong scrum on the 22 line had Spalding back pedalling and the first try was scored.
Spalding’s response was positive with the forwards getting into the match and from a ruck on the 10-metre line the ball was quickly spread along the three-quarters and with a three-on-one advantage and the try line beckoning somehow they managed to squander the opportunity.
Mansfield then showed Spalding how to finish with first their right-winger cutting back in to beat the cover defence, followed shortly by a back row move off a five-metre scrum, with both tries converted the home team led 19-0.
With the clock ticking down to half-time Chappell intercepted a Mansfield pass 40 metres from the try line but a last-ditch tackle just metres short stopped him in his tracks.
With two glorious scoring opportunities missed in the first half and playing against the slope in the second half the signs were ominous.
Coach Ben Williams made half-time tactical changes, switching full-back Adam McHugh with fly-half Broome. Second-team captain Richard Cooke, on the bench for the first time this season, slotted into the scrum-half role with Will Shields moving to left wing replacing Lane.
With the team settling into the second half Mansfield had a lineout deep into the Spalding half and as the ball was moved out to their centre, broke a tackle and was in under the posts.
Was this the start of a home team onslaught with the slope advantage? Again the Spalding response was excellent and they were now taking the game to Mansfield.
From a scrum on the Mansfield 22, Cooke fed the ball to McHugh who glided through a gap and beat the cover defence to score with Broome converting.
Minutes later from a lineout won by Mark Haighton, a driving maul was stopped just short of the line.
With Spalding pressing Mansfield they scored a breakout try from their own half having been under constant pressure.
The Spalding pressure was then relentless with the scrum now going in their favour with the front row of Pete Waudy, Jimmy Rowlands and Jacob Hudson turning the screw and winning ball against the head.
From a lineout Tom Duerden forced a Mansfield error and a kick through was followed up by Rowlands who was inches from touching down.
Pressure was telling and Mansfield were now starting to give penalties away as they defended.
Spalding elected to kick for a lineout on each occasion and with either Haighton or Duerden winning the ball driving mauls were the order of the day.
During this spell Mansfield conceded five penalties and finally their fly-half was yellow-carded as the referee lost patience.
However Spalding could not finish off all their good work and it was Mansfield with the last play of the match who stole away for another breakaway try.
This was a highly encouraging team performance with many positives for Williams.
With opportunities in the first half and constant pressure in the second half, Spalding looked the fitter and more organised team and they just needed more confidence in their own ability to finish off and get over that try line for that elusive first league win.
Spalding: Waudby, Rowlands, Hutson, Haighton, Deurden, Chappell (captain), Scotney, H Brown, Shields, Broome, Booth, S Williams, G Brown, Lane, McHugh, Caley, Cooke, Bailey.