This game was key to both teams’ league campaigns for contrasting reasons.
With only three league games remaining Spalding had slipped back into the relegation zone following their loss away to Stamford while Mansfield enjoyed a bonus point win against Bakewell.
However, Ashbourne – in fourth place, five points behind the leaders with a game in hand – were determined to keep up their title chase.
With the absence of Tom Winch on the wing, Harry Lane came into the team and Josh Finch – also back from university – was on the bench.
The team had a settled look and with their recently improved form, the whole season’s outcome was in the balance.
The early play saw both teams well organised, space being closed down quickly and not a tackle missed by either side.
The visitors gained the upper hand and with wind advantage, fly-half Paul Maznenko kicked deep into Spalding territory.
With a quarter of an hour gone Ashbourne, using their forwards to gain territory, lost the ball due to the intense defensive tackling.
Immediately from their five-metre line Spalding counter-attacked using their backs.
Caught by surprise, Ashbourne’s defence was thin and Harry Harrison was released on the left wing to run in the opening try from 60 metres.
Within five minutes Ashbourne had levelled the scores with a good lineout win and their forwards driving around the fringes, they went over near the posts but the conversion hit the upright.
Spalding’s forwards were putting in an immense amount of work to contain Ashbourne and the backs – well organised by Sion Williams and Adam McHugh – were following suit.
Again the visitors were pressing deep into Spalding’s 22 but they infringed at the breakdown with the ball lost forward.
The referee played the advantage and immediately a break was on. Harry Sharman sliced through a tackle and as Ashbourne’s backs converged, he threw a long pass out to Harrison who side-stepped his opposite number, evaded the chasing defenders and another 60-metre try was scored which he then stepped up to convert.
Ash Anker took a blow to the head as he was challenging at the breakdown and was replaced by Finch at openside flank.
Spalding missed a penalty to extend their lead but Ashourne responded with a kick by full-back Daniel Carter which was converted.
With a strong breeze advantage Spalding started brightly and with their scrum solid led by props Mikey Watts and Keir Moore, the opportunity to kick for territory was soon taken but it was another penalty to Ashbourne which reduced the lead to a single point.
Spalding’s backs were playing with confidence thanks to the platform that the forwards were giving them with Tim Waltham and Jordan Templer prominent, both driving forward around the rucks.
As Ashourne started to flag, Ash Piccaver in typical fashion started to also make an impact with his strong running.
With the ball well won by his forwards Will Shields found Williams with a quick pass. With space and being a natural centre, his speed evaded the first tackle and cut back inside.
With space running out he conjured a bit of magic with slight of hand he released a back pass to outside centre George Brown who was also cutting back inside and strong running took him over the line for Harrison to convert.
Ten minutes later Shields and Williams combined again. This time the scrum-half broke free around the fringes at a breakdown and quickly gained 15 metres.
As the defence closed in, a kick through was followed by Williams who picked up and drove for the line to score and with Harrison converting, Spalding now had a 15-point advantage with 20 minutes to go.
In typical fashion, though, Ashbourne fought back using their forwards to drive the ball upfield.
A kickable penalty was conceded by Spalding but needing points Ashourne kicked for touch and a lineout.
A catch and driving maul was expected and several times it looked like the Spalding defence had held out but finally a try was secured.
In the closing minute the visitors were awarded a penalty in front of the posts for them to secure a losing bonus point.
This was a tremendous team effort with the forwards challenging Ashbourne’s reputation and the backs playing with confidence and running with the ball to brilliant effect.
Finch and Lane both made telling contributions on their rare appearances to keep the outcome in Spalding’s hands.
Spalding: Watts, Cooke, Moore, Waltham, Templer, Piccaver, Anker, Sharman, Shields, Williams, Harrison, McHugh, Brown, Lane, Douglas. Subs: Finch, Cowell, Williamson.