Great game played by two well matched sides
By Stuart Grantham
Moderns almost steal it at the end
So, the summer is officially over as we all woke up to the rain
After a bit of convincing, the boys came out of the changing room and trudged over to Emmanuel for their first game against Mansfield this season. With a couple of injuries and absences, Moderns only had 16 players whereas Mansfield showed the success of their recruitment efforts in the local schools bringing a squad of 24. However, at no time in the match did Moderns let their limited numbers impact on their game, with the boys working hard on the field and the replacement being regularly rotated, especially when we had to deal with a few injuries.
So, Mansfield won the toss and elected to receive the ball. In his new position as fly half, Harry got the game underway with a kick deep into the Mansfield half. With Moderns looking more controlled in defence from the start, early pressure was placed on Mansfield and this soon led to the first of many knock ons, as the wet conditions made ball handling difficult. Henri got the ball into the scrum and, with a good hook from Elliott, the ball made its way to the back of the scrum and to the hands of Nathan who picked it up and drove forward. In spite of making good ground, Mansfield competed at the ruck and managed to drove over and win possession. Moving the ball through the backs, they managed to get the ball into Moderns half before Moderns drove them into touch.
With the first line out, Elliott got the ball into Zidane who quickly passed the ball to Henri who sent it down the back line. The ball went through the hands of Noah to Conner, who found direct running into Mansfield enabled Moderns to gain good ground. Unfortunately, this time, it was Modern's turn to knock it on and give Mansfield the put in to the scrum.
The first few plays demonstrated how difficult the conditions were going to be and it became clear that the team who protected the ball the best was likely to end up on the winning team.
Halfway through the first half, the ball spilled forward from Moderns and, with a hack through, Mansfield swiftly put pressure on Moderns. As the ball closed in on Moderns' try line, Wyn dove on the ball. Unfortunately, the ball slipped out from underneath him and a Mansfield player was on hand to dab the ball down over the line. First try to Mansfield. With the conversion missed, the score was 0-5.
In spite of a few breaks through the middle by Henri, Harry and Conner and some good steals in the mauls by Nathan, Moderns ended up conceding a penalty just outside their 22 to the left of the posts (half way between the sideline and the posts). In a first for this season, the Mansfield fly half elected to kick the penalty. Whilst many (including the Mansfield coach) thought this was a high risk strategy, the fly half dealt with the pressure to slot the penalty between the posts, taking the score to 0-8.
With no further scores in the first half, Moderns went into half time down by 8 points to nil.
Mansfield restarted the second half with a kick to Moderns which was well taken by Sam. The ball went through the hands of Finn and James before Mansfield drove over in the ruck and turned over the ball. As Mansfield worked their way up the field and closed in on Moderns' 22, a high tackle gave Mansfield another penalty. Once again, the fly half elected to kick the penalty and got the same result as the first half, extending Mansfield's lead to 0-11.
Whilst the score board seemed to indicate that Mansfield were in control of the game, it was much closer on the field with both teams working hard in the difficult conditions and gaining ground every time they had the ball.
As there was no sign of the rain abating, Moderns decided to keep the ball tight. Good pressure from Nathan and Conner every time Mansfield had the ball led to a couple of turnovers, either by strong competition in the ruck or by ripping the ball in the tackle. With a couple of strong breaks from Rouwan from deep and Conner through the middle, Moderns moved the ball down the field. Harry kicked the ball through the middle and, in a repeat of the Mansfield try, Nathan put pressure on Mansfield's final defender who missed the ball and Nathan pounced on the ball as it rolled over the try line. Whilst Harry was close with the conversion, it was missed, so the score was 5-11.
This sequence of play reminded Moderns of how close it was between the two teams and the boys started to apply pressure every time Mansfield had the ball. In particular, Moderns started to put pressure on the Mansfield line out. Whilst line outs are uncontested at u14s, as soon as the Mansfield player took the ball, a Moderns player was through the line, either tying the catcher up or putting pressure on the scrum half. On one occasion, Nathan managed to scrag their catcher, rip the ball and get it back to Henri. With a pass out to Noah, Noah flicked it onto Conner who broke through the middle. With Mansfield scrambling to defend, they gave away a high tackle. With advantage being played, another Mansfield player came in from the side only metres from the try line. On the subsequent penalty, Henri tapped it quickly and Nathan crashed through the line to score Moderns' second try. With the conversion kicked by Harry, Moderns took the lead by 12-11.
For the next 5 minutes, the game went back and forth around the middle of the pitch before Mansfield finally got the ball out to their winger. With his first proper run in the match, he jinked left and right before eventually being brought down by Rouwan around 5 metres from the try line. Quick recycling got the ball out to one of the Mansfield forwards who bulldozed his way over the try line to score just to the right of the posts. With the fly half slotting the conversion, Mansfield retook the lead by 12-18.
With only 8 minutes left in the match. Moderns started to apply pressure with regular runs into Mansfield's half. However, they just weren't able to make the final pass or break. Because of the pressure, Mansfield started to give away a few penalties, but Moderns couldn't make the advantages pay. In spite of getting within 5 metres of the try line, good defence prevented Moderns scoring, with Mansfield turning the ball over a couple of times and clearing to touch. Moderns won their line outs, but, in spite of some good runs through the middle by Harry, Nathan and Conner, it started to look like it wasn't going to be Moderns' day.
After camping out in the Mansfield 22 for the final 8 minutes, Moderns were unable to get a final score and the game finished with a little controversy as the referee failed to penalise Mansfield for kicking the ball in the ruck.
Overall, this was a fantastic game played by two well matched teams, unspoilt by the rain.
Well done to all the Moderns players - you did really well, working hard as a team and never giving up.