Ashbourne RFC 25
Spalding RFC 7
Title-chasing Ashbourne proved a little too strong for Spalding RFC on Saturday as they failed to spring a surprise result in Derbyshire.
Despite leading 7-5 just before half time, Town were unable to pick up any Midlands Twon East (North) points in their bid to stave off relegation for the second successive season.
The Elephants remain three points above Mansfield in the race for survival, but their rivals now have a game in hand – and that is against basement boys Bakewell on March 26.
Saturday’s rearranged fixture at Ashbourne was third time lucky for the sides, with bad weather causing the previous two fixtures to be cancelled.
Town’s difficulties at fly-half continued, with unavailability and injuries resulting in Harry Brown switching from his forwards role to unfamiliar territory in the backs. The return of Tom Duerden at number eight was a bonus, though, as was the return of Ash Piccaver.
Spalding kicked off with a slope advantage, but the home team soon caught them off guard within the opening minutes. They won the ball at a scrum and, at the following ruck, the forwards went over near the corner.
At the other end, Town’s centre partnership of George Brown and Harry Harrison created a glorious opening as they sliced through the defensive cover at pace – only for the final pass to go astray with the try line beckoning.
Brian Browne then sustained a knock and was replaced by Chris Douglas on the right wing.
Despite the setback, Spalding’s confidence grew and a lineout was well won by Ash Anker. The pass out by Will Shields to Harry Brown saw him pass back inside for George Douglas, who burst from the wing – breaking the defensive tackles and offloading to George Brown, who was supporting for a superb try.
With Harrison converting, the Elephants moved into a two-point advantage.
With half time beckoning, the Ashbourne forwards established a driving maul near Spalding’s line and a blindside break resulted in an unconverted try which edged them back into the lead.
Having battled away throughout the first half to good effect, Spalding were caught cold within the first ten minutes of the restart with three unanswered tries.
The first came from a scrum as Ashbourne broke left and their tricky left winger nipped in, while number two saw a turnover ball won and a kick through, which was won by Ashbourne’s right winger.
Spalding then lost their own lineout ball deep in their half and the ball was passed along the backs and the left winger again showed his pace to score.
The pressure did not ease off, but stout defence was called upon by the whole of the Spalding team.
Another change for Town saw Josh Caley replace Sam Cowell in the front row as they looked to finish with a flourish.
It wasn’t all one-way in the closing stages as Duerden gained yards with some excellent carries and Piccaver was following his example.
Spalding were encamped on Ashbourne’s five metre line for much of the last ten minutes with scrum after scrum and a couple of lineouts, but it was not their day and they could not breach that final defence.
Spalding RFC: Pete Waudby, Sam Cooke (captain), Sam Cowell, Tim Waltham, Ash Anker, Jordan Templer, Ash Piccaver, Tom Deurden, Will Shields, Harry Brown, George Douglas, George Brown, Harry Harrison, Brian Browne and Tom Winch. Subs: Josh Caley and Chris Douglas.