Match 13. Happy New Year! The first Sunday of 2017 came round with a trip to Ashby. Once everyone had successfully dealt with the sat-nav issues we were good to go against a side that, although we have never faced them, we had been reliably informed were a very strong side. All except Ollie Lamb that is. He somehow managed to leave his gumshield in his mum’s car so a frantic ring round was needed to try to get one in time for kick off. Clearly this week’s muppet of the morning had already been found!
The match kicked off under grey skies and the damp conditions made for tricky handling. Indeed the kick off was dropped by Derby and Ashby showed what they were capable of with strong carries and good hands in the backs broaching the Derby defence all too easily for the first score of the game. The resulting restart was also spilled by Derby and a slow start (possibly down to too many mince pies!) was being punished by the home side as they capitalised on defensive lapses to stretch the lead to ten points.
When Derby were finally able to get ball in hand, we looked close to the side that beat Newark so convincingly before the break, good quality rucking and intelligent running lines allowing us to make good headway. Derby were camped in Ashby’s half for much of the next five minutes but frequent handling errors were costing us as we turned the ball over too often. Eventually though, the pressure told as Will “Woody” Woodward picked up from the base of the ruck and sprinted through a gaping hole in the Ashby defence, stretching his legs to reduce the deficit.
The remainder of the first half was a very even affair, Ashby’s defensive structures were holding much of Derby’s attack at bay though some sloppy handling often let them off the hook at key moments. The home side were struggling to gain possession but when they did they made it tell, stretching the visitors’ defensive line seemingly at will leading to two more tries from the hosts sandwiching a wonderful solo score from Danny “Bomber” Harris before half time.
Derby made the usual raft of substitutions at half time but again started sluggishly at the kick off, conceding a couple of quick-fire tries as the new combinations sought to find their feet. Once again, Derby started to grow into the game, Woody continuing his man of the match performance where he had left off in the first half, carrying strong and hard – asking questions of the Ashby defence; while Tommy Horseman was like a player possessed – taking the ball forward at every opportunity. The Derby forwards were dominant in the tight and had the edge at ruck time but handling continued to cause us problems as the ball was repeatedly lost, particularly in contact. Ashby notched another try to take the score up to 35-10 before a pivotal moment shifted the game in Derby’s favour.
A typically powerful run from captain Rhys Williams was halted by a reckless high tackle which resulted in a yellow card under the new regulations and we suddenly found the gaps that we had been looking for. Multi-phase possessions led to a simple run-in for James Daly as he supported well at a goal-line ruck before Ashby responded almost immediately with one of their own.
Derby’s attack was rampant again though as first Cameron Finlay, with a trademark jinking run and then Finn Courtney, finishing some good back-line play, brought Derby right back into the game. Indeed Woody’s second, a long-range effort racing over from around 70 yards, put the visitors within a couple of tries. The three-week lay-off and physicality of the hosts was to take its toll though as Ashby added a couple of late scores to bring the match to a close at 50 – 30.
All-in-all this fixture straight after the Christmas break was always going to be a tough one and there were many positives to take from the game but Ashby were simply the better organised side, with more structure in their defence and they took their opportunities when they were there. With a week of training ahead before we welcome Ashbourne to Haslams, there is plenty of time to put those missing pieces in place.
Happy New Year to you all!
Match Report by Marc Williams