ASHBOURNE RFC Under-13s progressed from the NLD Cup first stage as group winners after an eventually comprehensive win over Sleaford on Sunday.
After victories over Scunthorpe and West Bridgford, the youngsters went into this game with no game time under their belt in 2014 after recent weather.
Coach Andrew Bailey said: “Having played no rugby throughout January due to the weather, we were worried about being ready for this important match.
“But the players arrived focussed and determined to give it their best.
“This was a great team effort from an Ashbourne squad who are developing very well.
“We were particularly pleased with performances from William Palmer- Clark and Zak Bacon, both of whom took the ball forward with strong diving runs and showed the impact they can have.”
Ashbourne started the game brightly with the pack taking control of the scrums, and early nerves were settled by Morgan Rowland, who went on a storming run from 35 yards out, brushing tacklers aside to score to the left of the posts.
Sam Jones kicked the conversion to make it 7-0, but Sleaford were certainly up for the match as well, tackling and rucking hard, and with some strong runners of their own.
Ashbourne continued to show great ambition in their play, but an occasional dropped pass in the slippery conditions or under pressure from the opposition, thwarted a number of attacks.
Eventually, another break came, this time with Costandino Joannou surging over the line to score on the right.
Ashbourne pressed on and came close to another score before conceding a number of penalties, giving some momentum and territory to Sleaford. who took their opportunity well and forced another penalty close to the Ashbourne try line.
A quick penalty and a strong run saw Sleaford score a try which they converted to make the score 12-7 at half-time.
With the wind in their favour in the second half, everything looked good for the home side, but it was Sleaford who started the best, and strong running from their number 8 resulted in the opposition scoring first to equalise at 12-12.
Alarm bells began to ring when Sleaford then scored their third try to take the lead, and the opposition’s tails were up, with questions being asked in the Ashbourne ranks.
A long penalty kick from Ollie Bailey took Ashbourne into the Sleaford half, where a fantastic catch and drive at the line-out from the forwards advanced the ball towards the line.
Swift passing down the back-line got the ball into Costandino’s hands and he sprinted over the try-line, and with a great kick from Dan Jones, Ashbourne regained the lead at 19-17.
Ashbourne took control of the game with next score as Sleaford, who had fought bravely, conceded some quick tries which took the game away from them.
Five tries were scored without reply, two by Rowland, and one each from Tom Wheeldon and George Whitehouse.
Sam Jones converted one and Dan Jones converted two of them for a final score of 45-17, which belied a tougher match than the result implies.
ASHBOURNE RFC Under-14s also qualified as group winners after seeing off hosts Melbourne 15-0 to reach the semi-finals of their NLD Cup competition for the second consecutive season.
The original game was cancelled due to a frozen pitch two weeks ago, and this encounter was played on a very wet and windy day, with both teams battling it out in awful conditions.
However, Ashbourne stood firm, scoring two tries, one conversion and a penalty to top their group.
Having beaten Dronfield at home 25-0 in october, the Under-14s then had to face an unknown quantity in the form of Kesteven in December, and ran out 12-5 winners.
A club statement said: “This puts Ashbourne into the semi finals of the NLD Cup for the second consecutive season; let’s hope they can repeat the heroics of 2013.
“Every player that plays for the Under-14s should be very proud of themselves, unfortunately not all players can make the squad but are still a very important part of the team.”
ASHBOURNE: A Montieth, T Doran, I Dawson, C Hart, J Wright, R Cooper, W Mousley, G Beard, A Shaw, W Farr, H Zona, J Bowers (capt), B Linnel, J Mines, O Wainwright; replacements: L Howson, T Edge, M Young, T Brown, N McHugh, T Dixon, C Hellaby.