A HEROIC defensive effort brought Ashbourne under-16s victory to end a run of defeats against Ashby at the Recreation Ground on Sunday.
In recent weeks, the light Ashbourne pack had struggled against opposition who were invariably larger and heavier, but on a bitterly cold day, the firmer pitch conditions allowed them to play to their strengths.
Although the visitors dominated possession and territory for long periods, the hosts always looked more dangerous in attack, and were quicker around the field in the loose.
After some good early phases, the visitors imposed themselves, and with extra height in the lineout, it was difficult for Ashbourne to get hold of the ball.
Eventually the pressure told as, after a number of forward drives, Ashby went over to take a 5-0 lead.
The advantage did not last long though, as a rather ponderous backs move from Ashby broke down in midfield, and when the ball went loose, Barney Glover picked up to show great pace and run in a try from near halfway.
Ashbourne then started to enjoy more possession, with the set scrum performing well again, and the front row of Jake Hulme, Harry Wood and Seth Amos – in the unaccustomed position of hooker– giving Ryan McFaul opportunities to threaten the Ashby defence with some excellent tactical kicking.
However, the hosts were unable to break through, and eventually Ashby regained the upper hand as a series of penalties were conceded at the breakdown.
Ashbourne tackled superbly throughout, with Joe Moore, Seth Amos and Danny Yeates to the fore.
Half-time came with the score at 5-5, and Ashbourne to have the advantage of the slope in the second half.
That was instantly used by McFaul with deep kicks that created chaos in the Ashby back three.
The opposition’s tactic of using their big forwards to drive round the fringes met with strong resistance from the pack, tackles consistently taking the runners down and allowing turnovers.
Another McFaul kick and chase by Will Nash caused a defensive error, and from the resulting scrum, the ball was moved wide, and Ollie Eyre’s pass was collected by full-back Jamie Toms, who went over and put Ashbourne in the lead for the first time.
McFaul, taking the kicks in the absence of captain Ben Woods, put over the conversion.
Ashbourne were not finished though, as a break from Will Nash and quick recycling created the space for Oak Watson to crash over.
McFaul converted again to put Ashbourne 19-5 up.
The power of the Ashby forwards took its toll in the last quarter, with regular penalties stopping any momentum.
However, the hosts continued to tackle with determination, and Ashby lacked the pace out wide to get round the home defence.
On the few occasions that Ashbourne managed to break they always looked dangerous, with first Luke Evans and then Ryan McFaul going close.
Ashby did score a second try after a series of penalties, but the home side held out relatively comfortably for the last few minutes, which were spent mostly in opposition territory.