Ashbourne’s unbeaten run ended at Woodnook on Saturday as hosts Kesteven claimed a runaway win.
It was a game that Jimmy Carter’s lads will want to forget as any 50-50s went in the home sides favour, while the referee seemed to miss Kesteven’s misdemeanours, but be in perfect view when Ashbourne went beyond the laws.
It all started well though, with early tight encounters putting Ashbourne on top, and scrums and lineouts all seeing a stream of possession going the visitors’ way.
A narrow side break by Mark Broom exposed Kesteven’s fly-half’s dodgy tackling and Andy McKinlay swerved past his opposite number to score under the posts, from where Dan Carter completed an easy conversion.
However, the loss of tight head Tom Clayton then started the rot as Jacob Fernihough replaced him but Clayton’s influence in the lineout was missed as Ashbourne’s clean possession dried up.
They conceded a series penalties at the ruck, with the referee’s interpretation of the laws of the ruck differing from the visitors’.
Good ground was lost and a try conceded after the normally organised defence became disjointed.
The missed conversion was quickly forgotten as the home side gained an easy penalty after Ashbourne conceded ground for indiscipline in the loose.
Kesteven gained in confidence and a crafty grubber kick gave the left winger a chase to score wide out, and the conversion was good.
Ashbourne rallied with Carter kicking a penalty but in the final play of the half, Kesteven’s number 10 dropped a hopeful goal in off the post which in hindsight summed up their lack of luck.
The restart saw Ellis Greenway replace Monty Lyon, who had damaged his shoulder, but Carter closed the gap with a second penalty and things were looking hopeful at 18-13.
However a third injury saw scrum half Oliver Wood leave the field so Rob Farr took the number 9 birth.
Kesteven’s lineout was now in charge and some irritating technical decisions at the scrum again saw Ashbourne concede important and hard fought ground.
They attempted to mount attacks from the base of scrums and rucks but the necessary quick ball never materialised to break holes in the home side’s defences.
A big positive was the midfield defence of Ed Worthington and captain James Carter, relentless tackling thwarting their much larger opposite numbers.
The last quarter saw the home side dominate as Ashbourne’s remaining XV wilted.
A converted try, a penalty, and then a try from a lucky bounce saw the home side complete a 20-point winning margin.
Based on this performance Kesteven will finish in the top four, they have had the tougher opposition so far.
Ashbourne will be in the mix too but need to keep their leading players available and fit to hold their position.
ASHBOURNE: Heath, Wright, Clayton (Fernihough), Rose, K Smith, Lyon (E Greenway), Broom, S Maznenko, Wood (Halling), P Maznenko, McKinlay, J Carter (capt), Worthington, R Farr, D Carter.