Amber Valley RUFC returned to league action after the Christmas and New Year break but suffered their first defeat of the Midlands Four East (North) season, losing 17-12 at local rivals Ashfield on Saturday.
This first setback also cost Valley top spot in the table as they were overtaken by Chesterfield.
With Ashfield unbeaten in eight games, a stern test was guaranteed and ultimately it was Ashfield’s kick and chase game that undid Amber Valley.
Valley had opened the better side. With some powerful runs from the pack and the backs making yardage they were soon on the Ashfield line, but the defence held firm and Ashfield were able to clear.
The home side were soon on the offensive and it was a deft chip and kind bounce that allowed them to score under the posts to go into a 7-0 lead.
Valley did not let their heads drop and ensured that future kicks were covered and unleashed their own kicking maestro in Shaun Dowdall, who had one of his best days of the season kicking out of hand, time after time finding touch within ten metres of the opposition half.
Valley scored from catch and drives off two of these, but perhaps should have converted more chances as they took the lead 12-7.
Valley backs were showing that they could get round the Ashfield defence, Matt Rooke and Arron Robinson both sent away but credit again to the covering defence who managed to stop them short of the line. The pack also made breaks, notably Steve Leadbeater, but the support was not there in time.
At half-time, Valley were confident of coming away with a win.
Despite the slender lead, the hosts hadn’t threatened the line convincingly and they were confident their defence would hold and they would put more points on the board.
Sadly that didn’t happen as Ashfield, again through good use of the boot, put the visitors under pressure and through a series of pick and drives near the line forced their way over to retake the lead 14-12.
Valley didn’t panic and continued to get opportunities, Dowdall once again getting great field position, but with the line-out being disrupted well by Ashfield, this wasn’t the solid source of possession it normally is for Valley and Valley were not able to put points on the board.
They did have a shot at goal by Lee Coulson to nick the win with a few minutes remaining but it dropped agonisingly short and Ashfield made a rare break up the field which yielded a drop goal attempt.
This proved to be a frustrating day for Valley, who now sit a point behind the leaders Chesterfield, and have another tough game at home against another local side Belper this Saturday.