Buxton RUFC director of rugby Karl de Groot has set his sights on clinching a top four spot in Midlands 3 East (North).
It comes after the Stags narrowly overcame bottom side Ashfield 18-13 at home on Saturday in tough conditions after a week of rain and snow.
de Groot’s team sit fifth in the standings after that victory, with only three points separating four teams behind the top three sides.
And, following promotion last season, the Stags chief believes a top four spot would be a “credible” achievement this time out.
“This league is tough, with a cluster of sides all within a couple of points,” said de Groot. “As a result you are either eighth or fourth depending on who beats who that week.
“We are fifth now, with all the teams above us to be played - apart from Lincoln who will win the league, so we are still hopeful of finishing in the top four somewhere, which after being promoted last season is a credible effort by all concerned.”
The Stags returned to league action this week after an impressive result the week before, winning away at North Hykem 67-3 to secure a place in the NLD Shield Cup Final on 29th of April at Chesterfield Panthers, where they will play East Retford.
A penalty in front of the posts gave Ashfield an early 3-0 lead and spectators a glimpse of what would follow, with the visitors slowing the game down on an already boggy surface, with a series of offences and resulting penalties.
However, their lead didn’t last long, as the prolific Matt Lomas levelled the scores with a similar kick on eight minutes. Buxton then got their noses in front as Ben Austin going in under the posts. Lomas converted for a deserved 10-3 lead.
Ashfield soon returned a score with another penalty infringement just before half-time and Lomas booted a further Stags penalty to give the hosts a 13-6 lead at the break. Replacement Tom Anderson was next to go over for Buxton after the interval.
After a series of frustrating tactics employed by the away side to slow the game down, the Stags kept trying to get the game moving and succeeded when Anderson made an impact from close range to put some daylight between the two sides.
Buxton were repeatedly on the wrong side of the referee and this led to the impressive Sam Edwards taking one for the team - a yellow card reducing the Stags to 14 and enforcing some tactical changes to keep the pack up to strength.
A weakened back line coped admirably until Ashfield scored late on with a converted try from their fly-half, exploiting a gap and some confusion in the line to reduce the arrears to five.
The Stags held on to their slim lead despite a nervous last eight minutes. It was a game where Buxton were never allowed to develop any continuity due to Ashfield tactics and repeated offences being punished by the official pinning them back in their own half.
“I was pleased with the way we set out to play,” reflected de Groot. “We discussed playing some expansive rugby and knew that both the conditions and the side we were playing would have an overall detrimental effect, so to still to move the ball around with the ambition that we did shows the overall skill levels that we have in the squad.”