Rasen and Louth were let down by indiscipline and poor handling as a promising start ended in a disappointing home defeat to Melton.
Both sides showed signs of rustiness after the festive break, but Rasen made the early running as they looked to play a wide game and move the visitors’ gargantuan pack around the park.
All of the early pressure came from the hosts, but Melton began to get their game going after a relieving penalty cleared the danger from a five-metre scrum. And fly-half Matt Cox’s well-struck penalty gave the visitors a 12th-minute lead.
Rasen responded with vigour as winger Tom Stephens’ powerful running took the Red and Greens deep into opposition territory.
Support was swift and after two more phases the ball was worked wide again where Stephens was waiting to cut back across the defence and cross the whitewash.
But three minutes later Rasen were reduced to 14 when Ben Chamberlin became the first victim of the new tackle law and received a yellow card for a high tackle.
However, determined defence from the Red and Greens limited the visitors’ scoring opportunities and Melton were left kicking themselves when the ball was fumbled forward in the centres when they had created an overlap in the only real threatening attack of Chamberlin’s absence.
With his return, Rasen came back into the game with Stephens continuing to pose a real threat as he steamed up the touchline. But his kick forward skewed in field and was collected by Melton full-back Gareth Collins who launched a counter-attack.
A yellow card for Jake Goodison handed the initiative back to Melton who drilled the resulting penalty into touch deep in Rasen’s 22.
A well-worked catch and drive ended with Melton rumbling over the line for prop Wayne Brookes to score and give the visitors an 8–5 half-time lead.
The second half began in a similar vein with both sides looking to exploit their own strengths.
After 11 minutes the advantage tilted in Rasen’s favour when Melton lock Sam Badham was sent for a 10-minute break after taking his opposite number out in the air at a lineout.
But the visitors had other ideas when Rasen failed to find touch following a kick chase from flanker Leon Gormley who was a constant thorn in the Rasen’s side throughout.
Melton recovered the failed kick and swiftly moved play across to the other side of the field where winger James Woolley flew in at the corner.
A minute later the sides were back to equal numbers when Chris Mills’ indiscrete comments drew the referee’s wrath for Rasen’s third yellow card.
Melton’s simple, but effective game was now forcing Rasen to defend with all their might.
The visiting forwards continued with their battering ram approach and Rasen soaked up the pressure until the defence was pulled in and the ball moved wide for Woolley to grab his second try.
The light was fading, but there was still a glimmer in the home camp as they persevered with an expansive approach. But they were let down by poor execution when the first line of defence had been breached.
Melton were still intent on collecting a try bonus point and unsurprisingly it was their forwards who delivered it.
After a series of drives, Melton’s pack were irresistible as they forced their way over the line.
Cox, with a physique more suited to the front row than half-back, slotted the conversion to cap a 25-5 defeat for the Red and Greens.
The lack of preparation since the last game of 2016 was clearly a factor for Rasen, but this can be overcome with a commitment to training.
Discipline can also be quickly remedied if players remember the basic principle of the referee is always right – even when he isn’t – and keep thoughts to themselves.
There were still positives to take from the game with the speed of service improving the attacking potential of the backline, well demonstrated by the ever-improving Tom Stephens.
* On Saturday, Rasen travel to table-toppers Newbold who will be keen to pick themselves up after suffering their first defeat of the season at Lutterworth.
Rasen: C. Starling, Alldridge, Haig (Southwell), Pilkington (Grant), Inman, Mills, Pryer, Chamberlin, C. Everton, Robinson, Stephens, Goodison, White (Harvey), Gutteridge, Goodwin.