Market Rasen began the new season with what appeared to be a tricky trip to Mansfield relegated from the league above last season.
Mansfield had the first opportunity to open the scoring as Rasen conceded a penalty in the second minute, but fly half Lee Shaw’s effort floated harmlessly under the bar.
An injury to centre Ash Wills forced Mansfield to make their first reshuffle, a problem that would beset them throughout the game as their injury toll mounted.
Early season rustiness from both sides and lack of familiarity in the Rasen ranks, including three debutantes, resulted in a proliferation of errors until Mansfield broke the deadlock in the 18th minute.
As Rasen conceded another penalty close to their line, Lee Shaw caught the visitors napping with a quick tap to dart over the line before adding the conversion.
Rasen quickly rose from their slumber and were back on terms within three minutes when centre Meehal Grint, showing no ill effects from last season’s injury, sliced through the home defence before linking with supporting prop Chris Starling, who crashed over the line under the posts to leave fly half Matt Sutton with an easy conversion.
Mansfield came back with a strong long run from gargantuan lock Alan Symcox, now operating in the centre, but he chose to ignore an overlap and cut in field where he was met with stout resistance.
Rasen’s defence had been the outstanding feature of the game so far and had been typified earlier by a perfect tackle from winger Peter Everton that stopped large Mansfield fullback Wayne Robinson in his tracks.
Mansfield went close again when a long range penalty from Shaw hit the bar and bounced back into play to allow Rasen to clear their lines. There was further consternation in the red and green ranks when the ball squirted out of a Rasen scrum just inside their own half.
Scrumhalf Christian Gregory was slow to react, but his opposite number, that man Shaw, was alert to the situation and hacked the ball to within sight of the line, but unfortunately for him he crashed into the posts in his effort to ground the ball and took no further part in the game. Despite this pressure, the Rasen eight were gaining ascendancy and from the restart scrum they secured the ball for Sutton to clear.
The rest of the half belonged to Rasen as the forwards won turnover ball that was quickly moved wide, but with Everton in space the final pass was not the best, forcing the winger to check to make a brilliant pick up. He continued forward and managed to pop the ball up out of the tackle for the ubiquitous Grint to charge over the line.
Sutton added the conversion and was soon back in action with a towering kick out of defence that Mansfield were unable to deal with.
Lively hooker Tom Alldridge was in attendance to take the bouncing ball and surged forward before passing back to the speeding Sutton whose electric pace took him past the flailing defenders to score under the posts. The fly half then completed the punishment with the conversion to give Rasen a healthy 21 – 7 half time lead.
Rasen exerted the early pressure in the second period as Mansfield began to concede penalties, but the lineout was misfiring and Mansfield were able to avert the danger.
The home site battled manfully, but couldn’t achieve any cohesion with several of their players intent on going it alone rather than linking with supporting team mates. The red and green defence was steadfast to ensure that their own line wasn’t threatened and in fact Mansfield’s visits into the Rasen twenty-two were minimal. A Rasen penalty to touch took the forwards into the home twenty two and this time the ball was secured before it was moved to the middle of the field. Another Mansfield transgression allowed Sutton to slot a penalty to put the visitors in a commanding position with twenty four minutes to go.
A towering Mansfield clearance kick was expertly fielded by fullback Dan Robinson to launch a counter attack. He popped the ball to Grint who was steaming up on his inside before he offloaded to his centre partner Adam Beasely. The young centre had earlier made a superb break, but then ignored a clear overlap so now was the time to make amends.
He delivered the pass that put substitute George Edell into the clear, but alas the referee ruled the pass forward. However this imprecision did not prove costly as the Rasen pack were now dominant, winning the ball back and forcing their hosts to concede yet another penalty. Sutton drilled the ball into touch and this time the lineout was back to last season’s outstanding level. The well executed catch and drive propelled flanker Leigh Dearden over the line to wrap up a hard fought victory and secure a bonus point.
This was a promising start to the season and with Sutton orchestrating proceedings from fly half it was a breath of fresh air by comparison with last season’s departed incumbent’s stultifying performances.
Naturally there was some rustiness, but this will improve with game time and the thought of an efficient pack of forwards allied to an attacking backline willing to spread the ball wide certainly whets the appetite for the rest of the season. There will be much sterner tests to come, but with hard work and dedication the side can have another successful season.
Rasen: Starling C, Alldridge, Cole, Mills, Crowe, Prior, Dearden L, Chamberlin, Gregory, Sutton, Everton P, Grint, Beasley, Smith, Robinson
Subs: Edell (Smith), Dennis (Dearden L), Inman (Crowe)
Mansfield: Johnson, Revell, Grant, McGregor, Symcox A, Donaldson, Hall, Symcox J, Shaw A, Shaw L, Cleaver, Wills, Williams, Parr, Robinson
Rasen are on the road again next week with a trip to the cosmopolitan Peterborough Lions where they will be looking to improve on the mauling suffered last season. Kick off is three o’clock.