The ignominy of last week’s apathetic display at Huntingdon was consigned to the deepest depths of the memory vault on Saturday.
The red and greens put in a truly magnificent performance to vanquish Ilkeston and showcase the capabilities of the side that has been called into question for much of the second half of the season.
Rasen made the perfect start when scrumhalf Chris Everton sniped down the blindside before linking with number eight Henry Spencer. The youngster, who displayed maturity beyond his years throughout the game, took the ball on before drawing the final defender to give winger Mark Gutteridge a clear run to the line. Centre Meehal Grint marked his return to first team action with the conversion and there were still 79 minutes to go.
Ilkeston reacted strongly to put Rasen under pressure, but the home defence held firm, although the mounting penalty count, mainly for offside, eventually took its toll as Ilkeston opened their account with scrum half Joel Haigh’s eighth minute penalty kick.
Ilkeston’s joy was short lived as they conceded a penalty allowing fly half Matt Sutton to push the Elks close to their own line. The catch and drive from the lineout worked to perfection with skipper Dave Starling making the touchdown as the rampant Rasen eight drove the visitors backwards.
The red and greens were now full of confidence and soon had Ilkeston back in defensive mode with their efficient ball recycling causing the Elks all manner of problems. With the referee’s arm outstretched, Rasen continued to play the advantage before Grint powered his way through a gap to reach the whitewash with a fully extended arm. The volatile centre picked himself up to slot the conversion to extend the lead and leave the crowd astonished at the ruthless efficiency being displayed by the men in red and green.
Ilkeston were down, but not out and following a missed penalty attempt from Haigh, the Elks kept Rasen pinned.
Continued on page 111...
Rasen managed to hold them up over the line, but the ensuing five metre scrum proved to be irresistible with powerful number eight Adam Corcoran picking up from the base and forcing himself over the line.
However the Rasen side were playing with such ardour that this was only a temporary setback and the visitors’ line was soon under threat again. With forwards and backs linking together seamlessly the red and greens worked their way up field before Chris Mills, operating at blindside instead of his usual lock position, received the ball. The likeable pedagogue shrugged off several would be tacklers as he surged for the line to secure a vital bonus point with Rasen’s fourth try. Grint added the conversion to see Rasen end a thoroughly satisfying half with a commanding 26–8 lead.
In the intensity of this league there is no time for resting on laurels as Rasen were caught napping in the third minute after the resumption of play.
Ilkeston were awarded a penalty just outside the home twenty two and with Haigh on the ball, Rasen naively assumed a kick at goal was in the offing. The wily scrumhalf had different intentions in mind and took a quick tap for the ball to be spun wide to unleash the electric pace of Jacob Heath. The flying winger was almost over the line before Rasen reacted and it was then too late as he sprinted in at the corner to show that the wounded Elk was still a dangerous animal.
As in the first half Rasen maintained their composure and patience building field position. Once in the opposition twenty two Rasen struck again as Everton took the ball cross field and then executed a sublime grubber kick off the outside of his right foot between two advancing defenders. The kick was weighted perfectly to find winger Gutteridge, who scooted over the line for his second try. Grint slotted the conversion and then shortly afterwards found himself on the touchline after being yellow carded for going off his feet at a ruck.
With Dave Starling filling in at centre in Grint’s enforced absence, Rasen’s forward power was diminished and the red and greens changed tactic with ball retention a priority. The home side managed the temporary depletion well and were soon afforded a numerical advantage of their own when Ilkeston lock Chris Tipton was sin binned for a high tackle in the 28th minute.
However unlike the opposition Rasen were swift to punish the transgression, employing the deadly catch and drive as the instigator for the next score. Having secured the ball and driven the Elks backwards, the backs took over and with slick handling carved open the defence to put Gutteridge in for his hat trick.
From the restart Spencer collected the ball and charged downfield hugging the touchline as he brushed off the more experienced Corcoran on his way. With the line in sight a superb last ditch tackle from fullback Jonathan Falls denied Spencer a try as reward for his good work throughout the game and bundled him into touch.
The youngster still had the last laugh as Rasen stole the lineout and his pass put Dave Starling in for a second try and Rasen’s seventh. Grint rounded this off with an excellent conversion from wide out.
There was still time for Ilkeston to grab a consolation try from prop Matt McGuire, but the day had unquestionably belonged to Rasen.
Following the Huntingdon debacle of last week this was a performance of high intensity and quality that ranks alongside the slaying of the Peterborough Lions.
With two games to go league status is assured, Rasen rise two places to seventh and the side can push on to finish on a high as long as they can maintain the spirit and application that was such a joy to watch.
Next Rasen travel to Kettering for the final away game of the season. The red and greens have yet to taste victory at Kettering and breaking the duck would set them in good stead for the final game.
Teams: Rasen: Starling C, Alldridge, Cole, Carson, Crowe, Mills, Starling D, Spencer, Everton C, Sutton, Gutteridge, Grint, Beasley, Harvey, Neesham M. Subs: Pytlik (Cole), Denniss (not used), Starling M (not used)
Ilkeston: McGuire, Moore, Holland, Smithurst, Tipton, Bennett, Elley, Corcoran, Haigh, Lamb, Taylor, Ayres, Partington, Heath, Falls. Subs: Pringle, Pottinger