They have lost on their last four visits, but Ilkeston left Rasen brimming with confidence after staging a remarkable comeback on Saturday.
On the opening day of the new season the visitors broke Rasen hearts as they snatched victory in the last minute.
Rasen had an early let off when visiting fullback Jono Falls missed a penalty in the second minute, but the red and greens immediately picked up their game and began driving at the opposition through the forwards.
A high tackle provided Dan Robinson with a shot at goal and the young Rasen centre made no mistake with the penalty to put Rasen in front.
This seemed to knock Ilkeston as Rasen soon had them back deep in their own twenty two desperately defending the red and green onslaught.
The visitors were put under further pressure when flanker Karter Soar received a yellow card and Rasen went for the jugular with a powerful scrum that shunted the depleted Elks pack over their own line for number eight Henry Spencer to dot down for the opening try.
Rasen maintained their momentum from the restart as skipper Dave Starling tore through the visitors’ first line of defence before linking up with his support.
Ilkeston’s scrambled defence halted the red and green progress, but a knock on gave Rasen a scrum midway between halfway and the opposition twenty-two.
The ball was moved to the blindside where flyhalf Matt Sutton’s astute kick was gathered by Nick Harvey in full stride and with one defender to beat, the winger slipped the ball inside for Robinson to gallop in under the posts to leave himself with an easy conversion.
Rasen had taken full advantage of the Elk’s yellow card, but once Ilkeston were back to full strength the complexion of the half changed as Rasen were forced to defend for long periods with the Elk’s forwards putting together a series of driving mauls.
Ilkeston could smell the line and from an attacking scrum burly number eight Adam Corcoran took the ball blind before linking with substitute Elley who managed to squeeze in at the corner.
Undeterred Rasen soon worked their way deep into Ilkeston territory, but a long break following an Elks injury delayed the attacking scrum. This drew the sting out of the Rasen attack and further imprecision resulted in an Ilkeston turnover precipitating a break out that put the home side back on the defensive.
Ilkeston drove on from a lineout before releasing the ball to their dangerous back line where centre Alex Ayres sliced through a disarrayed red and green defence to glide in under the posts. Falls added the conversion to leave Rasen with a slender 15–12 advantage at the interval.
The second half followed a similar pattern to the first where early Rasen dominance was followed by Ilkeston’s perseverance and an indomitable spirit to keep going to the end.
A catch and drive from a lineout put Rasen on the front foot in the Ilkeston twenty-two, but when the ball was released to the backs the visitors effective rush defence pushed the attack backwards with Robinson up ended. However with a terrific sleight of hand he managed to pop the ball up to Sutton, whose looping run skirted around the defence for a try under the posts followed by Robinson’s conversion.
Ilkeston struck back almost immediately when Falls landed a penalty after Dave Starling was penalised for loosening his bind at a scrum.
Back came the red and greens and after an abortive drop goal attempt from Sutton, which he may wish to forget, the forwards pummelled the Ilkeston line until eventually Spencer forced his way over. Robinson slotted the conversion and Rasen now had a two score cushion going into the final quarter.
With legs tiring Ilkeston embarked on a more open game avoiding contact and keeping the ball alive. This paid dividends in the 31st minute when Elley finished off a fine display of handling going over in the corner.
Further disaster befell Rasen two minutes later when, seemingly in control of the ball in the visitors twenty-two, Ilkeston emerged with the ball from a ruck and counterattacked with a break out that ended with Isaac Taylor sprinting from his opposite wing to take the scoring pass. Falls added the conversion and the Elks were now only two points adrift.
Buoyed up by this fight back Ilkeston were looking the fresher side as fatigue was clearly causing Rasen more concerns. With a minute remaining Ilkeston administered the coup-de-grace and reaped the rewards for their attacking endeavour when the fresh legs of substitute Jay Heath cut a swathe through the leaden home defence to score under the posts with an Ashtonesque splash down. Falls ended the game just as he had the first half with a successful conversion.
Ilkeston certainly had more firepower in their backline and deserved their win on the back of their adventurous play, but whilst not completely being the architects of their own downfall, Rasen must bear a huge responsibility in a game that could and should have been won.
Imprecision in key areas resulting in turnovers from poor ball retention and naïve defending in the backline proved to be costly. There is still an element of rustiness at the start of the season, but some fundamental areas need to addressed as soon as possible.
Next week Rasen travel to Kettering who made the perfect start to their season by collecting a try bonus win with a 45–12 demolition of Mansfield.
Rasen: Starling C, Haig, Cole, Mills, Chamberlin, Pryer, Starling D, Spencer, Everton C, Sutton, Lawton, Dearden A, Robinson, Harvey, Dwyer
Subs: Ashton (Cole), Inman (Spencer), Norton F (Harvey)
Ilkeston: McGuire, Moore, Keep, Tipton, Smithurst, Southall, Soar, Corcoran, Lamb, Taylor G, Pottinger, Ayres, Partington, Taylor I, Falls
Subs: Elley, Heath, Wilkinson