Market Rasen and Louth RFC stayed within five points of leaders Melbourne after an impressive Midlands Two East win at Newark.
The Red and Greens took almost every opportunity with clinical finishing and then slugged it out in defence when required to come away 35-12 winners.
The two sides last locked horns in the 2015/16 season when Newark were relegated from Midlands 1 East, but much has changed at the Nottinghamshire club which has secured magnificent new facilities.
Rasen made the perfect start when Matt Ashton burst through a flimsy defence and charged upfield before expertly passing to supporting centre Tom Stephens to open the scoring after 28 seconds.
Tom Alldridge slotted the conversion to stunned silence from the large home crowd.
Newark responded positively by putting together some phases before they were awarded a penalty, but scrum-half Sam Booth’s kick sailed just wide.
The Red and Greens then exposed further defensive frailties when fly-half Chris Everton broke down the blind side, and play was taken on by flanker Nick Harvey.
Desperate defence halted the attack at the expense of a penalty and Alldridge gave Rasen a 10-0 lead after only eight minutes.
Again Newark showed their mettle to get back on the front foot when Rasen failed to deal with the restart.
The hosts secured possession and moved the ball to their backs where centre Kent Birch cut through some indifferent tackling to open Newark’s account.
The home side dominated possession for the rest of the half, regularly getting over the gain line, but they couldn’t administer the killer blow despite strong running from prop Francis Appleton and sniping from Booth before his withdrawal to injury.
Rasen soaked up the pressure with the occasional foray into Newark territory, but unlike their opponents, Newark couldn’t take their chances.
Alldridge’s 20th-minute penalty stretched Rasen’s lead before another period of defending ended with another score on the stroke of half-time.
A delicate kick from centre Josh White had agonisingly bounced into touch before winger Brad Beresford could reach it.
But from the ensuing lineout, Newark were penalised, and Harvey caught them napping with a quick tap.
After one phase, Ashton side-stepped the last defender and crossed the whitewash. Alldridge’s conversion gave Rasen a healthy 20-5 half-time lead.
Rasen’s start to the second half was not as electric, but Newark were again consigned to their goal-line facing another conversion attempt within a minute of the restart.
On the edge of Newark’s 22, Alldridge’s throw sailed over the intended target, but landed in the arms of Harvey towards the rear of the lineout who had a straight run to the line.
In echoes of the first half, Newark reacted positively, but couldn’t fashion a breakthrough before again contributing to their own downfall.
A spilled pass was latched onto by Harvey who hacked the ball upfield.
Will Pridgeon set off in hot pursuit to gather the ball with the line in sight.
A valiant chase back stopped the Rasen winger, but the ball popped up into the arms of George Grant who enjoyed a fitting send-off by scoring in his last game before departing for New Zealand.
Newark again took root in Rasen’s half and midway through the half, Ashton was sent to the sin bin.
The Newark forwards tried to pummel Rasen into submission, but despite conceding penalties the Red and Green line remained intact until four minutes later when the visitors were reduced to 13 men when skipper Ben Chamberlin received a yellow card.
Newark continued battering through their forwards, but opted not to move the depleted visiting ranks around by spreading the ball wide.
The hosts did breach the defence once, but dropped the ball over the line.
Newark were eventually rewarded through an unusual penalty try awarded for back chat from vice-captain Pete Southwell, now acting as onfield skipper.
The hosts continued to attack, but with Rasen restored to their full complement, Newark lost possession in midfield where Pridgeon scooped up the ball and set off for another long run to the line.
Once again, the winger was hauled down, but Rasen retained possession deep in Newark’s 22, and with the final play of the game, Stephens, now operating on the wing, was put in at the corner to round off a satisfying 35-12 win.
Rasen’s greater experience and tactical nouse shone through despite Newark having the better territory and possession.
The spirit shown when down to 13 was outstanding, showing how the squad is recovering from the traumas of last season.
It was a double celebration as Rasen’s second team were also victorious in a narrow 39 -35 win over Newark’s second string.
On Saturday there is a break from league action as Rasen take on old adversaries Coalville in the RFU Intermediate Cup at Willingham Road. Kick-off will be confirmed on the club’s website.
Rasen: Ashton, Alldridge, Southwell (Smythe), Crowe (J. Norton), Chamberlin, Harvey, Grant, Pryer, Nicholls, C. Everton, Pridgeon, White (McLoughlin), T. Stephens, Beresford, Goodwin.