Market Rasen and Louth RFC showed there is still spirit and fight left in the side with a first try bonus point and a losing bonus point at home to Huntingdon on Saturday.
After a week’s break, the Red and Greens returned to action in a bottom-of-the-table clash, but were unable to clinch their first Midlands One East league win of the season after a narrow 25-20 defeat.
The hosts fielded a makeshift front row where Jake Pryer and Will Scupham gamely filled in for the more experienced absentees, and despite a bright start, Rasen spent most of a forgettable first half fighting a rearguard action as Huntingdon dominated possession and territory.
Fortunately, the visitors were misfiring, particularly in the lineout where they squandered a series of opportunities.
After almost setting up camp in Rasen’s 22, Huntingdon finally broke the deadlock on the half-hour when Ben Chamberlin was penalised for kicking the ball out of a ruck, earning a yellow card, and fly-half Tad Chapman kicked the penalty.
Spurred on, Huntingdon resumed their dominance of the hosts’ 22 to apply more pressure, and the defence was finally breached after a series of driving mauls as Todd Arnold powered his way over the whitewash.
Chapman added the conversion to cap the first half scoring, but there was still time for Chris Everton to take a quick tap penalty and expose Huntingdon’s vulnerability to a pacier game.
The Rasen fly-half caught the visitors napping and tore up field, but lack of support and a scrambling defence snuffed out the attack.
But the late flurry had shown a possible way of overturning Huntingdon’s 10-0 lead.
Rasen made the perfect start to the second half when Will Scupham gathered the restart and drove over the gain line to begin a rumble from the pack.
The visitors failed to deal with scrum-half Jack Noquet’s towering kick, allowing his half-back partner Chris Everton to win the race for the touchdown.
With renewed belief, Rasen continued to up the pace, but the rock-solid defence of much of the first half evaporated as strong running from centre Barney West brushed aside several would-be tacklers on his route to the line to restored the 10-point advantage.
Undeterred, Rasen continued to run with ball in hand, and after excellent approach work, a gap was created for Ed Nicholls to burst through.
A desperate tap tackle brought the youngster down tantalisingly close to the line, but Rasen’s follow-up work wasn’t as good and Huntingdon escaped.
Huntingdon then made their way upfield to further punish Red and Green misdemeanours when Chapman landed a penalty to extend their lead.
The hosts took the setback in their stride and were soon pressing deep in Huntingdon territory again.
Jack Skidmore’s high tackle delivered Rasen an unexpected bonus when the scrum-half was yellow-carded.
The Red and Greens quickly took advantage as sharp handling moved the ball wide for Nicholls to scoot in at the corner.
Three minutes later, Rasen’s less structured, fast and loose approach paid further dividends when Jake Pryer’s strong running began another free-flowing move which put substitute Simon Cooper over the whitewash to reduce the deficit to three points.
Huntingdon responded well and pushed Rasen deep into their own 22, winning penalties and finally getting a lineout to function.
A catch and drive for the line put full-back Ben Strangeways over as an unlikely scorer. Chapman nailed the conversion with three minutes left.
The adrenaline was still running high as Rasen worked their way back into Huntingdon’s 22, earning a penalty which Noquet took quickly to dash over the line for Rasen’s fourth try.
The unsuccessful conversion brought the game to an end, signalling relief and disappointment in equal measure for Huntingdon and Rasen respectively.
Rasen had paid the price for a poor first half when they simply couldn’t get any meaningful possession, but there was much to be proud of in their second-half endeavour.
Rasen were due to play Sleaford in the semi-final of the Lincolnshire Cup this weekend, but Sleaford’s re-arranged league fixture takes precedence.
The Red and Greens will now return on Saturday, March 3 at Kettering.
Rasen: C. Starling, Pryer, Scupham, Crowe, Benson, J. Norton, Mills (Janney), Chamberlin, Noquet, C. Everton, W. Stephens, F. Norton (P. Everton), Goodwin, Pridgeon (Cooper), Nicholls.
* A special thank-you to Huntingdon’s second team who only had 10 men, but turned up all the same and ensured players outside of the first team got some well-deserved rugby.