Market Rasen and Louth RFC remained anchored to the bottom of Midlands One East without a win after a heavy home defeat to Oundle on Saturday.
The 42-15 scoreline could have been closer had Rasen not given Oundle some early Christmas cheer with two gift-wrapped scores, and had a penalty decision gone the other way following an altercation when Rasen were building up a head of steam.
But with Rasen rooted at the foot of the table, and seemingly only pride to play for now it was there in abundance on Saturday.
It was all-change again for the Red and Greens as injuries to Chris Mills, Peter Everton and the departure of Jake Pryer to sunnier climes deprived the home side of three experienced players.
But there was a welcome first outing for Chris Almond-Bell and the return of the prematurely-retired Dave Starling.
Will Carrington’s penalty after two minutes gave the visitors an early lead, and Rasen were then caught napping at a lineout when Oundle popped the ball to the front of the line.
A quick drive forward and a well-executed cross-field kick found Ben Milborne in acres of space to score, his arcing run around the defence to touch down close to the posts giving Carrington a simple conversion.
After these early setbacks, Rasen came into the game and exposed Oundle’s vulnerability to forward power which had been evident in the corresponding away fixture earlier in the season.
A strong scrummage paved the way for the forwards to take the ball on before prop Matt Ashton burrowed his way over the whitewash.
Within two minutes all the hard work was undone when Rasen switched off and Carrington waltzed through the absent defence to score under the posts and then added the conversion.
Oundle secured their try bonus-point from another Rasen error when the ball went loose in midfield. Centre Toby Snelling reacted quickly to scoop up the ball and put Milborne away for his second try, giving Oundle a 22-5 half-time lead.
Rasen made a bright start to the second half as Almond-Bell drove at the heart of Oundle’s defence and then extricated himself to pop the ball to the supporting Jake McKay.
The young flanker took play on with some mazy running before quick ball to the backline allowed Tom Stephens, playing an unfamiliar centre role, space to charge over for the opening score of the half.
Oundle responded and showed they were not taking Rasen lightly as they took a pragmatic approach when awarded a penalty, opting to secure a further three points from Carrington’s reliable boot to take the wind out of Rasen’s sails.
Two minutes later Rasen paid the penalty for their narrow defence as Oundle worked the ball wide for winger James Keane who set off from his own half and outpaced the home chasers.
Carrington slotted the conversion, but although Rasen were down, they were certainly not out.
In a carbon copy of his first score, crisp passing put Stephens away to double his tally and give Rasen hope of their first try bonus-point of the season with 22 minutes left.
But just as Stephens had reprised his earlier score, Keane soon found himself in the same position as Rasen paid the price again for their narrow defence syndrome. The Oundle man tore up the touchline to score wide out to complete his brace of tries.
In the gathering gloom Rasen cleared from deep in defence, but Oundle fielded the kick on the full to launch another counter-attack with number eight Rob Shingles finishing off with a powerful run to the line.
Rasen tried hard in the remaining six minutes to grab the elusive fourth try, but it was not to be.
Like other weeks there were pockets of good rugby, and when Rasen shifted the ball quickly, it paid dividends with two tries.
But it wasn’t done enough and the inability to shake off the curse of the narrow defence is going to prove costly again if not remedied.
The league programme closes down for its three-week winter break, but Rasen are in action again in the Lincolnshire Cup on Saturday, December 30 away to Kesteven. Kick-off 2.15pm.
Rasen: C. Starling, Alldridge, Ashton (Southwell), Almond-Bell, Chamberlin, F. Norton, McKay, Scupham (D. Starling), Noquet, Nicholls, C. Everton, F. Norton, Stephens, Pridgeon (Lawton), Goodwin.
* Market Rasen’s Second XV enjoyed a convincing win on Saturday against Oundle Seconds who did not have a full side, but still turned up to fulfil the fixture.
Rasen sincerely thank Oundle – and the Red and Greens who guested for the opposition – for turning out when many clubs would have cancelled the match.