Market Rasen and Louth RFC edged out Ashbourne in a rollercoaster of a Midlands Two East (North) match at Willingham Road on Saturday.
The Red and Greens stormed into a commanding 19-point lead before conceding 26 unanswered points only to then steal the game with a late penalty which was far from straightforward.
It was a great game for the neutral, but one of real highs and lows for Rasen and their supporters, but the players deserve credit for their persistence and enterprise to claw back a result which began to look like a lost cause.
Rasen were the more cohesive unit in the early stages, working the phases to take a ninth-minute lead.
Prop Matt Ashton’s trademark charge opened up Ashbourne’s defence before play was switched across field where Jake McKay carried and then deftly passed around his tackler to put Tom Stephens clear and finish the move.
Rasen increased their lead, almost straight from the restart, when fly-half Chris Everton glided through a gap to link with Jake McLoughlin.
The Antipodean centre’s strong running caused panic as he surged forward to deliver a perfectly-timed pass to give winger Will Pridgeon a clear run to the line.
Tom Alldridge added the conversion and Rasen seemed to be taking control.
A interception try from Josh White beneath the uprights underlined Rasen’s burgeoning supremacy and gave Alldridge a simple kick to make it 19-0.
Staring down the barrel of a thrashing seemed to galvanise Ashbourne as they began to put together some phases of their own.
A period of pressure kept Rasen pinned deep in their own territory, and from a lineout, following a penalty, Ashbourne drove forward and then took the ball blind for Mark Broom to power over the line.
Robert Farr’s superb touchline conversion put Ashbourne back in the game.
Rasen reacted positively and were soon back deep in Ashbourne’s half where a high tackle on Chris Everton was about to be penalised.
But in the aftermath of the incident the referee issued a red card to Stephens for injudicious use of the boot and reversed the penalty.
This seemed to unnerve the Red and Greens and when Chris Everton’s long pass was intercepted, Robert Farr galloped two-thirds of the length of the pitch to dot down under the posts before converting his own try.
From a position of strength, Rasen were now looking back at a narrow 19–14 lead at half-time.
The second half was going to be a test of character, but it didn’t bode well when Ashton received a yellow card after Rasen conceded a series of penalties in the opening stages.
With Ashton safely dispatched to the touchline, Ashbourne kicked the penalty into touch and from the resulting lineout drove forward for hooker Lewis Robinson to bring the sides level.
Rasen were firmly on the backfoot with a two-man disadvantage, but a combination of stoic defence and Ashbourne’s inability to exploit their numerical superiority allowed the hosts to keep their line intact until Ashton returned.
But after working so hard in their team-mate’s absence, Rasen had another lapse in concentration when a huge hole opened in the defence for centre Linesh Sriparam to charge through for Ashbourne’s fourth try.
Farr added the conversion to make it 26 unanswered points as Ashbourne took the lead for the first time goint into the final quarter.
Rasen drew level six minutes later from Pridgeon’s inspired decision to take a quick throw in to unleash the backline as Ashbourne were approaching to set up their lineout.
Strong running from White pulled the remnants of Ashbourne’s defence across field before popping the ball back inside to Ed Nicholls who ran in under the posts to give himself an easy conversion and level the scores.
It was still anyone’s game, but Ashbourne were still struggling to work out how best to utilise their extra man.
As Rasen launched an attack, Ashbourne presented their hosts with a penalty opportunity.
It was a long kick, and Nicholls was not helped when the ball fell from the tee, and as he approached the ball to reset it, Ashbourne thought he had begun his run up and charged forward.
With the clock ticking down the allotted kicking time, Nicholls showed remarkable calmness to pick the ball up and drop-kick it through the uprights to restore Rasen’s lead.
The final eight minutes were frenetic as Ashbourne launched waves of attacks, but let themselves down by conceding penalties to allow the hosts to defuse the situation.
The final straw came for the visitors when prop Bradley Redfearn could no longer contain his frustration and earned himself a yellow card for questioning a penalty decision, giving Rasen a final kick to safety to confirm their victory.
There is still more to come from this side, but their character cannot be questioned as they continue to eke out victories.
There is a break from league action this weekend as Rasen are scheduled to play at Kenilworth in the quarter-finals of the RFU Intermediate Cup, four games away from Twickenham.
But with a blank in the league fixture list, seven players are unavailable, throwing the fixture into doubt.
Rasen: Ashton, Alldridge (F. Norton), Southwell, Crowe, Chamberlin, J. Norton, Pryer, McKay (Janney), Nicholls, C. Everton, Pridgeon, McLoughlin, White, Holvey (P. Everton), T. Stephens.