Midlands 1 East
Market Rasen & Louth 17
Old Northamptonians 41
Market Rasen & Louth began the new Midlands 1 East league season on a glorious summer’s day in bright sunshine, but were unable to match the sun’s luminosity against an Old Northamptonians side that recovered from an error-strewn first half to run out comfortable winners.
A break from visiting fly half Charlie Barker opened the Rasen defence far too easily and only a last-ditch tackle from fullback Adam Goodwin on his opposite number Imad Reyal prevented ONs from taking an early lead
ONs maintained the pressure and another break from Gareth Richards, possessing remarkable sidestepping skills for a flanker, was only thwarted when his ambitious backhanded pass was deemed forward.
With Rasen forced to fight a rear-guard action in their own half, it was almost inevitable that the visitors would score first.
And so they did in the 13th minute. A well won ball from a line out was swiftly moved to the backline where inside centre Billy North ran in almost unopposed through Rasen’s diaphanous midfield defence.
This lifted the siege and at last Rasen were able to enjoy some possession. From a strong scrum, where Rasen were dominant all afternoon, the ball was moved onto the backs where the strong running of centre Josh White punched a hole in the ONs defence and his perfectly timed pass put Goodwin in wide out to bring the sides level.
Josh Lawton was unlucky not to add the extras when his touchline conversion attempt struck the upright.
ONs continued to maintain the lion’s share of possession, but early season rustiness resulted in numerous promising attacks faltering as the ball was spilled or passes went astray, much to the relief of the home side that was firmly on the backfoot.
From a turning scrum ONs moved the ball away to North, who again had the luxury of time and space afforded by the absence of any meaningful midfield defence.
He took full advantage and drew the last defender to put his centre partner Reece Evans away for an unconverted try.
Rasen responded, just as they had done to the first score, with a period of possession and suffered a psychological blow when winger Tommy Stephens appeared to have been put away with a clear run to the line, only for the referee to call him back for a very marginal forward pass.
As half time arrived ONs held a 10-5 lead and were left to ponder if their profligacy with their scoring opportunities would prove costly, whilst Rasen were miraculously still in touch.
The visitors banished any self-doubt with three tries in the opening 12 minutes of the second half.
Within a minute of the restart there was indecision in the red and green defence as ONs spread the ball wide and Reyal sprinted over the whitewash.
Five minutes later Rasen were caught napping after conceding a penalty as scrum half Harry Sanderson took a quick tap to run in under the posts from the home 10m line with barely a hand laid on him.
This left an easy conversion for North to record his first successful kick of the day.
Despite the stamina-sapping heat, ONs continued with their high pace expansive game.
And when Calum Brennan found himself on the wing, the lock powered his way to the line in an uneven contest with Rasen scrumhalf Chris Everton, who was powerless to halt his progress.
As ON looked like disappearing over the horizon, Rasen were able to exploit their most potent weapon, the set scrum.
After a rare period of pressure, the red and greens powered a scrum forward to allow Chris Everton time to ponder his options before switching play and linking with George Grant.
The flanker forced his way over the line, which was a reward for his hard work throughout the game and newcomer Ed Nicholls added the conversion.
Unfortunately, this only provided a brief respite and once again North found himself in acres of space as Rasen’s defence was found wanting and in total disarray.
This left winger Mike Bellamy with the simple task of completing the score by the posts, which North converted.
Four minutes later ONs continuity was too much for the beleaguered home team with Reyal having the opportunity to showcase his classy running to grab his second try, again converted by North.
With the last play of the game, Rasen showed that they hadn’t given up as flanker Jake Pryer’s strong running put Lawton into space before the centre offloaded to White for a consolation try.
The early season rustiness from both sides was understandable, but Rasen’s poor defensive alignment, particularly in midfield, the absence of proper tackling technique in some quarters, the amount of space afforded to the opposition and poor reaction time was desperately disappointing.
New combinations and a lack of familiarity accounted for some of the unforced errors, but this can be corrected on the training field and should not be insurmountable.
On the plus side, the Rasen forwards were in command at the scrum and there were glimpses of attacking potential in the backline.
RASEN: C. Starling, Alldridge, Ashton, Mills, Chamberlin, Grant, Pryer, D. Starling, C. Everton, Nicholls, Stephens, White, Lawton, P. Everton, Goodwin; Replacements: Southwell (Ashton), Inman (Mills), Wallis (P. Everton).
On Saturday Rasen travel to newly promoted Oundle.
The Seconds were also in in a close game with ONs Seconds that saw the visitors victorious by 17-12.