Loughborough 1st XV 14 Market Rasen & Louth 1st XV 17
THE RED and greens ground out a victory against determined opposition on a sunny afternoon at Loughborough to fulfil Dean Hutchinson’s dream of finishing his tenure as captain with a win.
Playing up the slope, Loughborough made the early running in their quest for at least two points to secure home advantage in their forthcoming play-off game, and opened the scoring with a penalty in the seventh minute.
Rasen then suffered a setback as fly-half Owen Denovan had to leave the field injured resulting in a reshuffle in the backline.
Loughborough kept up the pressure and from a lineout penalty challenged Rasen at their own game by setting up a catch and drive.
After making initial progress, they found the red and green defence immovable and moved the ball to their backs, but a fumble in the centre allowed Adam Dearden to fly hack the ball away and clear the danger.
Having weathered the home storm, Rasen put some phases together before Loughborough capitulated to concede a penalty with dire consequences.
A kick to touch facilitated the deadly red and green weapon as they gave Loughborough a master class, with the forwards securing the ball and driving to the line for flanker Ben Chamberlin to touch down.
Rasen then unveiled a new kicker as lock Rory Murphy strode up to take the conversion, which he landed with the minimum of effort.
Loughborough came back to show why they had been hot on the heels of Rasen throughout the season, but having created a three man overlap, the fullback inexplicably decided to take the ball back inside and the chance was gone.
Rasen made no mistake with their next chance as Chamberlin repeated the dose in the 38th minute with a carbon copy of his first score.
On the stroke of half-time, Loughborough landed a second penalty to bring the score back to 12–6 in Rasen’s favour.
Rasen winger Rob Rigby was unable to continue due to the effect of a first half dead leg taking hold.
With two forwards left on the bench some radical thought was required as Paul Bullivant took his place in a re-arranged pack, while new goal kicker Murphy was reassigned to fullback.
Revitalised, the home side began the second half in the same manner as they had the first, forcing Rasen to concede two early penalties. However, the pressure seemed to be affecting the fly-half and both chances were spurned.
A home lineout in their own twenty-two was stolen by the finger tips of lock Jim Calverly to set up a series of drives that ended with a scrum.
A Loughborough infringement gave Rasen a free kick and with everyone expecting another scrum, skipper Hutchinson took a quick tap before substitute Bullivant slid over for the try.
Having taken play deep into Rasen territory, the Loughborough forwards sucked in the red and green defence, before a long cut out pass to the left winger gave him enough space to sprint in at the corner.
The conversion was missed, but the speed of the reply meant that there was still a frantic 14 minutes remaining.
The stamina sapping heat was taking its toll, as the forwards slugged it out with Rasen, looking to stifle possession for the dangerous home backline, but Loughborough persistence gave them another penalty that put them within three points.
Steely resolve from the Rasen forwards, who have been the cornerstone of this season’s promotion assault, starved Loughborough of possession in the final four minutes to secure the victory.
A fitting end to inspirational skipper Dean Hutchinson’s reign as captain where the record of the team under his leadership speaks for itself; two promotions, two Lincolnshire Cups, a Notts, Lincs & Derbys Shield and runners up in the Midlands Intermediate Cup.
It was also a poignant day for veteran Andy Neesham, where the injury to Chris Everton allowed him to play out his swan song in his preferred scrumhalf position.
As league champions, 102 league points were secured from a possible 110 and 1,015 points were scored in 30 competitive games whilst conceding only 298.
Top points scorer was Matt Neesham with 144, but he was run close by Rob Rigby with 130 points from 26 tries in 28 appearances.
Team: Starling C, Oliver, Southwell, Calverly, Murphy, Chamberlin, Dearden L, Hutchinson, Neesham A, Denovan, Everton P, Jones, Dearden A, Rigby, Neesham M
Subs: Bullivant (Rigby), Green (Denovan), Thorns (not used)