Derby maintained their status as Rasen’s bogey team in another close encounter where the red and greens gave the hosts a head start through their own errors.
The kick off set the tone as Dan Robinson’s kick failed to travel 10 metres and Rasen were on the back foot from the outset.
Within four minutes Rasen took the lead through a Meehal Grint penalty, but far from settling the opening nerves this heralded the start of a series of unforced errors that gave Derby the platform for three unanswered scores.
An over eager Jake Pryer was penalised for being in front of the kicker leaving Derby to drill the ball into touch close to the Rasen line. With expert precision Derby secured the lineout and drove for the line with number eight Tom Taylor-Dawes touching down.
Three minutes later fly half Robinson took his eye off the ball to fumble it forward and opposite number George Castledine scooped it up from the ground to glide effortlessly through the visiting defence to score under the posts leaving himself with a simple conversion.
Derby continued to maintain the pressure as Rasen stuttered to find any continuity as another penalty gave Derby field position. With possession secured, Derby went through several phases before the ball was taken blind and winger Paul Gutteridge was left with the unenviable task of stopping giant lock Josh Tilford. The differences in physique left the Rasen man at a distinct disadvantage, in a nightmare Lomu Catt type scenario as Tilford powered his way to the line.
The scoreline flattered Derby, but they had clinically taken their chances to build their lead. Rasen eventually hit back as Gutteridge swept from the blindside wing into the line to cut open the first line of defence. With Grint in support the fullback’s deceptive running looked to have set him on course for the line until a Derby tap tackle intervened.
Skillfully retaining control of the ball, Grint popped it up for Leigh Dearden to charge over the whitewash. Grint slotted the conversion, but his euphoria was short lived as Derby came back and the Rasen fullback received a yellow card for not rolling away in the red zone, an almost impossible task with other bodies atop of him.
Derby opted for a tap penalty with the forwards making a charge for the line, but as progress slowed Rasen were left totally bewildered as the referee strode under the posts to award a penalty try. Castledine added the simple conversion to give Derby a half time lead of 24–10.
Despite being a man down, Rasen, now playing with the wind in their favour, made the perfect start as Robinson’s long raking kick remained tantalisingly in play for the retreating Derby defence to deal with.
The immediate threat was averted, but Rasen retained the ball from the lineout and took play forward, initially through Leigh Dearden before Ben Chamberlin received the ball from his back row colleague. The number eight continued forward as Robinson ghosted in alongside him to receive the offload that took the young flyhalf in under the posts. In Grint’s absence Robinson took on the kicking duties with his short jab kick proving effective to secure the two points.
The pendulum appeared to be swinging back in favour of the red and greens when Derby conceded a penalty in the 15th minute. From almost an identical position to their counterparts in the first half Rasen took the lineout and with ruthless efficiency drove Derby back over their line for prop Chris Starling to touch down. Back on the field Grint resumed the kicking duties and nailed the tricky conversion to draw the sides’ level.
Having been second best in the third quarter, Derby began to put some phases together and after a patient build up centre Lewis Hancock powered his way through a despairing tackle to cross the line.
Finding themselves in a now familiar position Rasen began their own riposte, painstakingly working their way up field. As play moved into the Derby twenty two Robinson’s lofted pass, which in reality even Stevie Wonder could have spotted, was intercepted by Ryan McFadyean. The substitute winger showed a clean pair of heels in a 75 metre dash with too much pace for the trailing defenders. Castledine added the conversion and Derby once again had a two score cushion.
Robinson made swift atonement for his faux pas with an electric break that cut open the home defence before the ball was spread wide for substitute winger Adam Beasley to glide in. Grint’s conversion cut the lead to five points with 12 minutes remaining and there was still hope in red and green hearts.
Sadly those Rasen hearts, but not their spirit, were broken four minutes later when the ball went loose again and a Derby counter attack ended with centre Ben Marlow dotting down between the posts to leave Castledine with a simple conversion.
With time running out Rasen defiantly took the game back to Derby, but still remained calm with possession at a premium. Following a measured build up the forwards took play close to the Derby line before Chris Starling powered his way over for a final score that secured a losing bonus point.
For the second time this season Rasen suffered defeat to Derby by a single score, but on this occasion it was their own errors in the first quarter that consigned them to a game of catch up.
Rasen had had the better of possession in that period, but clinical finishing from Derby made them pay for the mistakes. There is no doubting the spirit in the side and the comeback was heroic, but another poor start has cost them dearly.
With 80 minutes of total concentration Rasen are a match for any team, but they need to eliminate the lapses if they are to take the big prize at the end of the season.
There is a break this week for Easter before Huntingdon are the visitors for the final home game on April 11, kicking off at 3pm.
This is also Sponsors day and marks Dave Starling’s last game in charge at Willingham Road before he steps down as skipper at the end of the season.
Teams - Rasen: Starling C, Alldridge, Ashton, Inman, Pytlik, Dearden L, Pryer, Chamberlin, Everton C, Robinson, Lawton, Dearden A, Starling C, Gutteridge, Grint. Subs: Nicholls (Ashton), Beasley (Lawton)
Derby: Coombes, Wilcox, Toms, Atherton, Tilford, Trembling, Hobbs, Taylor-Dawes, Gundry, Castledine, Manning, Hancock, Marlow, Tebbs, Brown. Subs: McFadyean, White, Szreider