A year ago Peterborough Lions visited Rasen sat atop the league with an unblemished record and were vanquished by an outstanding performance.
This year it was the turn of Kettering who had faltered the previous week losing top spot, but still represented a difficult challenge particularly with the red and greens down to their third choice half back pairing.
Despite staying overnight in Lincoln, Kettering made a sluggish start and it was Rasen who made the early running with some driving play.
Gradually the visitors came out of their shell and started to play their high tempo offloading game to put Rasen on the defensive. The deadlock was broken in the ninth minute with Kettering fullback Joe Daniel landing a penalty after a period of sustained pressure. Kettering seemed to be getting the upper hand, but unusually lacked their customary precision and spilled the ball several times to halt promising attacks.
With possession at a premium it was a combination of the old and new in the red and green jerseys that stunned the visitors. Wily veteran scrumhalf Andy Neesham angled a delicate chip kick towards the touchline with almost everyone thinking that it was going to bounce harmlessly over the whitewash. Young tyro Ben McStay had other ideas as he sped up the touchline to gather the bouncing ball before putting on the after burners to outstrip the defence on the outside and then run around to dot the ball down under the posts.
Centre Meehal Grint made no mistake with the conversion to extend the Rasen lead, but Kettering bounced back quickly and soon had the home side back on the defensive. The visitors’ pressure began to tell as Rasen conceded penalties and had a let off as Daniel’s second attempted kick failed to reach the target, but having found his range his next effort was a beauty sailing through the uprights from some distance to put his side within a point of Rasen.
Kettering kept up the pressure and eventually Rasen were forced into a further sacrifice as lock Leigh Dearden received a yellow card. In true Rasen spirit the team dug deep and forced Kettering into errors with a long touch find from a penalty pushing the visitors back into their own twenty two. Rasen secured possession and drove for the line meeting stout resistance from the men in purple, but continued to edge closer to the line before number eight Henry Spencer peeled off the maul and powered his way over the line.
Still operating with 14 men, Rasen kept up the momentum to gain another penalty that saw a change of kicker for the longer range attempt. Dan Robinson who had acquitted himself well filling in at fly half showed no nerves as his kick bisected the uprights to give Rasen a 15–6 lead on the stroke of halftime.
As the first half had worn on Rasen had become the dominant force at the set scrum making it difficult for Kettering to even win their own ball. This was to continue in the second period effectively robbing the visitors of one avenue of possession.
As expected, Kettering were in no mood to present their hosts with an easy ride and a reshuffle in their backline following an injury worked in their favour as scrumhalf Tom Bridgeman was forced to move to inside centre where his strong running and clever lines posed problems for the home defence for the remainder of the game.
It was Bridgeman who opened up the red and green defence with one such run before resolute backtracking further on in the attack managed to hold Kettering up over the line. The visitors continued to lay siege to the Rasen line and having secured a penalty opted for an old fashioned tap and drive. The red and green line held firm until the ball was released to the backline and after several slick offloads winger Damian Conyard was put into the clear to round the defence. Daniel’s conversion lifted Kettering to within two points of Rasen as the game entered the final quarter.
Rasen were clearly fighting a rearguard action, but the passion in the red and green jerseys was clear to be seen. Rasen’s opportunities were limited, but the dominant set scrum remained a thorn in the visitors’ side and could have snuffed out any dreams of a comeback when Rasen drove the Kettering eight back in their own twenty two only to be penalised for pulling the scrum down, not the act of a pack exerting such dominance.
With time running out, Kettering were forcing the game, but a spilled pass proved their undoing as Rasen launched a devastating counter attack from just outside their own twenty two. Excellent passing and running took full advantage of Kettering’s broken defence as the ball reached substitute Will Pridgeon with 40 metres to go. The winger stepped on the gas to career up the touchline without deviation until he crossed the line when he veered towards the posts to make for an easier conversion. With the last kick of the game Grint nailed the conversion and sealed Kettering’s fate, snatching a losing bonus point from their grasp and rounding off a famous Rasen victory.
A fantastic result honed from Rasen grit and determination allied to moments of brilliance superbly backed up by a dominant set scrum. This was the perfect follow up to last week’s performance where cruel twists had robbed the red and greens of victory, but the spirit generated then was carried forward into this game and then taken up a level.
The penalty count still needs working on, but the mental fortitude of the side is developing and bodes well for the future as long as it can be maintained. Players stepped up to the mark today and you can’t ask for much more. This was a great result and a wonderful way to go into the Christmas break.
After the Christmas break Rasen resume the league programme with a visit to Mansfield on January 3.