With neither side mastering the strong wind the match was a dour affair, full of endeavour, but never catching light as Syston proved to be the more clinical side.
After only a minute a Rasen transgression gave Syston a penalty opportunity 35-metres out with fly half James Morgan signalling a kick at goal. In the conditions this looked to be an ambitious call, but Morgan judged the wind perfectly to send the ball through the uprights.
Encouraged by this early score Syston continued to keep the red and greens on the defensive with a fluid game plan combining forwards and backs. After the home forwards had punched holes the ball was spun wide for winger Ben Hardy to outpace the stretched defence to cross the line wide out.
After two early scores Rasen soon found themselves on the back foot again after knocking on just inside the Syston half, but the red and green eight responded magnificently to destroy the home scrum and regain the ball to launch a dangerous attack that ended with a high tackle on scrumhalf Chris Everton.
Dan Robinson nudged the resultant penalty into touch and despite the tricky wind, hooker Tom Alldridge’s precision throw found the target. The forwards set off on their well rehearsed routine and Syston had no answer to the forward power as lock Leigh Dearden took the honours with the touchdown. Robinson then stepped up to strike a truly remarkable conversion from wide out into the teeth of the gale to put Rasen only one point in arrears.
Moments later Rasen came within striking distance with another penalty lineout, but the previous efficiency eluded them and Syston cleared. Lock Sam Harrison, who was continually involved in many promising Syston forays, broke up field as the home side took the game back to Rasen.
After several phases Syston surged for the line, but were held up by some defiant defending.
The visitors continued to offer stout resistance, but a flurry of penalties conceded in quick succession kept them under pressure and rather astonishingly didn’t even raise the hint of a yellow card. Eventually Syston broke the resistance as a lineout was driven forward and peeled infield for prop Aaron Dawson to crash over the line. Morgan added the conversion for the final score of the half that left Syston 15–7 up at the interval.
For much of the first half the two sides had been equal, but it was a higher error count from Rasen that had given Syston the edge and the first score of the second half was going to be crucial.
Unfortunately it came from Syston in the seventh minute when flanker Matt Ferguson burst past several half hearted would be tacklers to face the final defender with his back row colleague Jamie Skerritt in close attendance. A simple draw and pass put Skerritt in under the posts to leave Morgan with a simple conversion.
The two sides continued to slug it out until Syston were given an advantage with the sin binning of Dearden for airborne interference at a lineout. The men in red and green stiffened their resolve before the sides were evened up six minutes later with the temporary dismissal of Syston scrumhalf Alex Cavner.
For much of the second half it was a slog played out between the two opposing 22-metre lines as each side struggled with the wind as numerous promising attacks ended with a spilled pass. In the final five minutes Syston pushed for a fourth try to earn a bonus point keeping Rasen pinned in their twenty two, but the red and green defence repelled everything the league leaders threw at them to deny the extra spoils.
The conditions made play difficult for both sides, but Syston were more clinical with their opportunities and made fewer errors which proved to be critical in the end. Rasen were not overawed and remained competitive throughout the game with the set scrum again showing signs of dominance. The team spirit remained intact despite the early setbacks, but the penalty count was the highest of the season to date and needs addressing with some urgency.
On Saturday the action returns to Willingham Road for a 2.15pm kick off with a visit from Newark who will be full of confidence after a big win over relegation rivals Mansfield.
Teams - Rasen: Haig, Alldridge, Cole, Dearden L, Chamberlin, Starling C, Pryer, Spencer, Everton C, Robinson, Beasley, Starling D, Pridgeon, Gutteridge. Subs: Mills (Cole), Norman (not used) Norton J (not used)
Syston: Dawson, Lockington, Jones, Harrision, Chapman, Ferguson, Skerritt, Davey, Cavner, Morgan, Hardy, Nunney, O’Reilly, Bower, Coles. Subs: Kilby, Edmunds, Tressler