Market Rasen and Louth RFC made the perfect start to the new year with an emphatic away victory over Ilkeston on Saturday.
In one of their best performance of the season, the Red and Greens were unflinching in defence, paving the way for exciting counter-attacking and handling.
Both kickers also returned a perfect record as Rasen set the benchmark for the remainder of the campaign, showing coach Niall Thomson the progress made under his tutelage before he takes a temporary leave of absence for work commitments.
Yet for 50 minutes the game was in the balance, with Ilkeston winning the territorial battle, making light of playing up the slope in the first half by dominating early on, using their large forwards to stay entrenched in the visitors’ half.
Rasen’s defence held firm against the early onslaught and it was they who took the lead.
After fielding a long clearance kick, Ilkeston fullback Joe Marsden set off up the hill and had to kick over the advancing Rasen defence.
A kick over the Rasen defence was safely gathered by Will Pridgeon who launched a kick of his own.
The bouncing ball was swept up by the sparse Ilkeston defence, but the Red and Green hordes engulfed them with superior numbers and regained possession before slick handling moved the ball wide for Ben Young to score, Connor Janney then converting.
From the restart Ilkeston’s battering ram approach was repulsed by more valiant defending.
Penalties were conceded, but Ilkeston opted to trust their forward power, only to find an impenetrable wall blocking their way.
After weathering this storm, Rasen broke out with a deadly counter-attack, and their speed and handling was too much for the sluggish retreating Ilkeston defence.
Janney finished off the attack before slotting the conversion to make it 14-0.
The half continued in similar fashion with Ilkeston camped in Rasen territory for long periods, testing their resolve, but getting no change.
Ilkeston began the second half as they had finished the first, but with the slope in their favour and after a half-time breather.
Ilkeston’s persistence finally paid off five minutes in when Rasen conceded a penalty and once again they opted to drill the ball into touch, deep in the 22.
The lineout worked faultlessly and the hosts drove for the line, inching their way forward until scrum-half Harry Walton spied a gap and dived through for their opening try.
The next score would be crucial and Rasen struck a huge psychological blow with another counter-attack, initiated by George Grant’s powerful run, blasting his way through the home defence.
The ball finally found its way into the grateful hands of Chris Everton, returning from injury, who joined the line from the unfamiliar position of fullback, to dot down under the posts. Young slotted the conversion.
With some Ilkeston limbs showing signs of fatigue, Rasen bagged the bonus point three minutes later when Matt Ashton showed a surprising turn of pace to exploit a gap before delivering the perfect pass to Ben Chamberlin.
The Rasen skipper took play forward to the final defender before popping the ball inside for Jake Pryer to charge over the whitewash.
And with Young’s conversion, the visitors had real daylight for the first time.
Ilkeston’s wingers remained almost redundant, despite showing glimpses of their potential with ball in hand, as the hosts continued to use their wearying forwards to attack.
The visitors continued to play with pragmatism, clearing to touch when necessary and putting pace on the game when the opportunity arose.
After working the phases, Josh White emulated Grant’s earlier break, splitting the home defence with a powerful run before putting centre Adam Goodwin in at the corner for his first try of the season.
Young continued his good kicking form to add the extras.
Grant made another break and looked odds on to reach the line, but confronted the only Ilkeston defender barring his way who did his job.
But Rasen’s support, excellent throughout, was on hand to recycle possession and spin the ball wide for McKay to cross for Rasen’s sixth try. Young capped the game with another successful conversion.
On Saturday, Rasen return to Willingham Road looking to extend their unbeaten run over relegation-threatened Lincoln which spanned the whole of the last decade. Kick-off is 2.15pm.
Rasen and Louth: Crowe (Howard), Ashton, Southwell, Chamberlin, Janney (J. Norton), Grant, Pryer, McKay, Nicholls, White, Young, Goodwin, Berger, Pridgeon (M. Starling), Everton.
* Rasen and Louth’s second team had their first outing of the year at home to Goole, but narrowly lost 28-20.