Market Rasen and Louth RFC signed off their league campaign on a winning note in an anti-climatic finale at bottom side Matlock on Saturday.
The game had little significance for either side, other than pride, with Matlock already relegated and Rasen secure in the knowledge they would be playing in Midlands One East next season.
In the past Rasen have found it difficult to get a result in this picturesque Derbyshire setting and this match was no exception as both sides played some laboured rugby before the visitors claimed a rare victory.
The early stages belonged to the physical Matlock XV as Rasen found it difficult to get going and were confined to their own half. The hosts took the lead in the 15th minute when the Matlock forwards steamrollered Rasen back over their own line from a lineout catch and drive for flanker Harry Neville to touch down.
Rasen failed to make the best use of their possession until Mike Starling’s towering kick was fumbled by James Fairclough who was under pressure from Adam Goodwin’s strong chase.
As play rolled on Matlock were penalised and Rasen kicked the ball into touch to unleash their own catch and drive, expertly finished by prop David Haig.
Matlock continued to trundle the ball upfield through their forwards until centre Harry Boyd burst through a huge gap in Rasen’s defence and linked with winger Chris Perry for a simple run in, converted by James Harrod.
With the final play of the half lock Chris Mills, subdued for much of the half, charged forward before linking with Dave Starling. The Rasen number eight’s mesmerising solo run bamboozled the home defence to score close to the posts and leave Tom Alldridge with a simple conversion.
Going into the second half locked at 12-all, an early yellow card for Matlock’s Tim Taylor gave Rasen a numerical advantage and the introduction of prop Ollie Cole added impetus and urgency.
Rasen began to use the ball to better effect as a flowing move involving Cole, Leigh Dearden and Dave Starling ended with substitute winger, Simon Cooper sprinting in at the corner. Alldridge’s superb touchline conversion added the extras for a 19-12 lead.
The game’s highlight then followed as Cole took the ball forward, sold a dummy and then executed a perfect grubber kick to put the ball into touch deep in Matlock territory.
The game descended back into mediocrity as the two sides continued to slug it out. Taylor returned, but was fortunate to remain on he field when his high tackle drew nothing more than a penalty and a mild rebuke from the referee.
The leniency drew an injudicious comment from within the Rasen ranks and the penalty was swiftly reversed. Matlock rubbed salt into the wounds as they took a quick tap and Boyd exploited the disarray to run through another huge gap and put Ben Neville in for a try.
Matlock failed to convert leaving Rasen with a slender two-point lead with 10 minutes left.
The visitors were ahead on points, but the hosts were by no means on the ropes and past experience should have alerted Rasen that Matlock never give up and always play to the final whistle.
As the game wore on to its weary conclusion Matlock suffered another setback as Harrod finished his game early with a yellow card. Somehow Rasen surrendered possession and Matlock looked to run from deep.
Matlock continued to retain possession without making much headway out of their 22, and finally the pressure told.
The ball was spilled for Dave Starling to gather and just reach the line to give Rasen an unexpected try bonus point.
Alldridge’s conversion signalled the end of a truly forgettable game.
But the Red and Greens should be proud that they have fought off relegation and ended 11 points clear of the drop, while securing the most losing bonus points in the league, indicating they have remained competitive throughout the season.
The final game of the season is the Lincolnshire Cup final against newly-crowned National League Three Midlands champions Scunthorpe early next month.
Rasen: C. Starling (Cole), Alldridge, Haig, Mills (Crowe), Chamberlin, L. Dearden, Pryer, D. Starling, M. Starling, Norman, Berger (Cooper), A. Dearden, Harvey, Goodwin, Gutteridge.