Market Rasen and Louth RFC climbed to the top of the Midlands Three East (North) with their fourth win out of four on Saturday.
Their bonus-point victory against Southwell edged them above fellow unbeaten side Melbourne and overnight leaders Newark who slipped to their first defeat at Lincoln.
Rasen beat winless Southwell at a canter with the side playing at a level some way short of its full potential, with the penalty count better than the previous week, but remaining too high.
Southwell had first use of a stiff breeze, but a searing break from scrum-half Ed Nicholls carved open the visitors’ defence, and quick hands from Will Pridgeon put flanker George Grant away up the touchline to score in the corner with only a minute elapsed.
Southwell made use of the wind to pin the hosts back in their own 22 and after a period of sustained pressure opened their account with a well-struck penalty from Cash Radford.
This proved to be their last real threat to the Rasen line and the advantage of the elements was frittered away with some aimless kicking.
And one such poor kick initiated Rasen’s next score with Spen Holvey fielding the loose clearance.
The young full-back galloped upfield in acres of space before linking with Tom Stephens who reached the line with a theatrical dive over the whitewash.
Rasen continued to heap on the pressure, which proved too much for feisty Southwell winger Edward Leigh, who had already had a minor altercation with Chris Everton and received a yellow card.
The ever-alert Nicholls took a quick tap from the resulting penalty and offloaded to prop Matt Ashton who smashed his way to the line.
Kicker Tom Alldridge was grateful for the better position after his first two attempts from the touchline into a headwind had proven too difficult.
This time he made no mistake and extended Rasen’s lead by a further two points from the conversion.
It wasn’t quite one-way traffic, but Nicholls continued to be a constant irritation to the flagging Southwell defence.
Another clean break put panic in the Southwell ranks before desperate defending prevented him from getting a scoring pass away to one of his supporting teammates with the line at their mercy.
The visitors did hold out with no further scares as Rasen took a comfortable 17–3 lead into the interval.
Rasen began the second half in the same vein and soon had Southwell trapped deep in their own 22.
The Red and Greens continued to batter away against some determined, if disorganised, defending. But Stephens cut a neat angle to glide through a gap for his second try and secure the bonus point.
Alldridge landed the conversion with nine second-half minutes gone and the watching supporters were now hoping for an avalanche of points. But this never materialised.
Lack of composure and valiant defending in a lost cause from Southwell contributed to the lack of scoring chances.
A strong run from Ashton tore open Southwell’s defence, but failing legs and lack of support brought the opportunity to an end.
This was to be Ashton’s last contribution as the prop sustained a neck injury, which brought play to a standstill and forced the transfer of the game to an adjoining pitch.
Fortunately, the injury was not as bad as first thought and Ashton was up and about after the game.
Play resumed on the replacement pitch, but the intensity was flagging until number eight Jake McKay picked from the base of an attacking scrum to surge through a gaping hole and dive over for the final score.
The game ended on 35 minutes, but Southwell may have been thankful their torment was over, while Rasen were elated to continue their unbeaten start to life in the lower division.
There is a break from league action this weekend as Rasen take on Vipers in the RFU Intermediate Cup at Willingham Road on Saturday.
Kick-off is to be confirmed – check for updates on the club’s website at www.rasenrugby.com
Rasen: Ashton, Alldridge, Southwell (Roberts), Crowe, Chamberlin, Smythe (Harvey), Grant, McKay, Nicholls, C. Everton, Young (Wallis), T. Stephens, Goodwin, Pridgeon, Holvey.