Market Rasen & Louth secured victory over Kettering by the narrowest of margins.
Willingham Road is fast becoming the place to be for the neutral rugby fan as another fascinating game unfolded, with switches in the balance of power and the result in doubt right up to the final whistle, but nerve jangling for the respective sets of rival supporters who each had good reason to believe their side would emerge triumphant.
There is definitely a change of mindset in the red and greens as the lumbering slow starts of the past have been banished, and Saturday was no exception.
An early penalty was drilled into touch for the forwards to launch their well-rehearsed catch and drive routine.
With the Rasen pack easing their way towards the Kettering line, skipper Chris Starling peeled off from the driving maul and powered his way over the line for the opening score with only three minutes on the clock.
Fly half Dan Robinson added the conversion to maximise the early marker laid down by the home side.
Seven minutes later Rasen repeated the dose as another Kettering misdemeanour was punished in similar fashion with lock Chris Mills finishing off the excellent work of his forward teammates.
A lapse in concentration from the re-start gave Kettering an opportunity to clawback the deficit, but skipper Tom Bridgeman’s penalty attempt drifted wide of the posts.
However, Bridgeman became a constant thorn in Rasen’s side as his elusive running posed innumerable problems for the home defence as he appeared to be Teflon coated judging by the number of would be tacklers who slipped off him.
As the half wore on the Kettering forwards were starting to gain the upper hand, forcing Rasen to defend their driving play.
From a set scrum deep in Rasen’s twenty-two, the Kettering eight shunted the home pack backwards for number eight Dan Ireland to pick up at the base and drive over the whitewash.
Bridgeman slotted the conversion and then tormented the red and greens with a dazzling run that sliced open the defence to threaten the home line.
Last ditch tackling managed to stifle the move and push the play into touch to leave Rasen clinging to a slender 12–7 lead at the interval.
Rasen extended their lead with a Robinson penalty in the fourth minute of the second half, but this merely masked the switch in the balance of power that was emerging at the end of the first period as Kettering were moving up a gear.
Three minutes later Bridgeman burrowed his way over the whitewash following a powerful catch and drive from his forwards that had had Rasen retreating.
Kettering maintained the pressure and another drive from their pack ate up the ground as Rasen were forced backwards at an alarming rate before conceding a penalty.
A quick tap had Rasen scrambling again as the ubiquitous Bridgeman headed for the line, but this time he was held up and the danger was temporarily averted.
Rasen were finding it increasingly difficult to escape Kettering’s stranglehold and gain any field position.
Things got worse for the home side when Chris Everton, filling in on the wing and making his first appearance since injury in January, needlessly conceded a penalty by impetuously keeping the ball to prevent Kettering’s quick throw.
The visitors punished this with aplomb by drilling the penalty into touch and then giving Rasen a taste of their own medicine with an imperious catch and drive, finished off by hooker Steve Fraher to give Kettering the lead for the first time.
There was further calamity when substitute prop Pete Southwell was harshly yellow carded for what the referee said was a culmination of team offences, a decision difficult to fathom as Rasen had not been conceding penalties in rapid succession.
Now was the time for the men in red and green to show their mettle and they certainly stepped up to the mark.
After initially soaking up and repelling more Kettering pressure Rasen worked their way up field and extracted a penalty within kicking distance.
The option was clear, but clouded by Robinson’s inconsistent goal kicking so the captain’s decision was therefore not immediate.
The skipper’s trust was repaid and all doubts evaporated as the ball sailed through the uprights to nudge Rasen in front.
There was still five minutes to play, but the lead invigorated the home side as they kept Kettering pinned in their own half.
With the final scrum won, a relieved Everton now restored to his accustomed scrumhalf position booted the ball into touch to signal the start of the celebrations for a hard-fought victory.
The side must now strive to maintain the standard in two important away games before the Christmas break.
RASEN & LOUTH: C. Starling, Alldridge, Haig, Mills, Inman, Chamberlin, Pryer, D. Starling, M. Starling, Stephens, Dearden, White, C. Everton, Goodwin; Subs: Southwell (Haig), Grant (White), Holvey (not used).
On Saturday the red and greens mount their expedition to the far flung reaches of Leighton Buzzard, for what is the longest away trip of the season.