A battling performance in an entertaining game was not quite enough to prevent defeat for Ilkeston RUFC in their final game of the National League season.
The Elks played their part in a fine game of rugby, and even led at the interval. But their Warwickshire visitors, Newbold-on-Avon, who sit as high as third in the Midlands 1 East table, took a grip of the second oeriod and fully deserved their 22-10 victory.
Fifth-placed Ilkeston began well against a Newbold side who have tasted defeat only five times this term and have finished on the tails of the top two, Bedford Athletic and Derby.
Kicking down the slope, the scrum looked strong and from an attacking lineout, the pack drove hard and eventually crashed over, with man-of-the-match Steve Quinn getting the touchdown.
Newbold responded by pouncing on a spilled ball and counter-attacking with terrific pace to level the scores in the 13th minute. But the Elks hit back well and when Luke Bayliss was found in space, he sprinted to the line to add his side’s second try and make the score 10-5, which it remained until half-time.
With the advantage of the slope, the visitors needed only two minutes of the second half to square the scores again. They were soon on the Elks line, recycled quickly and crashed over.
As the Newbold attacks mounted and they kicked well for territory, Ilkeston began to concede penalties. But to their credit, the hosts produced a fine display of defending and forced several mistakes from the away side.
Despite gallant work by Quinn and Simon Bennett, Elks’ own attacks in the second half were limited. And eventually, continued pressure from Newbold told as they created space to score their third try in the 68th minute. For the first time, the extras were also converted, making the score 17-10.
The home team tried desperately to get back into the game, chiefly through Alex Ayres, Jack Partington, Sam Humphries and the ever-influential Quinn, who was excellent at the base of the scrum and took the game to the opponents whenever he could. But every time a mistake was made, Newbold kicked back well and pinned the Elks deep in their own half.
As the match entered its final five minutes and Ilkeston tried to push on, the ball was turned over, the visitors kicked over the top and their winger showed electric pace to gather the ball and complete the scoring.
The hosts had one last attack after a Newbold penalty. Jake Lamb kicked to the corner and Humphries took good lineout ball, but good defence snuffed out the chance.
In the end, Ilkeston were left to reflect on how a superb effort by the pack in the first half took its toll in the second when Newbold played well, inspired by their fly-half, who was outstanding with his kicks from hand.
They now have one last match to negotiate -- the NLD Cup final against Scunthorpe, who have just been promoted after a fantastic season.