This National League One match was every bit as close as the 18-17 score suggests, but paradoxically Rosslyn Park never really looked like losing.
Fielding several changes from their previous starting line-up Park appeared less cohesive than usual.
The home side had done their homework and generally avoided engaging the formidable Park unit in scrummaging.
The speed and commitment shown by Loughborough gave Park no time on the ball, inducing some uncharacteristic errors and, apart from a brief spell at the beginning of the second half, the four-try bonus point they ideally wanted simply was not on.
A lively start from Loughborough, kicking down a pronounced slope, soon had Park defending. A snappy attack down their left saw the ball knocked-on in the tackle.
Initially denied any worthwhile possession there was little Park could do but absorb the early pressure.
Pressure: Park’s Henry Staff gets closed down
Well as Park defended, there was an air of inevitability about the penalty conceded on 11 minutes that allowed Alex Davies to kick Loughborough into a 3-0 lead Park launched their first proper attack from the restart, but their former player Sam Katz soon booted them back to their own 22.
When Park came into the game as an attacking force, particularly through powerful winger Joe Ajuwa, their attacks carried far more weight and conviction than those of their opponents.
Twice Ajuwa prompted good attacks, but Loughborough could not be discounted. Their half backs orchestrated a superb counter, breaking up their left wing to set up a dangerous attack, but which simply ran out of options when faced with the visitors’ blanket defence.
Almost on the half hour a good Park attack yielded a penalty from which fly half Scott Sneddon slotted over an equaliser.
Park soon returned to the attack only to spoil their effort with a knock on. Before the home side could recover, Ajuwa proved unstoppable with a solo effort up the left after good work from Hugo Ellis, to put his side in front for the first time at 8-3.
Here: Park’s David Vincent off loads
The angle for the touchline conversion was just too much for Sneddon in a blustery wind.
Loughborough tried to get back but their penalty on the Park 10 metre line never looked like finding the posts. It was left to Sneddon to add a further penalty just before half time to send his side in with a useful 11-3 lead.
Park initially looked a whole different proposition playing down the slope, and it was a surprise when Sneddon was asked to attempt a difficult long distance penalty rather than kicking to gain a throw in enemy territory.
It missed, but a terrific run through the middle by Henry Staff led to a forward drive to get close to the line until Park were penalised.
Loughborough, though, refused to lie down and set up a good attack. It looked as if Park had successfully repelled it when prop Mike Daniels was brought down short of the line but he managed to stretch out with the ball to touch the try-line to gain the score. Davies’ conversion brought his side right back into the match at 11-10.
Park returned to the attack. Loughborough broke out of defence but careless use of the elbow saw them hauled back for a penalty, which Sneddon kicked for position in the opposition 22.
Park built up a head of steam but first knocked on, then drove to the line only to lose control of the ball.
They again mauled towards the line, were forced into touch but this time Park won the opposition throw and again set themselves up on the line.
The powerful Ajuwa forced his way over for anything but a typical winger’s try. Sneddon converted for 18-10.
Park had just over 15 minutes to secure the two tries they needed for a bonus point. Things looked good with a penalty in front of the posts which was kicked towards the corner, but the ball passed the wrong side of the corner flag to allow Loughborough a drop-out to relive the pressure.
Going forward: Park skipper Hugo Ellis sets up an attack
Loughborough were still by no means lying down and a superb attack up their left drew a flying try-saving tackle from scrum half Matt Heeks, that saw him leave the field injured shortly afterwards.
Despite their best efforts Park simply could not fashion a way past the defence and it was the hosts who snatched a (losing) bonus point with the last play of the match, winger Craig Dowsett getting over following a Park handling error.
Davies’ conversion brought the final whistle at 18-17.
If this was not quite the purring machine of Park at their best, then it was still a good away win against a side whose own performance was way above their league position.
Park: Vincent; Broughton, Hodgkinson, Staff, Ajuwa; Sneddon; Heeks (Gash); Liffchak, Bellamy, McKenzie (Ward); Inglis, Bowley; Stedman, Pienaar, Ellis (Shires).
Subs not used: Strachan, Baldwin.
Keep the pressure on: Park win line-out battle