Melton RFC maintained their seven-point lead at the top of Midlands Two East (South) with a bonus point win at the division’s bottom side Rushden and Higham on Saturday.
Yet Rushden’s lowly position was at odds with their performance as they made title-chasing Melton work hard for victory with a very creditable performance as they fight for survival in the league.
The heavy conditions slowed both sides, but the visitors started brightly and attacked at every opportunity. It would prove a frustrating afternoon, however, as Melton seemed to get on the wrong side of the referee too often and gave up valuable territory as decisions went against them.
Leon Gormley had what appeared a good try ruled out after a short lineout move with Marcus Badham and this galvanised the forwards.
From the next lineout Sam Badham stole the ball and Chris Rose whipped it away smartly to get the backs moving. Good work from Mark Matthews and Sam Dennison helped release Ben Warwick who cleverly stepped inside his man and used all of his height in thr tackle to stretch for the line and score a fine team try.
Matt Cox’s beautiful conversion in tricky conditions made it 7-0.
Melton’s pack dominated their opponents with the front row of Wayne Brookes, Marcus Badham and Bob Prior causing all sorts of problems in the set piece.
And when a Rushden scrum was stolen against the head, Rose spotted a lack of cover on the blind side. Cox read the play well to take the final pass and bully his way over in the corner despite desperate last-ditch tackles.
The hosts fought back and tested Melton’s defence with some of their best play. Only stunning tackling, particularly from Phil Cowey, thwarted them.
But what seemed an obvious blocking move gave Rushden an overlap and a score in the corner to open their account.
The rest of the half saw both teams probing for a breakthrough but both defences held firm.
Melton knew they had plenty to do in the second half with a slender lead of 12-5 and a noticeable slope to contend with on a heavy pitch.
The game was always likely to be won in the forwards and so it proved as Melton used their greater power and guile.
An early scrum close to Rushden’s line brought a huge effort from the forwards to drive the opposition back, and Richard Foster picked up and drove over for a try of real menace.
Rushden never gave up, but had no answer to the Melton forwards and the superb tackling of the backs.
Flankers Dennison and Gormley stole numerous balls in turnovers to stifle any threats, while James Woolley made several telling runs on the wing, but never had quite enough room to add to his season’s try tally.
Dave Osborne and Lewis Moult came on as replacements and both had a hand in the next try.
Melton ran the ball from halfway with slick passing, forcing Rushden into a dangerous high tackle which resulted in a yellow card.
Marcus Badham cleverly took a quick tap penalty and evaded two tackles before popping a pass to Gormley who crashed over from close range.
Cox added the conversion with another fine kick from out wide to add a healthier gloss to the scoreline.
The restart brought the game’s best try when Foster took the ball and quick hands spun the ball wide through Matthews, Cowey and Carl Prior.
He broke a cover tackle and sold a delicious dummy before generously giving the final pass to Gareth Collins for a stroll over in the corner.
Melton have a fortnight’s break before the next league game on Saturday, February 13 at home to Belgrave, the only side to have thwarted them in the league this season with a draw.
Melton: M. Matthews, J, Woolley, G, Collins, C. Prior, B. Warwick, M. Cox, C. Rose, R. Foster, L. Gormley, S. Dennison, S. Badham, P. Cowey, B. Prior, M. Badham, W. Brookes, L. Moult, D. Osborne.