Melton RFC produced one of their finest team performances of the season to topple title hopefuls Old Northamptonians in emphatic fashion.
The second-placed side had been comfortable winners in the reverse fixture, after some controversial refereeing decisions, so Melton were keen to make amends on a cold and windy afternoon.
Some of the visitors were held up in traffic, but after a delayed kick-off, they started brightly as their big forwards rumbled upfield.
Only some forthright tackling, particularly from Dan Evans and Simon Peters, stemmed the tide, but the early pressure brought its rewards when Melton’s backs were caught offside in front of their posts and the resulting penalty put the visitors ahead.
The St Albans referee made his mark with an early yellow card for both sides after a minor scuffle off the ball.
Despite the setback, Melton drove upfield and caught the visitors offside, allowing Matt Cox to level.
ONs were next on the scoreboard when a well-worked move between forwards and backs and slick handling gave them a try out wide from an overlap.
But Melton responded well when Chris Rose broke on the blindside and released Carl Prior who broke through tackles and found Kieran Bugby up in support.
Harvey Green read the play well from full-back and took the pass at pace to score a stunning try out wide. Cox added the conversion from the touchline.
Taking heart, Melton’s pack began to get on top. The front row of Kieran Stone, Marcus Badham and Dave Osborne exerted real pressure in the set piece, and when the opposition conceded another penalty, Marcus Badham cleverly called for another scrum rather than take the easy three points.
This paid handsome dividends when the ONs pack was driven back 15 metres, and a penalty try seemed certain as the scrum disintegrated, but Rose dived over from close range for a try.
Cox’s conversion made it 17-8, but the lead was soon cut when a well-struck penalty for another offside made it 17-11 at the break after a half of real intensity with both sides playing entertaining rugby in the conditions.
The visitors missed an easy penalty early in the second half after Melton were penalised for not releasing in the tackle, but the ONs fly-half soon made amends with two well-struck penalties to level at 17-17.
Straight from the restart, both sides lost a player to the sin bin for 10 minutes, but both side continued to attack.
Wave after wave of Melton attacks were stifled by good tackling, but eventually quick ball from Kieran Stone and Sam Badham, handling like three-quarters, drove upfield.
A loose pass seemed to end the move, but Peters’ turn of pace caught the ONs defence napping, scooping up the ball one-handed and bursting through to score a terrific try under the posts. Cox again added the extras.
The pace of the game took its toll as both sides brought on substitutes, with Charlie Loveday and Adam Chambers on for Melton.
The fresh legs saw the hosts continue to press home their advantage and Adam Woolley was unlucky not to score out on the wing with a searing break.
The visitors tried everything to get back into the game, but Melton were not to be denied on their home turf.
Frustrated by some astute defensive work from the hosts, ONs conceded a string of penalties and were marched back 10 metres after questioning the decisions.
Badham opted for a lineout, with Cox putting in another well-judged line kick, and Dan Evans took a fine catch to set up a forward drive.
Quick ball released Klay Radford on the burst who evaded the first tackle and followed up with a swivel of the hips and a pirouette to score a stunning try under the posts. Cox put the final gloss on the score.
Melton: K. Stone, M. Badham, D. Osborne, S. Badham, K. Bugby, L. Gormley, S. Peters, D. Evans, C. Rose, M. Cox, C. Prior, K. Radford, A. Woolley, H. Wood, H. Green, C. Loveday, A. Chambers.