Injuries to key players took their toll as Melton RFC fell to a heavy 47-17 defeat at Oundle on their return to league rugby on Saturday.
The corresponding fixture earlier in the season was a tight affair, narrowly edged by Oundle by two points, and Melton went into the mid-table clash knowing victory for either side would be useful in consolidating their positions.
The visitors were still missing several regulars, particularly in the pack, but were able to welcome back Klay Radford in the centre after his holiday in Africa.
The early exchanges were fairly even and it was Melton who got on the scoreboard first when Harvey Green slotted a penalty.
This was followed up when Marcus Badham was only a fingertip away from an excellent interception which could have led to the game’s opening try.
But Oundle really raised their game and things looked ominous from the first scrum when a turnover ball led to a quick pop pass and a stroll over for a soft try and easy conversion to open the home side’s account.
The rest of the half featured some very good support play and running rugby by the home side as the Oundle number eight notched up a hat-trick of tries. It got worse as Melton stood off tackles at times, and the Oundle forwards and backs ran rampant as they dominated territory and scored on a regular basis to run up a comfortable lead by half-time.
The travelling supporters feared the worst for the second half and it would have been all too easy to have capitulated and let the hosts rack up a huge score.
Thankfully this was not to be the case as harsh words from head coach Gareth Collins seemed to do the trick.
The fightback began early on when the forwards finally got their act together.
Sam Badham drove into the opposition half and quick hands from Chris Rose saw Christian Jeremiah crash over, with Green adding the extras.
An astute change of tactics saw Will Helliwell switch from wing to stand-off, and almost from his first touch, it brought a second Melton try.
A wonderful loop move with Ollie Circuit, a return pass and swift acceleration through a half-gap teed up Harry Wood to score. Green once more added the extras.
The shame was it was all too little, too late as Oundle responded by retaining possession and stifling any Melton attacks with textbook tackling.
And it was the home side who had the last word with a final try in the dying minutes for a healthy bonus-point win.
It will get tougher for Melton over the next few weeks as they face sides higher in the league, and they can only hope that key players make a speedy return.
The run begins with a home match with third-placed Paviors at Burton Road on Saturday (kick-off 2.15pm).
The Nottingham side have been on a red-hot streak of form in Midlands One East, racking up a staggering total of 325 points in five successive wins including an 82-point haul against Bugbrooke, and 74 against Huntingdon.