Melton RFC ended 2017 with a narrow defeat to a stubborn Old Northamptonians side in a match the hosts could and should have won.
On yet another chilly day, Melton welcomed another team from across the county border for the last league fixture before the winter break.
In the reverse league fixture, Melton had suffered a heavy defeat against a very well-drilled team so were keen to make amends on build on the good performance of the previous week.
There were some enforced changes to the home team to injuries and seasonal unavailability, and there was almost a disastrous start when the kick-off catch was fumbled.
Old Northamptonians capitalised on the mistake to drive deep into Melton’s half, and only some fine defensive tackling from the back rows Leon Gormley and Dan Wakefield denied the visitors an early score.
This was an early wake-up call and Melton duly responded with some driving play from the forwards, with Kieron Stone and Marcus Badham to the fore.
A series of well-driven mauls gave the hosts the upper hand in loose play, and Ollie Circuit was tackled just short of the line after a searing break.
However, the ensuing scrum saw the visiting pack driven back, and Sam Dennison opened the scoring with a forwards try.
Harvey Green’s conversion drifted just wide.
The cold and wet conditions undoubtedly contributed to several handling errors by both sides as the slippery ball was difficult to control.
Both sides made concerted efforts to play attractive rugby as they attacked from every phase, but were frustrated by the breakdown as the ball frequently went loose, leading to passages of stop-start play.
Melton continued to mount a series of attacks, but at a cost as Kieron Stone, who had been having yet another immense game, limped off with a leg injury to be replaced by Charlie Loveday.
Unfortunately Old Northamptonians used this break in play to rally themselves, and they launched numerous attacks which eventually paid off when their centre, Rhys Evans, crashed over from close range.
The well-struck conversion gave the visitors a slender 7-5 half-time lead.
Head coach Gareth Collins’ half-time team talk seemed to do the trick as Melton opened the second half with some stunning adventurous play and flowing rugby.
However, the first-up tackling from the visitors was first rate and prevented the breakthrough which Melton so desperately needed.
The forwards maintained their dominance in the set piece and the visitors’ prop was shown a yellow card.
Melton should have reaped the rewards, but despite a series of penalties the three points on offer were spurned in favour of set scrums.
Unfortunately the ball squirted out from yet another well-driven scrum, and the visitors reacted quickest to launch a counter attack.
From the ensuing maul Leon Gormley was shown a yellow card for an injudicious tip tackle.
Old Northamptonians were back to full strength and used the extra man to good advantage to drive upfield.
Despite some heroic defending from Sam Badham and Adam Woolley, the visitors spotted an overlap and quick ball put Mike Bellamy in at the corner to extend the lead to 12-5.
In the final quarter Melton pressed for a score and were unfortunate when a quick tap-penalty by Duncan Lennox appeared a certain try, but the referee deemed it had been held up over the line.
The visitors continued to defend well despite the best efforts of Melton’s pack and held out for a narrow win.
Melton picked up a losing bonus point and remain eighth going into the winter break.
They return to action in Midlands One East on Saturday, January 6 at fellow mid-table opponents Oundle.
Melton: K. Stone, M. Badham, L. Pawley, S. Badham, J. Long, L. Gormley, S. Dennison, D. Wakefield, D. Lennox, M. Cox, O. Circuit, A. Woolley, H. Green, H. Kaz, J. White, T. Allen, C. Loveday, J. Forfar.