Melton RFC were denied a winning start to the season on Saturday as Rugby Lions finally broke their resistance with two late tries.
They headed down to Rugby’s impressive set-up to start a third straight season in Midlands One East without some key faces, but welcomed in new signings Jack Williams at full-back and Chris Merlane in the back row, and both enjoyed impressive debuts.
Player-coach Gareth Collins also took to the field for his first game in a while after knee surgery, hoping to prove a point at his hometown club where he spent more than a decade from mini to senior.
Melton received the kick-off and started the brighter, with the forwards making inroads up the field, but the consistent pressure could not break the Lions line of defence.
In fact, Rugby created the better chances in the first quarter with some darting runs from their speedy and nimble backs, with Joe Warwick’s tackling stopping a clear try-scoring opportunity.
But after 20 minutes the game was stopped as Nick Crossland joined Melton’s growing injury list, taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder, replaced by Jack Forfar.
Another wave of Lions pressure was cleared by Melton, and on a day where both lineout units were struggling, Melton were awarded a penalty on the 22 following a scrum.
Harvey Green, playing at 10, took the points and gave Melton a 3-0 lead.
But this seemed to spur on the hosts, and went ahead after some fantastic interplay through the backs.
The Lions winger darted down the line,chipped over the defending player and dived over in the corner despite the diving efforts of Collins and Green to get him into touch.
But Melton were not done and more good work from the pack, led by Stone and skipper Gormley, released Warwick, Woolley and then Green.
He carried upfield only to be tackled into touch as a tight half finished 5-3.
The half-time team talk was positive and called for much of the same.
The second half began very much as the first, with both sides refusing to yield and defences on top.
Gradually Rugby began to put some slick play together, dominating possession and gaining territory, but Melton’s defensive unit, led by Gormley, showed Melton were still in the game.
And after 25 minutes they went back in front when a penalty and yellow card was awarded for a Lions offside, and Green slotted the kick to make it 6-5 going into the final quarter.
But it was Lions who stepped up their game and forced a penalty close to Melton’s 22, with Gormley shown a yellow card on 34 minutes and Tom Allen a minute later.
With Melton down to 13 men going into the final five minutes, the pressure finally told and the Lions captain crashed over and set up an easy conversion for 12-6.
In his brave attempt to stop the try, Duncan Lennox was also forced off after a collision of heads.
With 43 minutes played, Lions were awarded a scrum on halfway which Melton hoped would be kicked to touch to end the game, giving them a losing bonus point.
But the home side played it and exploited the 13 men of Melton with a breakaway converted try to the disappointment of the squad and supporters.
The visitors were battered and bruised in giving everything and deserved something from the game.
Melton take on another team new to the division on Saturday when relegated Towcestrians visit Burton Road. Kick-off is 3pm.
Melton: Stone, Allen, Loveday, Long, Crossland, Merlane, Evans, Gormley (capt), Lennox, Green, Warwick, Collins, Kaczmarczyk, Woolley, Williams, Forfar, Pawley.