Melton RFC First XV were given a few scares before overcoming Midlands One East bottom side Ilkeston on Saturday.
Gareth Collins’ side took on a side who have been a Midlands One outfit for several years, but the Elks have had a tough time this season.
The conditions were set for entertaining rugby and Melton were keen to state their intentions with some fast-flowing attacks.
But they Ilkeston defended well against these opening exchanges and the visitors lacked the finish at crucial moments.
Leon Gormley was held up over the line, while a well-driven scrum was fortuitously disrupted as the hosts cleared.
The Ilkeston scrum began to creak under the relentless pressure from Melton’s dominant pack with the front row of Kieran Stone, Marcus Badham and Dave Osborne giving their opposition a technical lesson.
A defensive scrum saw Badham steal a ball against the head and the second shove gave Simon Peters enough time to dive over from close range to finally open the scoring. Matt Cox’s conversion attempt was just wide.
But straight from the kick-off Ilkeston stole the ball and a good passage of play saw them score out wide to level.
With confidence buoyed, the hosts laid siege to the Melton line, and only excellent defensive tackling from Sam Badham and Chris Rose kept them out.
Melton responded in kind, but again the final pass went astray or they over-complicated matters as the sides remained locked at 5-5 at half-time.
The visitors knew they had plenty to do in the second half with the slope to their advantage and opened with several phases of good pressure as forwards and backs linked well.
They were rewarded when Dan Wakefield appeared on the wing and scored on an overlap, with Cox adding a well-struck conversion.
But Melton handed back the initiative again when a loose miss-pass was well read by the home winger who intercepted and ran in from halfway. The resulting conversion brought it all level again.
Collins made some tactical changes and brought on Duncan Lennox and Charlie Loveday, while Dave Meakin made his first team debut for the season in the second row. The changes made a difference as Melton attacked with renewed vigour.
The next scrum saw Marcus Badham take yet another ball against the head. Ilkeston’s pack were forced back and driven over the line, giving Peters an armchair ride for his second try (17-12).
Using the slope to good advantage, Melton drove into their opponents with Meakin and Kieran Stone making some powerful runs and showing good fitness and strength to make ground.
Wakefield’s lineout steal sent Gormley on a searing break before Klay Radford took the ball on the burst, timing his pass to Carl Prior to perfection. Rather than give Harvey Green an easy run-in, Prior opted for a strong hand to squeeze in at the corner for a well-worked try.
This knocked the stuffing out of the home side as Melton looked for the bonus-point win.
Relentless pressure saw Ilkeston concede a knock-on and from a well-rehearsed scrum move, Mark Matthews made a dummy run to confuse the defence.
Radford used the gap well and another well-timed pass set up fellow centre Prior on a crash ball move for a fine try. Cox added the extras to cap a hard-won 29-12 victory thanks to a strong forwards effort.
The result guaranteed Melton at least a sixth-place finish in their first season in Midlands One, and within five points of the two teams above them. Their penultimate league match of the season, and final home match, is against promotion-chasing Kettering on Saturday. Kick-off 3pm.
Melton: K. Stone, M. Badham, D. Osborne, K. Bugby, S. Badham, D. Wakefield, L. Gormley, S. Peters, C. Rose, M. Cox, A. Brookes, C. Prior, K. Radford, H. Green, M. Matthews, D. Lennox, C. Loveday, D. Meakin.