Fareham Heathens shrugged off the absence of key players to hold on to top spot in Hampshire one with a 31-3 win over Fordingbridge at Cams Alders.
The hosts were missing five senior players – including leading goal-kicker Cam Guthrie – but the stand-ins rose magnificently to the occasion.
Head coach Bernie Rhodes was impressed with the way his squad performed given the changes and the difficult underfoot conditions.
Overnight rain and standing water on an already heavy pitch had put the game in doubt.
But both captains agreed to go ahead with the fixture.
There was nothing between the sides early on but Heathens opened the scoring when Steve Devoy crossed in the corner.
Ryan Keary, stepping into the shoes of Guthrie to kick the goals, added the conversion.
After the good start, Heathens then lost two players to the sin bin in quick succession.
‘Although we went down to 13 men, we remained stoic in defence,’ said Rhodes.
‘Fordingbridge put us under heavy pressure but we only conceded a single penalty.’
When their players returned to the fray, Heathens made it count.
The hosts took a scrum against the head and Tom Baxter, playing at centre, charged over for a try which was converted by Keary.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, Heathens went in at half-time 14-3 in front.
‘It made my half-time talk pretty easy because we were in control – despite the conditions,’ said head coach Rhodes.
‘Our free-scoring opponents were being kept in check by some great defence.
‘Debutant Cary Aston playing at outside half was controlling play well for us.’
Baxter increased Heathens’ lead seven minutes into the second half with a similar try to his first.
And once again, Keary added the extra points.
Veteran skipper Dave Wheaton then crashed over the line for the bonus-point try.
And Keary powered over with 10 minutes remaining of the encounter to seal a convincing and comfortable win.
‘I didn’t think there was five tries in the game – given the conditions – but the lads were immense,’ said Rhodes.
‘To concede two players to the bin and win so well was commendable.
‘We now move on to another massive fixture next week at Sandown & Shanklin.
‘And we know that is a tough place to go and come away with a result.
‘It is a cliche but every game remains a cup final for us.
‘We still have to play all top five teams before the end of the season.
‘And three of those games will be away from home.
‘As a club we want to progress and we know what we need to do.
‘We have a vibrant youth and senior section at the club and on-field success always helps.’