Old Northamptonians kept their play-off hopes alive with a vital 13-3 victory at Bedford on Saturday.
Defences were on top throughout and although the expected quality was missing, the closeness of the score kept the large crowd involved until the final whistle.
The opening exchanges saw neither side able to establish dominance and although both the ONs and the Ath progressed into the respective 22s, strong defence quickly halted these attacks.
An Alex Rose break was continued by Alex Tollan and Calum Brennan but a penalty for holding on gave the home side the opportunity to clear.
Minutes later, Rose successfully landed a penalty after Ath fell offside 35 metres out, but when the ONs failed to regain the restart the opposition were quick to reply, James Mortimer bringing the scores level with a well-judged kick.
The poor kick-off was caught by Ath No.8 Andy Ince and his thundering run took play deep into ONs territory but the kick ahead went into touch and the visitors won the resulting lineout and cleared the danger.
A second Mortimer attempt fell just short and as half-time approached the ONs took the lead. Lewis Barker quickly took a penalty and the ball was shipped along the backs with Rose finishing in the corner.
The ONs won a penalty from the restart but Rose’s kick was wide and the Ath winger caught the 22 drop out and set off on a mazy run downfield.
He was eventually halted by Matt Mills’ tackle and the attempted offload was acrobatically tapped back by Phil Beaumont, with the threat halted.
A brief outbreak of ‘handbags’ saw Jordan Finlayson-Green (ONs) and Modestas Matinaitis (Bedford)yellow carded, and halfway through the sin bin period the ONs scored their second try.
Mills and Barker had already been denied close to the Ath line and when another drive was adjudged held up over the line, the ONs scrum shunted the opposition backwards and Beaumont picked up from the base to dive over.
Another good shove from the visitors won the put-in against the head, Jake Spencer slid the ball through but Ath won their own lineout and, after the ONs were penalised, moved play upfield.
With both sides restored to 15, Ath threw everything into attack, seeking at least a losing bonus point.
Play was moved to 15 metres from the ONs line and despite winning their own throw-in, the ONs’ clearance kick was held up in the wind, presenting Ath with another chance.
A quickly-taken penalty was moved across field but lost forward under the pressure of the ONs’ aggressive tackling and the final attack was ended when the Ath winger was bundled into touch.
The four points gained see the ONs now seven points clear of the Ath and eight points clear of Kettering with games to come against Belgrave away, Bugbrooke home and Derby away.
Leighton Buzzard IIIs 26 Heathens 29
The proposal to play a Friday night fixture under lights proved to be attractive for Heathens, who put in a committed team performance away to Leighton Buzzard.
Heathens’ tries came courtesy of Simon Smith, Sam Berry, Pete Evans and Dan Stonehouse.
This coming Saturday, Heathens play their final Youngs Bitter merit table fixture of the season when Old Scouts IIIs visit The Racecourse for a 3pm kick-off.
Long Buckby 37 Rushden & Higham 10
Long Buckby moved up to third in the Midlands 3 East (South) table with an emphatic 37-10 win over leaders Rushden & Higham at Station Road.
Jonny Nixon scored two of Buckby’s seven tries, as they made it seven straight victories.
Rushden went into the game needing just a point for promotion, and they were in confident mood when they scored an early try.
But Bucks hit back and on 25 minutes they levelled at 5-5 through Tom Haynes.
Rushden suffered two yellow cards to be reduced to 13, and just before the break, Noxin scored his first try, which was converted by Jonny Palmer and made it 12-7.
The second half started well for Buckby as Luke Foster dotted down to see the home side go 17-7 ahead.
Rushden & Higham could sense the game slipping away and pressed hard, but Buckby were proving too strong and Sam Evans and Josh Burton combined to set up Ben Walton for a try to see them 22-5 ahead.
It was 27-5 after 55 minutes, with Andrew Tarplee stealing a lineout. Luke Foster then made a half break and Palmer supported and passed to Jake Toseland who scored in the corner.
With 10 minutes to go, Andy Oliver went to over to stretch Buckby’s lead to 32-5.
Rushden did briefly rally to grab a try and make the score 32-10, but it was to be Buckby who had the final say.
With five minutes left they scored their seventh try through Nixon, who registered his second try of the day.
Rushden’s disappointment will have been tempered by the fact that, with other results going their way, they did still seal promotion.
On Saturday, Buckby travel to St Ives.
Daventry 26 St Ives 21
Daventry battled their way to a bonus-point victory as they saw off St Ives 26-21 on Ladies Day at Stefen Hill.
The visitors started well and their strong running caused the home side problems throughout. They were soon ahead, scoring under the posts to take a 7-0 lead.
Daventry slowly began to edge their way back into the game and Jake Sanderson and Kev Moore looked dangerous in the back three, however they were often starved of counter-attacking opportunities as the away side kept the ball in the hand.
Crucially, Daventry got back into the game before the break. Firstly, Lee Cresswell was driven over from a powerful maul and then Danny Collett finished of a fine score after good link play between Russ Robinson and Adam Whitehead.
The Blacks went into the break 12-7 up and further increased their lead early in the second half when Robinson powered over following a huge scrum, with Toby Johnson to the fore.
Daventry then switched off and began to slip off tackles which proved costly as St Ives scored two quickfire converted tries to give them a narrow lead.
Needing to up their physicality and intensity, the Blacks did that. A patient and probing attack resulted in Luke Jones putting Jake Sanderson in and Bradley Wardell added the extras.
With a five-point lead they held on for a narrow victory but know that there is much more to come in terms of performance.