THE injury-hit Malvern squad had been without a Midlands Two West win since the end of November.


With few options in the front five, the period around Christmas had proved a lean time and seen the Spring Lane outfit drop to fifth in the table. The trip to Stafford was key to the team's desire to halt the mini-slide and get back on track.

Still hampered by absences, the reintroduction of tight head Steve Cooper after injury was to prove crucial. The 41-year-old veteran locked the Malvern scrum tightly, holding the heavier Stafford pack at bay in the set pieces. This freed Matt Richardson and replacement James Daniell to revert to the accustomed loose head position and gave Malvern a platform to win ball and build upon, something that had been missing for six weeks.

Stafford, playing down the slope and with the breeze at their backs, attacked from the first whistle, kicking for territory to keep Malvern pinned back deep in their own half. A penalty from stand off Mottershead gave the home side the lead after five minutes and Stafford continued to press for most of the next half-hour.

The visitors only got into the Stafford half on a handful of occasions, Hughes just failing to hold on to a pass when put clear. Eastwood, punching his weight even though clearly still suffering from the effects of a chest infection, exposed the limitations of the Stafford back line whenever he got the ball.

However, it was a case of relentless defence from Malvern, Fleming showing how much he has grown in confidence at the back, whilst number eight Jamie Anderson put in some massive hits.

Local lad Nick Smith and the ever-busy Dave Hill ensured that the Malvern back row put in its most impressive performance of the season, halting Stafford's attempts to attack round the fringes.

Malvern suddenly upped the pace in the last five minutes of the half. Richards, Eastwood and Irish all had a hand in a dazzling array of inter-passing that saw Fleming join the line to score, then convert to give Malvern the half-time lead.

With the slope in Malvern's favour and the home side looking devoid of ideas, the vintage style of play began to emerge. With Davies and Richards controlling the play, Malvern started to open up cracks in the Stafford defence.

Mark Eastwood used his power to forge a path through the middle, Richards lobbed a long pass to Fleming who took the high ball well and danced through to score his second try and bag the conversion.

Stafford rallied briefly and Hill was sin-binned for handling on the ground, but the defence stood firm in his absence. The Malvern forwards turned over Stafford's possession and won a penalty that Fleming slotted easily.

With 10 minutes left, Stafford were adjudged to have held up a Malvern maul which was still moving forwards. They set off up field, won another scrum five metres out and a controlled drive saw the scrum half awarded a try, although there was some doubt about the touch down.

Malvern had to regain control to stop any resurgence from Stafford. They duly did so when man of the match Anderson went on the rampage to set up Richards for a dropped goal to seal an emphatic second-half performance.