MALVERN knew that Saturday's visitors would pose the strongest test of the new season to date, having dropped down from Midlands One last year.

Forcing a scrum from the kick-off, Malvern drove Walsall's pack back, the ball went out to Richard Fleming to make the break and winger George Roberts sped through for the opening try. Minutes later Walsall pegged back three points when Malvern were offside, stand-off Matt Wood making sure of the kick.

As the sides battled for supremacy, there were some flurries of bad temper, but the London Society referee calmed things down.

Malvern continued to play most of the game in Walsall's half as the home forwards put a stranglehold on any possession the visitors gained, the returning flanker Phil Rawle always evident. Lambert, Merlin and Roberts took play into the away 22-metre area but possession was squandered as some poor options were taken. Malvern finally strung together a meaningful move when awarded a penalty as the towering Chris Smith was barged in the line-out. Watkins put the ball into touch six metres out, the catch and drive was employed and prop Shaun Lancett touched down for a 10-3 lead.

Walsall's busy young back line worked their way upfield from the restart and won a penalty for offside at the breakdown, Wood slotting over for the three points. Malvern then put in a sustained effort until the break, Hooper fielding and dodging through to set veteran prop Steve Cooper on a charge. However, a subsequent knock-on in the Walsall 22 surrendered possession, leaving the score at 10-6 at half-time.

Walsall came back out with all guns blazing, pressing Malvern back towards their own line. Winning a scrum, they surprised all by driving the home pack over the line for the No 8, Rod Dickson, to score and Wood to convert for the lead.

Malvern fought back but kept conceding penalties needlessly to put themselves under pressure, Fleming being sin-binned for a high tackle. Wood made them pay by putting over his third penalty to go six points ahead.

As the game entered the last 10 minutes Malvern put in wave after wave of attacks, Hobbs and Roberts making their presence felt. The Walsall hooker was given a yellow card and Malvern sniffed the chance of a comeback. A penalty to touch set up the catch and drive, the ball was released to Gareth Taylor and the powerful lock charged over to take the score back to 15-16 with eight minutes left. The crowd's anguish evident when the easy conversion was missed.

Walsall repelled all attacks until Hobbs made good use of his strength to make inroads, then Hooper ran up from full-back to take the ball and use his speed and agility to slice through the defence and score the winning try, Watkins converting just before the final whistle.