JOINT top met bottom of the table at Spring Lane on Saturday as Coventry side Barkers Butts provided the opposition.

This fine old club has always had a strong youth policy, turning out such luminaries as Duckham and Back in past years. However, they also suffer through their success as the larger clubs, many semi-professional, in their area will offer incentives to cream off the best players as they get to senior level. Having lost 11 players in the close season in this fashion, they are currently struggling in the league. However, they don't lack spirit, as a lacklustre Malvern found out in the first 20 minutes on Saturday.

Although Malvern dominated in terms of territory and possession, a combination of self-inflicted errors and some good defence kept the score at stalemate. Playing into a strong wind, Malvern were put back into their own half several times as needless penalties were conceded.

It wasn't until the 22nd minute that the situation changed. Malvern won a scrum, centre Richard Fleming broke the line and full back Chris Hooper was on hand to score and give Ted Lang the conversion. Although Malvern continued to dominate in the tight, the wind made the line out difficult and both sides were pulled up for crooked throws as Malvern for once struggled to make headway.

Some feisty play by Barkers' scrum-half Ian White, formerly of Malvern, saw the visitors spoiling and scrapping, but the home team slowly made their superiority felt. Humphries took one against the head and Fleming went close, but after some good defence Barkers cleared the danger. It wasn't until the stroke of half time that Malvern asserted their authority, when opting for the scrum after a penalty award, Dave Merlin coming off the back to score.

With the wind behind them in the second half Malvern started to play to their abilities, and a well controlled move saw the ball worked up the narrow side, Lang setting Watkins away and Huw Dimond powering through to score. Gareth Taylor came off the bench to add some powerful ball-carrying to the Malvern armoury and all the action was now taking place in the Barkers' last third of the field.

Hooper was finding touch with long range kicks and a penalty from the full back put Malvern 10 metres from the line. The catch and drive was employed and Shaun Lancett grounded the ball to give a 22-0 lead in the 58th minute.

Twelve minutes later Malvern again carried the ball up field, forcing a five-metre scrum and the ball was spun out to Dimond to make inroads and for Fleming to finish off as the ball went out wide to stretch the away defence. Lang converted and with two minutes left on the clock Taylor carried the ball to set up second phase and Fleming was again on hand to outpace a tiring defence and end proceedings for the day.

The 34-0 scoreline being enough to see Malvern leapfrog Lichfield on points difference to again top the league table.