In slippery conditions at the Stanley Turner Ground, Lewes avenged their shock defeat earlier in the season away to bottom-placed Ashford.
However, their recent pattern of play seems to continue - a poor first half (in this match scores were level at the half-time beak), followed by a dominant second-half to secure the bonus-point win. With local rivals Pulborough's match at Gillingham being postponed, this result sees Lewes a clear second place in the table - although of course their Sussex rivals now have a game in hand.
The early pressure came from the visitors, who were awarded a penalty on 35 metres after only 3 minutes but the kick went wide. From the re-start, Lewes embarked on a strong forward drive upfield to just short of their opponents' try line and the subsequent period of pressure paid off on 17 minutes as they opened the scoring with a try by second-row Nathan Lowen, the conversion just missing, to make it 5 - 0 to the hosts. The next 10 minutes saw some scrappy play from both sides, but Ashford then scored their first try after 32 minutes by centre Sam Walford, full-back Pete Tanner slotting over the conversion, to see the Kent side take the lead at 5 - 7.
Lewes responded with another strong attack upfield, resulting in a penalty inside Ashford's 22 metre zone some 4 minutes later, which they kicked to touch. From the resultant line-out, the forwards drove to the line, hooker Alfie Hill finally touching down for an unconverted try to see his side re-take the lead at 10 - 7. But 2 minutes later, Tanner kicked over a penalty to see the scores level 10 - 10 at the break.
Lewes went back in front 15 - 10 after 54 minutes with a flowing move, rounded off with an unconverted try by prop-forward Casey Morgan, followed by their fourth, bonus-point try a few minutes later, Player-Coach Mike Stubbs touching down near the posts to see Lewes pull ahead at 20 - 10. They went further into the lead only 2 minutes later with a somewhat lucky break, Ashford spilling the ball inside Lewes's 22 metre area to see it picked up by replacement winger Harry Hanley - making his debut for the 1st XV - who then sprinted the length of the pitch for a fine try under the posts, but the conversion attempt somehow going wide, for Lewes to take a 25 - 10 advantage. This extended to 32 - 10 soon after as Lewes were awarded a penalty try by the referee, outside-centre Abe Bredin kicking over the conversion.
Ashford, to their credit, hit back a few minutes later with an interception try of their own by Tom Hughes, Tanner kicking over, to narrow the deficit to 32 - 17. This spurred the hosts into action and for the last 10 minutes of the game they found their true form, aided by Ashford's No. 4 being sin-binned with only 8 minutes left for foul play. The last moments of the match saw Lewes's best try, the ball being handled by almost all 15 players before Stubbs scored his second try under the posts, Bredin kicking over the conversion, to see Lewes run out worthy victors by 39 - 17. This win was, however, somewhat dented by an injury to influential, strong-running prop-forward Luke Raynor, who broke a finger during the second half and will now be unavailable for several weeks. This latest addition to Lewes' long injury list will test their resources during the remaining matches ahead.
Stubbs said after the match: "We knew Ashford would cause us problems after our loss there earlier in the season.
"They made things really hard for us in the first half. But credit to the boys, as they looked after the ball much better in the second half and played with more tempo and supported the ball well."
Lewes: Raynor, Hill, Morgan, Lowen, Gorbell, Hatch, Lee, Stubbs, Millis-Ward, Tagg, Feltham, Tobin, Bredin, Mills, Halpin (Capt.). (Reps., all used: Hanley, Dean, Petty)
(This match represented a special occasion for Lewes RFC, being one of the first sports events in the District to be filmed by the newly-formed, Lewes-based Chalk TV.)
Lewes 2nd's went down narrowly by 7 - 15 away to East Grinstead, their points coming via a solitary try by Paddy Powney, converted by Toby Thomas.
Lewes 1st's are without a game on Saturday, returning to League duties on 28th. January with the long trip to League leaders Thanet Wanderers. Although beating Thanet at home earlier in the season, Lewes will have to improve their game considerably if they are to come away from this top-of-the-table encounter with any advantage.