STOW-on-the-Wold Rugby Club bounced back from two bad defeats with a 21-16 victory at Drifters to take over at the top of Southern Counties North.

The visitors should have won by 20 points but, having donated at least ten points to their opponents, finished the first game after the festive break defending.

Drifters elected to play with the wind in the first half and early pressure forced a penalty to take an eighth-minute lead.

Stow’s forwards were pressured in the tight but put their loose game together and powered into the home half, releasing the backs for James Holmes to score the first converted try.

Drifters kicked well with the wind, camped in the Stow 22 and earned a penalty to make it 7-6.

Both teams threatened and the Cotswold side continued donating with a charged-down kick resulting in a Drifters converting an effort under the posts on the half-hour mark.

But Stow scored the try of the match two minutes before half time through Holmes to lead 14-13 kicking with the wind in the second period.

Five minutes in, Stow’s forwards gave the Drifters’ defence a torrid time and they fed Holmes for his hat-trick try, which was again converted.

Drifters added three points on the hour to go within a try of Stow and attacked strongly but Stow’s defence remained strong.

Previous leaders High Wycombe lost 15-7 at home to Royal Wootton Bassett and visit Stow on Saturday (2.15pm) for a crunch top-of-the-table crunch clash.

Meanwhile, Chipping Norton lost 15-3 at home to Wheatley in the Berks/Bucks and Oxon Premier Division and host Chesham on Saturday (2.15pm).

Shipston-on-Stour fell 20-19 at Midlands Three West (South) basement boys Manor Park and look to recover at home to Old Wheatleyans on Saturday.