Dan Malem sent over a pair of late penalties to ensure Huntingdon made a successful start to 2017.

The prolific kicker turned a narrow deficit into a match-winning position as Stags saw off Bugbrooke 14-11 in a tight Midlands Division One East tussle at The Racecourse.

Everything pointed to a close game between two sides who went into battle level on points in the standings, and who had both slipped up in their final outings of 2016.

And that's exactly how it panned out last Saturday with the sides never more than five points apart on the pitch.

Malem kicked Stags ahead, but they were soon left frustrated as a controversial try edged the visitors into the driving seat. The home camp felt a foot in touch and a failure to properly ground the ball were both missed by the referee, and their mood wasn't helped by a penalty which increased Bugbrooke's cushion.

The visitors then spurned another simple three-point opportunity before the break and saw their advantage wiped out when Kiwi ace Andy Mourits went over in the second half for Stags' sole try following a controlled maul from a line-out.

The combination of dogged defensive work and a lack of attacking precision ensured there were no further touch-downs, so the contest was settled by kicking.

And even though Bugbrooke eased back ahead with a penalty when down to 14 men, Malem ensured Stags emerged victorious thanks to his double-salvo late on.

“It was an important win,” said Stags head coach Damien Whales. “We wanted to start the new year well and did that by coming through a tough game.”

Stags sit sixth in the standings and are firmly in contention for a top-four finish. They make a first-ever visit to lowly Dronfield this Saturday.