“IT’S days like this - after the performance and effort in 80 minutes of toil - that remind us just why we all play rugby,” said Stags coach Damian Whales after his side’s excellent 29-24 win over Dunstablians on Saturday.

Stags were forced to come from behind twice in this Midland Two East South clash and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a brutally physical match.

Chris Pape, James Thorpe and Seth Muggeridge set the tone, putting in three massive hits in the first few minutes, and Whales said: "I could see it in the chaps' eyes before the game that they appreciated the enormity of today.

"Some of them were physically sick during the warm up."

Stags were first on the score sheet when James Thorpe smashed over from close range but Dan Malem missed the conversion only to be successful with a penalty goal minutes later.

Stags poor discipline allowed Dunstablians into the match with a try from a driving maul, and they were unlucky not to take the lead before half-time with two relatively simple missed penalties.

Stags were reduced to 14 men on the stroke of half-time - and then to 13 moments after the restart when Dougy Bentley and Thorpe were both shown yellow cards.

With the two forwards missing from the scrum, the powerful Dunstablians pack were awarded a penalty try, which was converted, to go into the lead for the first time.

With Bentley back on the field, Stags reduced the gap to one point when Ali Dunsdon went over in the corner for his first try of the season. Again the conversion was unsuccessful but Malem was better with a second penalty goal five minutes later. Stags were back in the lead.

After 60 minutes of bruising runs by Stags' midfield, holes appeared closer to the ruck and when Malem sliced through a simple draw and pass on the full back, Tad Chapman crossed the line. Malem converted that one to push Stags' lead out to 23-14.

With 10 minutes remaining, Dunstablians' never say die attitude saw them retake the lead: first with a penalty goal, then with converted try. However, it was to be Stags' afternoon as Malem held his nerve to kick two long-range penalty goals.

"It is amazing how far we have come as a side this season" said Whales, with the club's pre-Christmas wobble now a memory.

"So often in the past we would have struggled, even maybe waved the white flag, when the going got tough.

"Our discipline did let us down today, but when 15 lads want something as much as we did today, it would be hard for any team to stop them. I couldn't be more proud.

"To go unbeaten in January is huge. Many would have laughed off our chances of three league wins on the bounce against such tough opponents like Wellingborough, Bugbrooke and Dunstablians."

Next Saturday, Stags are away at Leicester for a game against the city's Vipers.

Meanwhile, there was a comfortable win for Stags' second team - they beat Northampton Heathens 47-5 at the Racecourse.