MATT DOWN softened the early blow of an injury to Linford Brock by kick-starting Barnstaple's victory bid against Amersham and Chiltern.
Sent on from the bench after just 12 minutes, debutant Down kicked three penalties that formed the basis of a 19-7 win that was secured by second-half tries from Winston James and Luke Berry.
Down's third penalty, 10 minutes into the second half, showed the value of a steady kicker as it came amid a run of four misses by three Chiltern players.
"That was crucial," said Tom Skelding, the Barnstaple joint head coach. "Without our kicks, and with them getting theirs, it could have been 12-0 the other way.
"We have missed Josh Squire (since he was injured last season) and haven't really replaced him.
"Matt has got a lot to work on in attack and defence but he strikes a very clean ball."
Down has arrived at Barnstaple with his brother Jon from South Molton via Derby in Midlands One East.
His introduction arrived sooner than expected with Brock, the outside centre, giving in to a leg injury he suffered when making a line-breaking run in only the first minute.
It was a further disruption to a Barnstaple back line already missing unavailable full back Will Topps and injured fly half Steve Perry – Ryan Carter stepped up from inside centre to wear the No 10 shirt.
"We knew they (Chiltern) had won two in a row and were going to arrive with a lot of confidence – they were a very professional set-up," said Skelding. "We were expecting them to come out of the blocks."
But it was Barnstaple who made the faster start, dominating the opening 10 minutes – not that it brought them any points until Down kicked two penalties in two minutes midway through the half.
The game looked up for the visitors in the 67th minute after James's try. There was a case for Barnstaple being awarded a penalty try as Rhys Keith was sin-binned for pulling down a maul on the line but it made little difference, as James was driven over by his team from the next play.
There was to be drama in the closing stages, though, starting with Jon Down being yellow-carded for putting his hands into a ruck on 73 minutes.
Chiltern drove from a lineout and then saw fly half Ross Bugden step through to score under the posts and add the conversion.
With Keith returning to the field, Chiltern now had the one-man advantage – but it was Barnstaple who scored next.
Fluent backs moves had been few and far between but they strung one together from a scrum. As play swept from left to right across the 22, Ryan Brend stepped around a tackle and offloaded one-handed for Luke Berry to slam the ball down in the corner.
"It was always on but the accuracy of our passing wasn't quite there," said Skelding.
"In the second half I said, 'Cut out the silly offloads and play some simple rugby because the game is right in the balance'. We tried to get some drives going and win penalties.Once we did that the rest was history.
"We let them in again with the yellow card but there was a bit of magic from Ryan Brend with the offload.
"The front row deserve a special mention. Shane Maddock had his first start at tighthead, Mark Berry was exceptional and Gordon Howells came on and finished them off. James Starkey (at hooker) was in the middle of it all. He had a wobble with the lineout throwing but sorted it out and carried the ball well."
Perry, Skelding's fellow coach, described it as an ugly win – and it certainly finished in ugly fashion with only 12 men left on the field for Barnstaple as lock Skelding and opposite number Jono Bradbury were sin-binned for fighting.
Plenty of players on both sides were involved but referee Carl Bennett singled out James for a yellow card too and, as he left the field, the Barum captain got involved in an argument with the substituted Dan Newlands and swung another punch before being pulled away by Perry.