North Midlands 26 Lancashire 25
North Midlands, promoted to the County Championship top flight, started their campaign with a spirited and deserved victory over a Lancashire side containing a much greater proportion of players from clubs in National One.
Outscored in tries by 4-2, North Mids owed the win to the goal-kicking of Moseley's Ollie Thomas and dogged defending near their own line, notably Stourbridge winger Toby Wilson's head-on shunt backwards of Waterloo counterpart Jan van Deventer a yard out.
Thomas had six successes from seven attempts, kicking four penalties (hitting the post with his other penalty attempt) and both conversions, first after Walsall flanker Stephen Halbert scored in the tenth minute from Wilson's infield run.
Ex-England A and Sedgley Park fly-half Phil Jones equalised quickly by converting his own solo try following a break from his own half befiore Thomas landed his first penalty and was denied a try when adjudged to have knocked on.
Moseley full-back Adam Coniff scooped up a Lancashire spillage and sprinted 50 yards for North Mids' second try, Waterloo centre Freeman Payne responded with an unconverted touchdown and on 35 minutes Malvern lock Gareth Taylor was sin-binned.
Against 14 men, Lancashire set up a series of line-outs and mauls on North Mids' line and finally drove captain Richard Senior, the Sedgley Park flanker, over. Jones could not convert and Thomas made North Mids' half-time lead 23-17.
After third quarter stalemate, Jones and Thomas exchanged penalties and with five minutes to go Thomas' aimless high kick down the throat of Orrell full-back Warren Spragg was raced back 60 yards to the posts. At 26-25 Steve Nutt - once of Moseley, now of Waterloo, and having replaced Jones - failed to convert and was also astray with a last-gasp 45-yard penalty.
* In the mid-ranking County Shield, Warwickshire began with a 26-8 drubbing of Cumbria at Liberty Way, Coventry winger Kurt Johnson, Kenilthworth full-back Lee Cassell and centre James Ham, of Barkers Butts, contributing tries.
Broadstreet fly-half Chris Brown supplid their other 11 points with three penalties and one conversion while for Cumbria Mike Scott kicked a first-half penalty and Mark Bowland scored a late try.