Horsham were outclassed 55-8 on Saturday by a ruthless Thanet Wanderers side in their top of the table clash.
The Kent side has historically competed a couple of leagues higher and look set to bounce back after successive relegations with the London 3 SE title while the chasing pack scrap it out for the remaining promotion place.
This was a reality check for Horsham and showed the level required if they hope to compete in a higher league.
There is also a worrying lack of consistency from Horsham, who three weeks ago failed to beat bottom side Beccehamians, then only a week later managed to beat Ashford, who at the time were top.
Horsham coach Nick Stocker said: “I was disappointed with our performance. We were well below par with our intensity, our line-out and our handling, and we came up against a side at the top of their game who executed a simple game plan extremely effectively.”
There can be little in the way of excuses as the Green and Whites were able to field a strong side, even though both regular second rows were away, and although the side was disrupted by the double injury to Nick Essex and Ben Pirt after 35 minutes, the writing was by then on the wall.
Horsham started brightly with the wind at their backs and an attacking position was worked for Will Bell to strike a penalty goal, but his attempt went just wide.
Thanet had a try disallowed before they broke the deadlock on 15 minutes when their hooker crossed the line to score from a powerful rolling maul.
Horsham bounced back when the ball was spun wide to Essex on the left wing, he rounded his man, beat the next defender but was then floored by a last ditch tackle five yards short of the line.
On 26 minutes, Wanderers were penalised for offside and this time Will Bell slotted his penalty attempt to reduce the deficit to 7-3.
Although Horsham had a marginal edge in the scrum battle, they were coming second best to Thanet in all other areas of the field and soon the home side turned their superiority into points when they outflanked the defence as Horsham ran out of defenders.
Will Johnson was then yellow carded for a reckless tackle and the floodgates opened when Thanet scored through the forwards from a powerful maul. Then as Horsham were disrupted by injuries forcing Essex and Pirt to leave the field, Thanet added a well-worked bonus point try to take a 22-3 lead into the break.
Horsham did cross the white line in the second half when Nick Bell won the ball off the back of the line-out and attacked the Thanet defence, and the ball was spun wide for Will Johnson to score in the corner.
Unfortunately this did not spark a Horsham revival as Thanet ran in five second-half tries to run out comfortable winners.
To make matters worse Nick Essex has a double break to his arm and Aled Price a sternum fracture which could keep him out for two months.
Stocker added: “They gained belief from their try and put our forwards under greater pressure than we have faced so far this season. When I spoke to the players at half time, I told them to spin the ball wider and throw caution to the wind in an attempt to secure a bonus point, and although we scored a very good try, when playing catch up rugby there is always the risk of leaving yourself open.
“We didn’t show sufficient commitment at the breakdown which allowed them a stranglehold and we were certainly missing the dark arts that Ryan Grover brings to the game.
“Ben Rush is my man of the match for his work at getting the ball away quickly from the breakdown and his overall tenacity in closing down the opposition Number 8.”
This Saturday Horsham are at home to Ol Dunstonians.
Horsham: Talbot, Stone (Penfold 57), Barber; Goward, Harman; N Bell, Pirt (Smith 35), Ordidge; Rush, W Bell; Essex (Goodsir 35), Price, Taylor, Gibbs; Johnson.