Preview to Birmingham & Solihull (a) 10.12.11


Kiwi, sour grapes and banana skin: all the ingredients for a 'fruit salad' fixture at Damson Park

The second half of the season starts this Saturday, and the eccentricity of the fixture computer - which is rumoured to be housed in a former pasty factory in the south-west - means a repeat of the second league weekend of the season.

So while opening-day pairings like Jersey and Fylde, Ealing and Birmingham, or Rosslyn Park and Blackheath, must wait until the end of April to rekindle that August Bank Holiday spark, round 16 sees a round 2 reunion, if you get my drift.

So at Damson Park on Saturday, starting at 3pm, the Bees of Birmingham & Solihull entertain the Beans of Jersey, a match that pairs clubs who were two leagues apart as recently as eight months ago.

Any previous?

Jersey's first home game of the season saw the Bees visit St Peter on September 3rd, a bright end-of-summer day when the Jersey Live festival and other outdoor attractions may have limited the crowd to 1,500 people.

At half-time, Jersey were pretty satisfied to be 23-3 ahead courtesy of tries by James Copsey and Donovan Sanders. Jersey old boy Dan Hawkes struck a penalty for the Bees.

The second half was disappointing - the home team were awarded a penalty try after 57 minutes but were held scoreless throughout the final quarter, and could only stand and admire the pace of New Zealand scrum-half Warwick Lahmert as he went the length of the field for a consolation score for the visitors. Final score 33-8.

News from the Jersey camp

After a lengthy and luxurious spell of making minimal changes to his squad, Jersey's Ben Harvey is set to ring the changes for the trip to the Midlands. Partly this is down to injuries to key forwards like Paul Rodgers, Jon Brennan and Graham Bell, but there's also an element of rotation, with game-time for players who have been on the fringes of the team or kept out by injuries. This is likely to include a half-back pairing of Brendan O'Brien, making his first start of the season at number 9 after living on the scraps and splinters of life on the bench, and Ross Broadfoot, recently returned from injury and leaving Mike Le Bourgeois back in the full-back slot in which he started the season.

Two forwards who impressed in rare starts against Cov may get another chance, namely man-of-the-match Nick Trower, and Kingsley Lang who may finally get to show what he can offer in his preferred position of blind-side after partnering Jim Brownrigg in the second row last Saturday.

Chris Levesley may get another chance to build on his superb debut performance against Sedgley Park in October, while another youngster, in the burly figure of James Voss, is tipped for a berth among the replacements.

The Sedgley game was the first of four occasions this season when Jersey have claimed a bonus point in the final five minutes of play. This phenomenon continued with two last-gasp tries against Tynedale, and 77th minute clinchers in the last two weeks against both Macclesfield and Cov.

The Bees' season to date

After 30-point defeats to Ealing and Jersey at the start of the season, the Bees beat both Cinderford and Wharfedale, before losing by three points to Midlands rivals Stourbridge. October brought an agonising 29-33 defeat at Barking, bigger defeats against Cambridge, Tynedale and Sedgley, and a lone home win against Blaydon.

The Bees will be hoping that an up-and-down season has another helping of 'up' coming around soon, after four defeats and the concession of 161 points since the heroic 21-17 win over Macclesfield at Damson Park on November 6th. Most recently, last Saturday saw a 32-5 defeat at Blackheath with lock Mitch Todd claiming the only score.

Relegation from the Championship at the end of 2010/11 meant a summer of upheaval for the Bees, with an estimated 25 semi-pro players leaving the club and a smaller number of new arrivals.

It's perhaps easier to list those who played for Bees in the Championship and were still around in August. In the pack this includes props Matt Long and Ngalu Tau, hookers Jack Preece (capt) and George Thomas and, in the back-row Mark Hopley, Will Webster and player/ DoR Russell Earnshaw. Full-back Ollie Winter is one of the few members of last season's back-line still on the books.

In the pack, the many new arrivals included dual-registered props Louis Padian and Sean McCarthy (both 'shared' with Worcester), Todd (DR with Nottingham) and flanker Sam Farmer (DR with Northampton).

The pacy scrum-half Lahmert won't be facing Jersey this time around: according to the Birmingham Mail, things have turned sour, with DoR Earnshaw none-too-impressed by his failure to return to club duty - an alleged breach of contract - after having trials with the All Blacks' Sevens' squad.

Talking of Sevens, Earnshaw's 'dual registration' as Assistant Coach to Ben Ryan means he is in South Africa this weekend with an England team who won in Dubai last Saturday for the second successive year.

And Eugene Martin, looking after the shop in the absence of the boss, has some injury concerns on his plate. Back row man Rob Connolly went off at Blackheath with barely a quarter of the game played, suffering injured ribs. Skipper Preece is also likely to be out, while try-scorer Todd and prop Ignas Darkintis aggravated ankle problems and failed to last the course at Rectory Field.

With changes in the visiting ranks, and a home team desperate to give their fans some festive cheer and show some backs-to-the-wall determination to overcome current adversity (Bees are bottom of the table having, like Jersey, been deducted five points for breaching player eligibility rules), the game has many of the essential ingredients for a banana skin. Jersey may have won nine successive matches, but if they are off their game, the home team will be waiting to pounce. There's even the 'former player factor' to throw into the salad bowl, with Dan Hawkes topping the penalty charts in National One this season with 27 successful kicks and ready to take any opportunities that come his way.

A potted history of the Bees

Birmingham RFC were founded in the first decade of the 20th Century, and Solihull RFC in 1933. Bear with me, it's a fairly complicated tale, and time is limited...

While a shame to fast-forward through many years of history, it's not until the advent of league rugby in 1987 that one can give real structure/ context to the two clubs' standing. The first season of the Courage Leagues saw Solihull in Area League North (sounds like something out of Blade Runner) while Birmingham were in Courage National Division Three.

Interesting to see the other names in that Div 3 table from 24 years ago, and to note that they've now scattered to all levels of the English league structure, apart from Birmingham (now B&S) and Fylde, who are back at Level Three and, sadly, Wakefield, who went to the wall in 2004. The other clubs - Exeter, Maidstone, Met Police, Morley, Nuneaton, Plymouth Albion, Sheffield, Vale of Lune and West Hartlepool.

After two difficult opening seasons for each club, Birmingham & Solihull merged in 1989 and the Bees, as they became known, played at Levels Three and Four throughout the 1990s and won promotion to level Two in 1999/ 2000. Phil Maynard, now with Coventry, became DoR in 2002 and two years later an amazing Powergen Cup Run included a win over Wasps.

Ben Harvey spent a brief spell with the Bees in 2007 before coming to the Island in 2008 and at around the same time Russell Earnshaw had arrived, initially as Forwards Coach. His first season ended with Bees' relegation after surviving eight seasons at Level Two, but they turned round and stormed to the Championship at Level Three the following season.

But the fluctuation in fortunes continued with a bleak period in 2009/10 which included planning refusal for their ground, points deductions and liquidation, capped with the departure of about 20 players. Amazingly, the Bees, who were reconstituted as Birmingham & Solihull Rugby limited on October 30th 2009, survived after regrouping enough to finish above Coventry in the Championship's relegation play-offs, but 12 months later the inevitable happened and Bees returned to the original Level where BRFC had begun back in the day.

Bees facts

• Bees, like most other clubs, can't compete with the riches of Coventry, last week's focus, in terms of well-known former players. However their past players have included England prop (one cap) Mark Linnett, Scotland fly-half Craig Chalmers (60 national caps and one for the Lions), Fijian back-row man Akapusi Qera (23 caps) and the 55 -times-capped Canadian prop Kevin Tkachuk
• Winger Simon Hunt was one of the players to leave this summer, but has remained involved with England Sevens and played in the Dubai final last weekend
• Russell Earnshaw's grandfather played more than 200 games in midfield for York City FC from 1938-51
• Talking of football, the Bees have shared Damson Park with Solihull Moors FC since June 2010. The ground is the second closest to an international airport in National Division One
• In an amazing fusion of the above two facts, Solihull Moors' opponents tomorrow in the FA Carlsberg Trophy are... York City! I'll get my coat...

Following the game

Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from the game through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6- 7pm on Friday, and regular updates on Saturday afternoon
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday soon after the final whistle
• Report Sport on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online

And finally...

Those Jersey-based fans wanting to see some live rugby this weekend should check out Jersey Youth who have a rare home outing at St Peter on Sunday, kicking off at 1pm, against Alton.

Enjoy your weekend's rugby

Tom Innes

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