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News 2011-12

Preview to Birmingham & Solihull (a) 10.12.11

09/12/2011

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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