RUSSELL Earnshaw has shuffled both his pack and his backs ahead of tomorrow’s testing EDF Energy National Trophy encounter with Launceston.
If Bees are to progress to the fifth round of the competition they not only have to eliminate a side challenging them for the National Two title, they must do so with an unfamiliar line-up and at a venue of which they have some fairly unhappy recent memories.
Bees’ last visit to Polson Bridge came in the white heat of last year’s relegation battle and in a fixture they simply couldn’t afford to lose – they lost, 24-15.
Statistics, damned lies and all that but four points that February day and things would have looked a whole lot different in the final analysis.
In the end both teams lost their fight to stay in the First Division and having dropped down both now harbour ambitions of an immediate return.
All of which makes this weekend’s knockout clash something of a sideshow, particularly with the main event a – league rematch – scheduled for what could be a massacre on St Valentine’s Day.
Throw into the mix the fact that Earnshaw has made eight changes to the team that started against Stourbridge in its last outing – way back in 2008 – and it is clear one should expect the unexpected.
Of all the changes three stand out. James Aston comes onto the wing for his first appearance since the debacle at Wharfedale in early October.
The form of Mitch Culpin and the league’s leading scorer Simon Hunt have not made things easy for the ex-Moseley man who is, by his own admission, a confidence player.
If he can thrive in deepest Cornwall on Saturday there is every chance the head coach will have rediscovered a potent attacking weapon at a crucial point on the calendar.
Notable Switches two and three are found in the second row. Last year’s leading scorer Andy Daish comes in for his first action of the season having recovered from shoulder injury.
That he does so in the unfamiliar position of lock – his eight tries last term were gathered from flanker, suggests Bees have chosen to prize mobility over out-and-out bulk in the engine-room.
That is not to say there will be no meat available. Alex Davidson’s return is most interesting of all.
The combative forward has not played since breaking both his hand and the game’s laws in October – when he was sent off against Launceston.
Davidson is something of a reformed sinner on the disciplinary front these days, though he fell spectacularly off the wagon in that match and earned himself a three-week suspension for stamping.
The prospect of him facing former Worcester enforcer Tim Collier alone is almost worth making the 400-mile round trip.
Bees intend to do that in a single day. One wonders whether that decision will be the same next month or indeed whether it would have been the same had their financial position not become so perilous.
Nevertheless the episode will provide some useful food for thought for Earnshaw as he plots his team’s run-in and casts his eye over Andi Lawrence, Leo Halavatau, Adam Clayton and Ryan Tomlinson, all of whom are not regulars.
“The guys that are starting have trained really well and I cannot just ignore that. They deserve their opportunities to hold on to their shirts,” he said.
“I expect nothing but a hostile reception, indeed that’s what I want.
“That’s why this team has been given the opportunity to show what they can do in that environment.
“Some of them have done well coming on for 20 minutes in a game that’s already won.
“Let’s see what they have got in a match like this one, which is going to be very difficult.”
The environment isn’t much more hospitable at home. An appeal for a cash injection from their members and supporters was closely followed by a 20 per cent wage cut across the board. Bees have been asked to play tunefully together in circumstances less than conducive to harmony.
“It has been pretty short notice so considering that, the guys have been pretty good about it. They have all sat down with our new sales guy to bounce ideas off him. I cannot really fault the way they have reacted,” Earnshaw said.
Perhaps a better test of that will come tomorrow.