The journey that sees Birmingham & Solihull take their promotion bandwagon to Southend on Saturday without two of their most influential forwards, will be something of a voyage of discovery for Russell Earnshaw.
The Bees head coach claims his team will be better equipped to deal without Jim Jenner and Alex Davidson than they were at Wharfedale a month ago where they slipped to the sort of embarrassing defeat that could ultimately see the wheels fall off that bandwagon.
He believes the vocal presence and organisational skills of Scott Young, Mitch Culpin and himself – all absent at Threshfields, will prevent Warners Bridge Park from becoming another expensive reverse.
He will, nevertheless be intrigued to see how his team fares without Davidson who was this week banned by the Rugby Football Union for the red card he received for injudicious use of his boot against Launceston.
“It will be interesting to see if we miss him,” Earnshaw said. “Prior to him getting sent off in that game I think it was the best I have ever seen him play. But we have got Ed and Shaun Pammenter who are good players and may allow us to play with a bit more width.”
Jenner is absent with neck spasms though he should be back in time for next weekend’s call from the Knight brothers-inspired Cinderford. His place in the back row will go to Adam Clayton while Orgee is in for Davidson at lock.
If how Bees cope without their enforcer cannot be predicted, Earnshaw is sure the hosts will throw everything they have at their illustrious, full-time visitors. It has, after all, been ever thus this term. “I don’t know what went on in the build-up to Wharfedale but we have to accept that wherever we go, whoever we play we are going to get their best game,” he said.
“Redruth don’t get that. I have watched the DVDs of their matches and they’re not getting everyone’s best but people are always saying to me the best they’ve played this season has been against us. So Southend is another banana skin.”
It is one Bees should negotiate, however. Redruth, the league leaders and fellow promotion chasers Cambridge and Launceston have all won and done so handsomely in Essex. With or without Jenner and Davidson Bees must do likewise.
Stourbridge, meanwhile can expect something of a slugfest when they arrive at Cinderford’s Recreation Ground tomorrow, according to their director of rugby Neil Mitchell.
With two former Birmingham & Solihull players in the home side and as many as six in the visitors’ Mitchell anticipates familiarity will breed considerable contempt as the two middle ranking National Two outfits square up for the first time in a competitive fixture
Centre Dave Knight and lock Mark Cornwell will know all about Stour players like Adam Billig and Jon Higgins and that, Mitchell feels, will give the contest something of a derby feel.
Indeed Mitchell has briefed his men on exactly what sort of reception will be awaiting a team that in beating Southend last week strung back to back wins together for the first time this season.
“With 43-year-old Andy Deacon in the front row and Mark Cornwell in the second row they have a very old pack and will be very unfit,” Mitchell says. “I anticipate we will be playing against the pick-and-go for most of the game. The quality and pace of our backs is very well publicised so they’ll try to contain us.
“I have no doubt it will be very intense. If I was coaching Cinderford that is what I would be looking to do on our patch.
“But after the Blackheath escapade, when we failed to respond to their aggression, I know we will have a different mindset.”
Mitchell’s reference to his team’s last defeat, when they were out-scrummaged, illegally he contends, by the Londoners is salient. The former Moseley man told his youngsters they had to be ready to ‘get their retaliation in first’ in such circumstances and he will be able to see exactly how well they have absorbed his words.
Of help to Stour is the fact another ex Bee, scrum half Paul Knight, will be missing having been suspended for two weeks following his sending off for fighting against Tynedale.
Mitchell will, however, be without Rupert Cooper who suffered a bad black eye against Southend and will call on Tom Jordan at openside. Ben Barkley’s broken nose keeps him out for a second week and Chris Rowlands’ fractured skull prevents him from returning.