The belated cold snap and subsequent cancellation of games has had a concertina effect on the National One run in which has now been transformed from a series of short, sharp bursts of fixtures with several gap weeks, to a single slog to the bitter end.
That offers the West Midlands bottom feeders Birmingham & Solihull Bees and Stourbridge the chance to build the momentum they will need if they are to avoid an ignominious relegation. But equally things could snowball out of control in no time.
Bees’ situation is parlous. They are bottom of the table, 20 points from safety with only nine matches to go. A second demotion seems more than likely.
Stourbridge occupy the final relegation spot although they too are adrift, 13 from the Plimsoll Line having played a game more than most of their rivals.
So as the 2011-12 campaign draws to a close, unprecedentedly poor for these two clubs in the professional era, what are their their chances of pulling off a Great Escape?
The Story so far:
BEES: The current non-vintage is a side as lopsided as the one that was hammered in the first season in the Championship.
However, where the 2009-10 side was weak in the forwards and as sharp as a tack out wide, this time the reverse is true. Bees are long on power in the pack and short on pace in the threes.
Bees undoubtedly have the forwards to survive at level three but their backs have let them down.
In the last 12 matches, the men behind the scrum have produced just eight tries, primarily because they never recovered from the loss of mercurial scrum half Warwick Lahmert, the only player capable of regularly getting behind opponents.
STOURBRIDGE: On paper Stour are as strong as almost any side in the league. Unfortunately for them points are awarded for potency not potential.
On the occasions I have seen them Stour have worked as hard as their opponents up front and looked dangerous in the wide channels.
Certainly it is difficult to see what’s missing from a backline that includes centres Ben Barkley and Tom Jarvis and winger Nathan Bressington. The obvious answer is that their half backs haven’t turned possession and territory into points, though one must remember scrum and fly halves are the on-field representatives of coaches.
BEES: It wasn’t beautiful but after losing their first two games in mismatches with Ealing and Jersey, Bees recovered to bludgeon Cinderford and Wharfedale, with their forwards allowing Dan Hawkes to kick them to consecutive victories.
The performance at Portway against Blaydon will probably go down as their best of the season so far as the pack tenderised the opposition and the backs exploited the space to score four tries in a 31-18 victory.
STOURBRIDGE: Bressington has rattled along at virtually a try a game, although Neil Mitchell admitted his side were not harnessing his quality often or effectively enough.
Centre pairing Barkley and Jarvis are a well-balanced iron fist and velvet glove combination. And it all seemed to have worked itself out in the run up to Christmas when Stour finally looked the sum of their constituent parts in winning three of four matches.
BEES: Defensively there have been a couple of horror shows, most notably at Sedgley Park where they conceded 55 points to a side that did little more than run straight.
Perhaps the lowest moment of the afternoon came when Tigers wing Jamie Harrison took a kick-off at full pace and travelled 60m under the sticks without a hand being laid on him.
The heaviest defeat came at home to Rosslyn Park when they were obliterated 59-12 by a side that looked like championship contenders. Bees were mowed down by a bigger, better pack and sliced up by faster, stronger threequarters.
STOURBRIDGE: If Stour do go down this season there will be long lamentations about missed opportunities. Never more so than in the home game against Bees as they went in pursuit of their fourth win in six.
However, mentally they were still in the changing rooms and physically they couldn’t stop themselves giving away penalties which allowed Bees to build a 15-0 lead.
That it came via the boot of the released Mark Woodrow only made it worse. That they scored three tries to their opponents’ none, doubly so.
What they say:
BEES: Cap’n Jack Preece refuses to lie down: “It would look great on your CV if we could get out of it. Two years ago (when Bees stayed in the Championship) it was a great accomplishment, probably the most pleased I have been in rugby.
“We have got some tough away matches and it’s going to be difficult but we know we can do it.”
STOURBRIDGE: Director of rugby Neil Mitchell reckons he can still see light at the end of the long tunnel. “I would reckon we need to win six of our last eight.
“We are certainly capable of that but you can’t legislate for injuries. If we lose key players that could change the dynamics as it could for any club, But it’s certainly do-able if we are injury free.”
BEES: With their final four matches against top six teams things look bleak. After all, their record in the reverse fixtures has been lamentable. Fylde, Rosslyn Park, Blackheath and Ealing have each hammered the Solihull side by an aggregate score of 166-41.
That places a massive emphasis on their next five, against opponents who, with the exception of Macclesfield, have either craved or been blighted by the mediocrity of mid-table for most of the season.
STOURBRIDGE: There are no snakes in Stour’s run in, though the trip to Blaydon looks difficult. Mitchell wants six wins to stand a chance but they need a hitherto untapped consistency to get them.
Great Escape Prospects:
BEES: Unfotunately it’s looking like Archibold Ives’ mad rush up the fences.
STOURBRIDGE: As architects of their own downfall it’s reminiscent of Andy ‘Mac’ MacDonald accidently speaking English.