NATIONAL ONE: Coventry 29 Pertemps Bees 13
Whether it was the slouched shoulders, hang-dog expressions or emasculated second half performance is difficult to say but what is clear is that for the first time since their mid-season renaissance began, Pertemps Bees looked like a team that is beginning to believe it might be relegated at the end of this longest, most arduous of campaigns.
The fact Bees lost against Coventry was not especially surprising - six of their last seven opponents have inflicted defeat on the scrap-pers from Solihull - but not without the vanquished taking a few bites out of the victors' ankles along the way. Indeed of those half dozen sides Nottingham, Northampton and Esher could feel a tad fortunate to have won at all.
The same could not be said of Coventry despite the fact Dave Addleton's men gave a performance little more than competent. They were clearly the better side and had referee Mark Wilson been able to identify the hosts' supremacy in the scrum that was apparent to everyone else, they would have won by an even greater margin.
"I am a little bit disappointed we didn't get the five points because we could have had a couple more tries," Addleton grumbled afterwards. "But overall I am pleased. We knew with the position they are in it was going to be tough but we also knew that if we stuck at it they would crack."
Everyone knows that. This, after all is a Bees team that can squander of even the most handsome leads - a luxury they never enjoyed at a windswept Butts Park, it should be noted.
The visitors had first use of the strong breeze but conspicuously failed to maximise its benefit. The 13-11 advantage they produced was never going to be enough and when the sides swapped ends Coventry posted 18 unanswered points in 20 minutes. In short they waited for Bees to crack and crack they did.
"They were just better than us," said Bees' newly installed director of rugby Allan Lewis. "Both into and against the wind they played the conditions better than us. As a coach you look for situations where there is a three-on-two or two-on-one, they had many more than we did.
"When they had possession they kept it and maintained their width which put pressure on our defence. When we had it we were too narrow again."
He did, however, reserve praise for his young play maker Alex Grove. The 20-year-old, on loan from Worcester, was playing fly half for the first time in more than two years and has not kicked goals on anything more than an ad hoc basis since his Rugby School days.
Yet he accounted for all of his side's points including a virtuoso 27th minute try that was out of keeping with the rest of the prosaic fare. His return of three from five attempts at goal was as good as anyone in a Bees shirt has produced this term.
"He did very well," said Lewis. "I was not expecting much better. He made and scored the try and was confident enough to have a kick at goal. He will start again next week."
That's not actually the glowing reference it might sound. Regular ten Jon Higgins is not expected back and although his stand in, Paul Knight will have returned from playing in Hong Kong, he will have to slot back in at scrum half after Nicky Griffiths was taken off with an eighth minute knee injury.
The prognosis is, however, slightly better today than it was in the immediate aftermath with the former Ospreys half back thought to have suffered bone bruising rather than ligament damage. Lewis expects him back in a fortnight.
That should put him back in contention for the season-defining visit from Sedgley Park - the side Bees are chasing to avoid the drop. Cornish All Black's win over Newbury does not really change the mathematics of Bees'
situation but Park's bonus point defeat to London Welsh does. Bees are now six point points from safety with just three matches left. The most likely escape now is to beat Park with a try bonus on April 19 and outperform the Mancunians in the other two fixtures.
Can it be done? "Of course. There's no white flag being waved here," Lewis said. "We could quite realistically pick up five points in our next two games. Sedgley are hardly full of confidence having just lost at home to London Welsh."
Indeed they are not, but the impression that Bees' belief is terminally punctured was inescapable here. Not once did they get into the Coventry half in the second period, indeed it was all they could do to plug the dyke during the onslaught.
To their credit they lasted for a quarter of the game but once Laurie McGlone steam-rollered 18-year-old Jack Preece from a five-metre scrum after an hour momentum had swung.
The classy Ronnie McLean added a conversion to his first half try and pair of penalties before Myles Dorrian decorated a decent afternoon with a well taken drop goal.
McLean added a penalty for 24-13 with 13 minutes to go and then Sanders smuggled his way over from a catch and drive with three on the clock. It just about made up for his horrendous knock on shortly before McLean's goal. All the South African had to do was take Nathan Jones' pass and fall over but instead failed at the first fence.
For Bees, Grove's try was a delicious cameo. He chipped over the top of a blitzing defence, collected the dropping ball in stride, swapped passes with Scott Young and raced home from 30 metres. Sadly it was a rare moment of inspiration from the visitors and his side ended the game looking anything but inspired.
COVENTRY: Russell; Johnson (Slater 74), McLean, Sanders, Parry (Dixon 28); Dorrian, Walls (Jones 48); Maddocks (Whitehall 76), Whitehead, Brits (Dugard 74), Hodge (Rheeders 62), Nimmo, Venter, Clayton (Millar 74), McGlone
BEES: Spee; Mitchell, Young, Knight, Aston (Culpin 42); Grove, Griffiths (Maggs 8); Long (Redelinghuys 64), Pearl (Bick 69), Bucknall, Davidson, McComb, Preece (Kazombiaze 64), Daish, Matthews. Replacements not used: Porter, Campton
Referee: Mr M Wilson (RFU)