Although the National Leagues actually take their mid-season break after this weekend’s 16th round of matches, levels three and four reached their midway points last weekened.
Doncaster, relegated from the Championship in April, have made decent strides towards promotion and the National One title. Clive Griffiths’ men are three points clear but having lost three times in 15 games are not as dominant as a full-time outfit should be.
They were, though, easily good enough to expose Coventry’s pretensions at Castle Park last weekend. The Butts Park outfit are sixth and 11 points behind the leaders following their 39-30 defeat.
National Two North, repository of four West Midlands teams, and the fourth tier generally is the level at which the very best social rugby players and the serious semi professionals interface.
That can be seen by the situation at the top of N2N where Macclesfield, Darlington Mowden Park, Stourbridge and Sedgley Park – three of whom have very recent National One experience – and all of whom harbour ambitions to be there next season – are well clear.
So, how have Coventry, Stourbridge and Birmingham & Solihull fared in the first half of the 2013-14 campaign.
Coventry 6th N1 – P15 W10 L5: In the summer Coventry took the bold step of handing the first team reins to rookie head coach Scott Morgan – and they will be pleased with how the former Wales international has fared.
His little black book brought ex-Wales fly-half Matthew Jones and full-back Barry Davies to the club although melding players used to a full-time environment, with players of more modest pedigree isn’t always the easiest task.
Morgan has tried to assemble a team in which the constituent parts all do their jobs, props scrummaging, locks jumping, back row carrying and so on, in the theory that players like Davies, Jones and Luke Myring would have the ability to make the difference.
By and large it was worked although the learning curve has not been uniformly upward – their away form was a concern for a while as they became the first team to be reminded about the challenge of going to Blaydon and Wharfedale.
At home they have lost just once – by a point to second-placed Rosslyn Park, and until Saturday no-one would have disputed they belonged in the promotion picture.
However, defeat at Doncaster revealed some concerns about the size, physicality and set-piece work of their forwards.
And if Coventry are to bounce back, they are going to have to find some big, strong, experienced forwards to do it.
What is clear though is that with Esher and Doncaster still to visit, the road to the Championship will go through Butts Park – whether Coventry take it or not. Grade B
Stourbridge 3rd N2N – P15 W13 L2: Yes Neil Mitchell’s men are still stuck at level four and unless they find a way to win their big games that’s where they will stay.
They have assumed the role of flat-track bullies so far this season – hammering the likes of Hull and Bromsgrove but not able to cope when someone stands up to them.
This year Hull Ionians, Worthing, Macclesfield and DMP, twice, have subjugated Stour, a fact that surely reveals a psychological flaw.
They are six points behind leaders Macclesfield and are no longer favourites to go up as champions. Which doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t. But they’ll have to find a way to win the big ones. Grade B-
Bees 6th N2N P15 W8 L7: At the beginning of the campaign chairman and benefactor Chris Loughran predicted if things went ‘fairly well’ then his club would finish in the top half. Which is exactly what they look like doing.
After stabilising last year the Portway outfit are moving forward under the guidance of Eugene Martin, Henno Venter and the prodigal son Rod Petty.
Much of Bees pack is homegrown and there are signs of life in the backs too although Ashley Elvers and Dai Evans have interests elsewhere.
Bees need to find the right combination at half-back where Petty, Adam Canning, Chris Fensome and Jack Jolly need establish themselves – ideally as placekicker. Grade B