Moseley 39 Wharfedale 3
Operation Phoenix entered its second trimester at Billesley Common on Saturday as Moseley were asked to find answers to questions posed by both the conditions and their opponents.
The English rugby season is a strange three-headed beast, each of which must be severed - or at least mastered - before safe passage into a higher division can be negotiated.
First come the warm conditions, sun-dried pitches and early teething problems. They give way to the autumn rains that serve as a precursor to the knee-deep freezing mud, making the winter months the spectacle they aren't.
Finally, as spring creeps in, more rain, and the business end of the campaign played with depleted squads and as much between the ears as it is on the hardening pitches.
To their credit Moseley found the solution to the riddle of Wharfedale In The Wet with some ease. They bagged five tries, another bonus point and ultimately their fifth National Two win of the season.
It keeps them top of the nascent table, thus far a pointless entity if ever there was one, but more importantly confirms what many observers were beginning to suspect - that this team is not just one with lofty ambitions but one with the wherewithal to fulfil them.
There were starring performances from Paul Cox, Daren O'Leary and Neil Mason who in the centres and at flanker embody what's different about this red and black vintage to their 2004-05 counterparts.
Moseley were a decent team last year but lacked the bottle and patience to overhaul Newbury in the second promotion spot. That led their coaching staff to three realisations. Their existing players would have to become better, faster, fitter and stronger. Cox has done that admirably and the two tries he scored against Wharfedale underlined the fact.
His five scores for the campaign, determined running and frenetic defence have offered the team the sort of solid custodian at No 12 they missed last season.
"The key thing has been the work he put in through the summer," John Beale, director of rugby, said. "He knew it was make or break this year because we were not sure whether we were going to keep him as a full-time player. He has more than repaid the faith we have put in him." The second of Beale's conclusions was that his young side needed an old head in the back line to press home attacking advantages.
O'Leary has brought that and his handling in Saturday's downpour was that of a player who had spent most of his career in the top flight.
Thirdly, as everyone knew, Moseley needed more 'dog' up front - that nasty competitive edge that throws opponents off their stride. Mason is a master.
The openside put in a monstrous performance, bashing tacklers out of the way and pummelling ball-carriers back behind the gain line. At one stage in the first half Moseley's scrum was so dominant that Mason was getting more ball from the base of the Wharfedale set-piece than their own No 8, Rob Baldwin.
He even showed a creative side to his game by straightening the line beautifully for Nathan Bressington's opening score. It was a complete display from the 23-year-old and led Beale to refer to him as a 'talisman'. All of which led to "a good wet-weather performance." One that required the hosts to demonstrate their improved defence for virtually all of the second half.
They built an early cushion with Bressington and Cox going over for a 12-0 lead and dominated territory to such an extent that when Wharfedale were given a late firstperiod penalty, fully two yards into the Moseley half, one of their followers was inspired to yell "Look where we are 'Dale".
Two more tries, by Cox and Carl Colvin, ensured the bonus point but between minutes 45 and 77 Moseley were pinned in their own 22. "I'd have almost given them a try just to get away from our line," Beale said.
His charges did not feel the same way, though, and Mason, Gareth Taylor and Mark Evans were prominent in ensuring all the visitors had to show for their afternoon's endeavours was a Mark Bedworth penalty.
Eventually back came Moseley and three minutes from the end Dean Bick, another man who has upped his game since last term, was shunted over the line behind a cohesive driving maul.
Ollie Thomas added the conversion and a late penalty to finish with six successes from eight attempts in an otherwise quiet match but there's a theory at Billesley Common that says if their flamboyant fly-half isn't standing out, then he's doing what he should be. As are Cox, Mason, O'Leary, and let it be said, everyone else.