This Saturday sees two of the form sides in National One clash at Stourton Park in a fixture that will tell us much about the promotion credentials of runaway leaders Barking.
Under the guidance of Alex Codling and Kevin Sorrell the East Enders are yet to taste defeat this season and will arrive in the Black Country confident of both stamping their authority on the division and slapping down one of their potential rivals.
Because, make no mistake, despite a summer of turmoil in which virtually all of their first team departed, Stourbridge are in the process of metamorphosing into credible challengers, possibly not for promotion but probably for a top-six finish.
Neil Mitchell’s side have won their last four and if the rugby public expects to learn something about Barking this weekend, they will find out even more about Stourbridge.
Defeat, particularly if it comes with the sort of brute force London Scottish found successful five weeks ago, will confirm the theory Mitchell’s men lack the bulk to gatecrash the top-of-the-table party to which Barking, Cambridge and the Exiles are the only invitees.
Victory, however, will have the club’s committee men scurrying for their business plans and recalibrating their sights. It’s not a case of win and you go up, more one of win and you have a chance.
To be fair to everyone down the Bridgnorth Road they are already pondering the future and trying to build the platform from which to have a dart for the Championship. It’s just that they did not expect to reach that platform so soon.
Indeed it seems most people have been slightly taken aback by the speed of a revolution enforced by the withdrawal of central funding at level three.
That prompted Stourbridge to pursue with greater urgency a partnership with recently relegated Worcester Warriors.
They offered a decent standard of rugby for Sixways’ young tyros, in return for access to the region’s best prospects.
What they ended up with was a player-sharing arrangement, new forwards and backs coaches and exposure to a full-time environment, from which many of their own players are now benefitting.
The result is that with Tony Windo and Thinus Delport supporting Mitchell, Stour are fifth in the table and clearly improving every time they play.
To say it has exceeded even their own director of rugby’s expectations is no overstatement. “To think that just six months ago we had to postpone the start to our pre-season because we only had six players,” Mitchell marvels.
“We even had to call off a warm-up match with Pontypool. It was difficult because Richard Hill was new at Worcester and he was looking over his whole squad, so we just had to pick up the new players when they became available.”
Mitchell made no secret of the fact Stourbridge were under-cooked when the season started and he was disappointed but not surprised when Macclesfield and Coventry beat his embryonic team.
“I remember driving back from Coventry with Adam Sturdy saying to him ‘It’s going to be a long old season’.”
But even in defeat Stour were developing. “It was a bit like working with the British Police squad, we were basically a representative side that didn’t know each other.
“For that reason I said to Reg and Thinus that we had to keep the basics of last season and build from there. At Coventry we got bullied by their big one-out runners so we had to completely re-evaluate our defence. We had to slow down teams, spoil their ball and reduce them to pick and go – our back row has been a big part of that.”
Step forward energetic double act James Rodley and Rupert Cooper. The young flankers have started all but one game together this season – the final-play victory at Blackheath – and Mitchell credits them with being the heartbeat of his side. Both have made an impact with the Worcester A team too, two of 14 players to have played in both this season, as has star centre Charlie Hayter. Traditionally nothing has made Mitchell bridle more than the epithet Dour Stour. There have been times in the past when the adjective has been fair, times when it hasn’t. At present it could not be more inappropriate.
Much as he would like them to be a little more dour, Stourbridge have a habit of affording their opponents a head-start before reining them in at the last.
Twice in consecutive weeks in-form centre Hayter scored injury-time tries to snatch wins from, not so much from the jaws of defeat as the windpipe. That earned him both the nickname lastminute.com and Hill’s admiration.
Hayter’s progress, combined with the buy-in of Warriors like Matt Kvesic and Greg King has been central to Stour’s excellent – and rapid – progress.
“If you’d have offered me this position on July 6 I’d have bitten your hand off,” Mitchell admits.