A season review may seem a little premature with Pertemps Bees’ most important fixture of the campaign still to be played but whatever the outcome of next Tuesday’s hearing at Rugby Football Union HQ it will change only the ends not the means of what has been a dire year.
The Sharmans Cross outfit and their hired legal gun travel to London to contend they should receive four league points as a result of a match they lost in January, at home to Cornish Pirates, going to uncontested scrums because the visitors had inappropriate front row replacements.
They will cite the precedent of Coventry having their victory over Rotherham reversed in October 2004 because they failed to provide sufficient cover on their bench after which the result was set at 0-0 and the Titans awarded the win.
As things stand First Division Rugby Ltd have docked Pirates three points but Bees will argue this goes against the Coventry Ruling. The outcome could not be more important. If the RFU agree with Bees they will move out of the relegation zone and Sedgley Tigers will drop into National Two. Be sure, however, no one at Park Lane will take that lying down.
Bees are right to leave no stone unturned in their effort to remain in the league but this case should not obscure the fact they are where they are because they were unable to turn winning positions against London Welsh, twice, Esher, Sedgley Park, Bedford, Pirates, Nottingham and Northampton into something tangible.
The last two in that list provide powerful evidence. When Nottingham played in Solihull in February they were completely shut out of the game. Although they had plenty of second half possession, Bees’ defence was such that they were not able to do anything with it.
Leading 10-5 and on the last play they lost the ball, Dan Montagu broke through one tackle and Craig Hammond wriggled over. David Jackson’s conversion administered not just a 12-10 defeat but the most sickening of body blows.
Bees were even good enough to come within three minutes of beating Northampton but a couple of moments of brilliance turned a 17-15 deficit into a 27-17 victory for the Saints. In short Bees let chances slip through their fingers like a child does with sand. The Cornish Pirates had nothing to do with that.
Neither were they culpable for the off-field shenanigans that upset the applecart even before the season began. Several senior players claim the recruitment Steve Williams carried out before he jumped ship was not of the requisite quality. Williams - a good coach, would not have hired them had be thought he could not meld them into a decent outfit.
So when he decided to accept Magners League and Heineken Cup rugby with Ulster - and who can blame him? - the die was cast so far it took some time finding. Ben Harvey, head coach by default, could not coax performances out of unproven youngsters and low-brow journeymen like Mike Mangeolles, Mike Hook, Phil Osborne and Alan Wyn-Davies.
His attempts to patch up the side with sundry Worcester Warriors were ill-fated and as well as Uche Oduoza played - when he was available, only Alex Grove made any meaningful contribution. Mike Ruddock’s masterplan meant James Collins, Joey Carlisle, Miles Benjamin and Matt Mullan were never a real part of Bees’ immediate future.
As a result he was sacked in December, a decision that coincided with Andre Bester’s engagement as a consultant. To be fair to the South African he teased some more dynamic displays out of the pack but made it clear he was not interested in a long-term relationship.
Which is when Russell Earnshaw stepped in. A hugely experienced player and potentially with a very fine coaching career ahead of him. Earnshaw found the 22 or 23 men with whom he wanted to go into battle and did just that.
Their cause, though, was not helped by Earnshaw’s commitments with the England Sevens squad - a fact he never hid when he originally joined as a player last summer. With Earnshaw in San Diego Bees capitulated at relegation rivals Launceston - another hammer blow.
Neither were things aided by the absence of Jon Higgins, their only recognised fly half and kicker following Hook’s departure. Paul Knight stepped up and kicked vey well latterly but one wonders if he will forever rue his decision not to go for the posts in a close game at Esher.
Stalwarts like Matt Long and Alex Davidson put their bodies and souls into a spirited rearguard action and victories over Doncaster, Rotherham, Newbury and Sedgley left them in with a chance going into the final match of the season away at Bedford.
The performance they produced at Goldington Road was probably the best of their campaign. Direct up front, purposeful in the backs and fanatical in defence it was as near perfection as they could have hoped. Unfortunately Sedgley were playing even better at home to Rotherham.
* SEASON IN STATISTICS
League finish: 15th in National One (relegated).
Games played: 30.
Games won: 7.
Games drawn: 0.
Games lost: 23.
National Trophy: 5th round (L Plymouth Albion, home, 3-22).
Leading points scorer: Jon Higgins 85 (16 cons, 16, pens, 1 try)
Leading try-scorer: Andy Daish 8.
Player of the year: Alex Davidson.