The stress lines have faded, almost entirely, and the summer sun has melted away the permafrown that threatened to freeze itself indelibly in to Ian Smith’s features.
They might beg to differ at the Butts Park Arena but the Moseley head coach was perhaps the person who suffered most in the inaugural Championship relegation play offs.
And as much as he tries to deny it now the 6-3 defeat suffered in the icy mud in Coventry in April looked as though it would leave a permanent stain on Smith’s reputation as Moseley teetered on the brink of disaster.
Mercifully for the former Scotland international a couple of wins later and the tension was defused. But just for a few days the barren wastelands of the community game loomed.
“I always knew what we were capable of. I never thought we would go down,” Smith insists from his Billesley Common bunker, where he is putting the finishing touches to his latest plans for Championship survival.
Those plans see the first light of day this Saturday when Moseley open their 2010-11 campaign at home to an Esher side intent on proving they should never have been relegated in the first place.
The Surrey-outfit were the most unfortunate losers in what Smith describes as ‘that fiasco’ when, two years ago, nearly a third of the second tier was demoted in a single sitting. Moseley escaped by skin of their gnashed teeth then too.
Once again the task remains the same, stay in the second tier until the almost mythical ‘other revenue streams’ allow the club to do more than tread increasingly deep water.
And as he must be the man who has masterminded that process for the last four seasons – and picked up a Twickenham trinket along the way – is optimistic the laws of financial gravity can be defied and a top eight finish is theirs for the taking.
“It’s going to be terrifically hard. All sides have improved,” he says. “It’s all performance-led. If we get things right we are quite capable of being in the top eight.
“We haven’t got the largest of squads so it’s a case of managing the injuries when they come along – as they will – and trying to get through.
“On our day, with the right team on the field, we can be a tremendous threat and produce some good rugby. Are there four sides we can finish above? I think so, definitely.”
Whether there were last year is a point of debate. Moseley finished above only three and in the final relegation pool spot. But with ten wins – which should have been 11 or possibly even 12, the feeling within the club is that they should have ended above both Plymouth and Doncaster and well clear of the bottom four.
That they didn’t was down to a Jekyll and Hyde split personality that allowed them to demolish Bristol at home but turn up and Castle Park and fail to register a presence. Much of which depended on the mood of their mercurial play-maker Tristan Roberts and out of which side of bed his scrum half partner slumped.
“We all try and get this consistency,” Smith says. “We talk about it all the time, but it’s so difficult when you haven’t got the depth of squad you need to create that competition from within and have viable options to change one or two on a weekly basis.
“If you haven’t got that you get the emotional sway of the mind where you can play well for a couple of weeks but subconsciously you can’t do it for a third or a fourth.
“That’s what we are trying to get over. Whether you can do that in sport I am not sure. We try every year, we haven’t got there yet but we will keep trying.”
Indeed, even on their good days there was a fault line through the Moseley team that has required attention in the last few months.
Roberts is a wonderfully gifted young man but there were times last season when he was tactically adrift, usually when it was wet and windy – as it sometimes is on Billesley Common.
In fact during the deep midwinter the youngster went missing for weeks on end and the Red and Blacks were left with little more than a vindictively powerful scrum and their accurate goal-kicker with which to assail their opponents.
Smith recognised that and Roberts has moved on, to Doncaster, and where it is thin in some areas the current Moseley squad has almost an embarrassment of options at fly-half.
Brad Davies, whom Smith knows from his schooling at Kingsholm, has arrived from Bedford, Andy Borgen has been recalled from the Land of the Vuvuzela and Ollie Thomas’ circular wanderlust has brought him back to his spiritual home.
That’s three Championship quality fly-halves.
“With Brad we have got a very, very good ten who is very good at managing a game but can also play 12.
“Andy Borgen is probably somebody who is equally adept at 12 or 10. Brad you would think have the ascendancy on form at ten.
“And with Ollie you have got somebody who is quite evenly balanced at ten, wing or full-back but on his day in any of those positions can be the best player on the field. It’s a nice problem to have, it’s just a case of managing it and getting the best out of all of them when we need it.”
Smith will also need to get the best out of the youngsters who have come in to replace Aly Muldowney, Ryan Wilson and James Rodwell, three forwards who at various times and for varying lengths have been stellar performers.
All three have been lost to the next rung of the professional ladder this summer and where the Red and Black pack once had a gnarled edge, there is now a more youthful look, particularly in the back row where a tackle-breaking No.8 needs to emerge.
Failure to do so and the stress-lines and permafrown will be one step closer to a return and the route to safety one step further away.
“We are fighting to go forward in any way we can,” Smith says.