By Richard Smith
Birmingham & Solihull eventually came out winners at Bromsgrove, but were given more than a run for their money in a highly entertaining encounter at Finstall Park.
With Bromsgrove occupying third-from-bottom place in the league and the Bees looking to narrow the gap between them and fifth-placed Chester, the form book suggested that this should be a relatively straight-forward assignment for the visitors.
Instead a 60-point thriller was served up with the Bees just holding out for a bonus-point win after a valiant rearguard action from Bromsgrove that yielded the North Worcestershire side a well-deserved two losing bonus points.
It was pretty much one-way traffic for the first 20 minutes as the Bees put 17 unanswered points on the scoreboard thanks to two excellent tries, both converted, and a penalty by Adam Canning.
The first try came from a barnstorming run by Bees’ lock Matt Spink and the second, well finished by full-back Chris Fensome, was a score oozing in quality.
However, with Canning limping off with an injury aggravated by goal kicking and winger Dai Evans also requiring substitution, the Bees were forced into a backline reshuffle.
Their problems were compounded by a yellow card for veteran prop Matt Long for collapsing a maul.
Bromsgrove sensed an opportunity and a period of sustained pressure was rewarded with a try under the posts for No.8 Sol Dacres. Full back Critchlow slotted the easy conversion and the visitors were back in the mix.
Prop Steffan Thorpe – making his Bees debut – made an immediate impression, first coming close to scoring in the corner and then making a crunching tackle on Grove lock Ben Meadows, whose afternoon was brought to a premature end.
But it was the home side who were in the ascendancy with half time looming, winger Ollie Bache denied in the corner by a rather lucky interception by Fensome.
After an eventful first 40 minutes, Bees were 17-7 to the good but Bromsgrove had shown plenty of grit and more than a dash of panache.
The home side started the second half as brightly as they had ended the first and within two minutes they had narrowed the deficit to just three points with a try by scrum-half Dave Brazier, duly converted by Critchlow.
This jolted the Bees into action, with replacement centre Rob Connolly off on a barnstorming run from his own 22, resulting in a Bees penalty upfield. Petty kicked for touch and the Bees’ rolling maul was effective once more with replacement prop Nick Bingham at the bottom of the pile.
A second try from another rolling maul – again scored by Bingham and this time converted by Petty – further extended the visitors’ lead.
Another superb individual try from Rob Connolly, running a full 80 metres and swatting off at least five tacklers in the process, took the score to 34-14 in the final quarter of the match.
Supporters were treated to a thrilling final 15 minutes with two tries, both converted, bringing Bromsgrove within six points of the Bees.
The first was scored by blindside flanker Dave Hughes and, with replacement fly-half Cillian Paget increasingly influential, centre Ben Palmer got on the scoresheet as well with a well-crafted solo effort. But the Bees held on for a 28-34 victory.