“IT’S been a season of grit and determination, no doubt about,” says Bees director of rugby Eugene Martin, reflecting on a year that saw Birmingham Solihull stabilise and stop its slide down the leagues.
“But I’m really, really pleased, and when you look at the statistics it gets even better.
“When you look where we finished, out of 16 sides we were 12th, however we were the tenth best attacking side and the 6th best defensively.”
The achievement is considerable, especially as the job was done with a raw side forged from local, home grown talent, unlike the highfliers who played in seasons past.
“These have been massive games for these young guys, and they have come a really long way.
“An outsider might have thought we were in trouble this year but when you see, as I have, the amount of work these guys have put in, it’s tremendous.”
Looking back, Bees arrived at the start of the 2012/13 season on the back of two successive relegations, shorn of their stars and cash, and back at The Portway, their groundshare with Solihull Moors at an end.
Martin was working with a young side culled from their own minis and juniors and local clubs in the area, and as well as building a viable team, he was determined to put identity at the heart of the club.
“This is my rugby club, and it’s the players’ rugby club, and the players who once played for us it’s theirs too, and the guys who come down and watch us, it’s also their club. And for a lot of our players, people like (scrum half) Jack Jolly it’s like coming home because the Portway is where they played their rugby as minis and juniors.”
Martin also paid tribute to the input of chairman and Solihull businessman Chris Loughran who has guided the club through these turbulent times.
“By keeping our identity we ensure the future of the club and so much has come from Chris and the amount of work he and the board has done.”
The season did not start well for Bees. The young raw side was taking time to gel, their inexperience was costing them points and they lacked nouse on the field.
Around Christmas time though, things changed.
“We started to click and play as a team,” said Martin, “but we also had to change the mindset, we had to tell the players ‘it’s not going to happen this year’ and it worked.”
A key figure in that turnaround was forwards coach and former Coventry RFC stalwart Henno Ventor who pulled on his boots to stabilise the side.
“HV has been a fantastic, and as a young coach his credentials have been A+. To see him back on the pitch plying his trade with these young guys has been great.”
Martin’s individual highlights of the year include Bees’ trip to Huddersfield in the rain returning with a 50 point victory, their grit and determination to beat Dudley Kingswinford, playing 60 minutes with 14 men, and a stirring battle to overcome Westoe.
“We’re building a rugby club here, clubs like Blaydon and Tynedale are what we’re trying to achieve here and I am sure that as we do that we will find our place in the national leagues.”
Fellow relegation victims from National League 1, Barking, meanwhile fell out of National League 2 (South) with just seven points.