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Rugby Union: Bees in need of winter warmer.

Byline: Michael Blair

There's autumn rugby, wellintentioned and prancy, there's ordinary winter rugby, which comes in as rather stern and there's spring rugby, which can be anything, depending on where you are in the League. And in the middle of it all is January rugby, which is very specific indeed.

'It's fixed bayonets time,' according to Phil Maynard, Pertemps Bees director of rugby. 'It's when we play rugby in the trenches.'

January rugby, at its best and most authentic, is stripped of all pretentious baggage. You square up in the mud and are driven by muscle, mood and commitment. 'Proper rugby,' Maynard goes so far as to call it and a lot of old timers will know what he means.

Never mind the 50-46 extravaganzas, the legislatedfor please-the-punters stuff. This is when you neither win nor lose by many and the Bees were more proud of their one-point victory over London Welsh than of any walk-over, not that they've had many of those this season.

'You have to have a game for all seasons,' says Maynard, and he knows exactly which file to open as he contemplates the visit of Orrell to Sharmans Cross Road today.

Orrell are currently one of rugby's sad cases. From fulltime title challengers, as they were last year, they have sunk to the bottom of the table, comparatively resourceless and lacking quality on the team sheet. But no-one will patronise or underestimate them.

They put in a big second half at Coventry a fortnight ago and that's the form that Bees will judge them by. 'Their current form may not be strong,' said Maynard. 'But nobody's whacked them.'

Orrell have a highly-rated scrum-half in Scott Benson and Maynard has nothing but respect for their rather demonstrative coach, Mark Nelson. 'We've started the New Year quite well and we believe we've got something to build on,' he said.

Bees have the Powergen Shield match against Bedford in March very much in mind. Just which of their games they will be playing by then remains to be seen. Now that Coventry have had those league points deducted, they have risen above them in the table and to climb higher than their nearest neighbours is always a special pleasure.

Week by week, the Bees injury list shortens and they'll have scrum-half Paul Knight starting this week for the first time since the Leeds Cup-tie. And they'll have lock Alex Davidson in the frame for the first time since the Cup-tie at Newcastle last season.

Davidson has been all this time in recuperation following a serious shoulder injury but he's training expectantly now and the selectors have been forced to notice. Especially as this is January.

'Alex brings an aggressive streak to our game,' said Maynard.

'He gives us a hard edge and a fresh hunger that perhaps we've lacked this season.'

With Hese Fakatou pressing for a place in the back row, with centre Mike Davies over his hamstring problems, Bees have a distinctly with-it air about them. January could be a profitable season within a season.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 22, 2005
Words:509
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