TWO TRIES in the final ten minutes saw Birmingham & Solihull Bees claim a 16-16 draw against Syston on the opening day of the National League 3 Midlands season.
Both Tawanda Chipadza and Mikey Whettell left it late as the Bees avoided their first opening day defeat for the first time in eight seasons.
For a good portion of the game it looked as though that unfortunate statistic of opening day defeats would be further extended as the men in gold, who fielded eight new faces including five debutants, were out thought and out played by their hosts in many departments.
Playing up a slight slope and against the breeze, the Bees were reduced to 14 men within just four minutes with debutant winger Chipadza justifiably shown a yellow card for taking his opponent out in the air.
Having won all three of their pre-season fixtures, the Bees – led once again by skipper Chris Goddard – seemed oddly lethargic and lacking in intensity. In contrast their wily opponents made the most of the conditions to starve the visitors of the ball, dominating territory and possession in the first period.
Fortunately, it was only penalties on the scoreboard at half time though, as Syston led 6-3 thanks to two kicks slotted by centre Adam Nunney to the one from Bees’ scrum half Jack Jolly.
With a reshuffle in the backline at half time and the prospect of playing with the stiffening breeze, the traveling Bees supporters could be forgiven for expecting a rebound in the second period.
But It was not a script that the Leicestershire side had read and they came out even more fired up.
They soon had a try under their belts, with replacement prop Aaron Dowson crashing over from short range, with Nunney adding the extras, to put the Bees ten 10 points adrift.
A Jolly penalty reduced the deficit following the Bees’ first meaningful foray into home territory, however a Nunney penalty soon restored Syston’s lead to two scores on the 65-minute mark and, with it, a growing sense that the opening game hoodoo was to set to continue.
To their credit, the Bees tapped into all the work and effort that they had put in pre-season. Tom Price, on for Rob Gregg, together with Joe Foreman, Matt Tibbatts and Danny Wright started to make in-roads into the Syston defence.
This allowed the ball to be swung wide to the burly Dan Barrett on the left wing and Chip on the right flank, back on the field to replace the injured Jimmy Oliver.
It was the pacey right winger that got the first of the two tries needed, with centre Mikey Whettell scoring in virtually the same spot in the right corner minutes later.
Jolly was unable to slot either of the difficult conversions to grab the victory, however, in the circumstances – not least as Nunney just pushed a speculative long range penalty effort wide in the last kick of the game – the Bees would have been glad to salvage the draw.
Bees’ head of rugby, Pete Glackin, and first team coach, Ben Woods, will no doubt be looking for improvements in a number of areas as they prepare for the first home game of the season against Bedford Athletic this Saturday.