BIG MATCH PREVIEW - Esher
BIG MATCH PREVIEW by Peter Woodroofe
Moseley v Esher, National League 2, at Billesley, Saturday, 11 February, 3.00pm
It’s crunch time again at Billesley on Saturday as we welcome the players, committee and supporters of Esher RFC for an extremely important match for both clubs in the promotion race in National 2 in which at the moment there are three front-runners.
Last Saturday, both Moseley and Esher played and won games previously postponed, resulting in them both overtaking Waterloo, with Moseley now League leaders by two points.
Compared to Moseley and Waterloo, Esher are a young club, founded in 1923. Their black and amber colours were influenced by the fact that one of the four rugby enthusiasts who founded the club after meeting in a pub was a Welshman, no surprise there! He insisted that the new club should adopt his native club’s colours, hence the colours, if not the design, of Newport.
The club’s crest was ‘borrowed’ from the coat of arms of Henry VIII’s ill-fated Cardinal Wolsey, who aroused the King’s jealousy by building nearby Hampton Court Palace and his rage by refusing him a divorce in order to remarry. These acts got the Cardinal perilously near to the axe, but he died just in time!
The club fielded eight clubs before the War and re-started in 1950 when a huge influx of players looking for recreation after the War joined the club. Fifteen teams were fielded every Saturday.
The club bought its present 27-acre ground, built a 1,200 seater stand and became the first club in London to erect floodlights. It has hosted representative matches, including an England trial.
Slow League start
Esher commenced League rugby in 1987-8 in London One, but after relegation in the first season, it took until 1993-4 to regain London One status.
They won promotion to National 2 South in 1997-8 and won it in 1999-2000. Influential players during that period included JON GREGORY, who came to the club from Richmond in 1998 and who scoured 654 points in the two seasons before promotion to National 2, and MICHAEL CORCORAN, who scored 15 tries in the promotion season after joining from London Irish.
Gregory went on to score a club League record 1609 points in six seasons to 2004, including another club record 39 tries.
During five seasons in national 2, they have finished 8th, 7th, 3rd, 6th and 11th. In their most successful season in 2002-3, winger NYASHA SHUMBA scored a club record 18 tries in a season.
Ex-Moseley players who played their part in that season were JAN BONNEY, over 100 appearances for Moseley, another former Moseley captain SIMON OWEN and scrum-half CHARLIE MULRAINE. The three players actually played together for Esher in three games towards the end of the season in which two matches were won and one narrowly lost at Launceston.
Struggle last season
Their least successful season in National 2 was in fact last season when they got embroiled in the three down relegation struggle and finished only a point above the best of the relegated sides, Nuneaton.
Their highest points scorer was fly-half NEIL HALLETT, who had joined the club from Bracknell a quarter way through the season, with 223 and scrum-half JOHN O’REILLY was the leading try scorer with 10. However, the team failed to reach their full potential, injuries to newly signed players such as MATT LEEK, who had played Premiership rugby with London Wasps and Saracens, taking their toll.
The extent of Esher’s ambition was made clear when they appointed former Canadian international and Rotherham back-row player MIKE SCHMID as Director of Rugby.
They have recruited widely, including DAVID McCALLUM, the Australian Sevens winger, incidentally now playing in the centre, Oxford University winger KARELLE DIXON, centre CHRIS YATES from Doncaster and scrum-half SAM COTTRELL from Wharfedale. With Leek fit, the ex-Harlequins winger MATT MOORE, NEIL HALLETT, centre TOBY CLOUSTON, over 60 1st team appearances, and scrum-halves JOHN O’REILLY and GRAHAM BARR, they have a formidable back division.
Newcomers to the pack include lock PAUL BARKER from Stourbridge, flanker LEE STARLING from London Welsh and flanker MIKE BLAKEBURN, hooker SIMON ELKINSON and Czechoslovakian international LADISLAV VONDRANEK, all from Bracknell. They join a wealth of experience – such as lock MARK BUTTERWORTH, approaching 200 appearances, No 8 Ex-Wasp CHRIS WILKINS, flanker JACK DAVISON, and a front tow that includes props DUNCAN CORMACK, the captain and JEFF SMITH, and hooker MARK BENNETT, all having made over 100 appearances.
Their leading try scorer this season is MATT MOORE with 17, the leading try scorer in National 2. NEIL HALLETT has scored 209 points.
Moseley’s leading scorers are DEAN BICK, 11 League tries and OLLIE THOMAS, 221 points, the leading points scorer in National 2.
With MATT LEEK returning to fly-half, HALLETT has played at full-back recently and he scored three tries in Esher’s 57-6 win over Halifax. MOORE has scored a hat-trick of tries on three occasions this season, against Orrell, Henley Hawks and Wharfedale.
Esher edge it
Esher have the better of the history of results between the two clubs since they first played each other in the 2003-4 season after Moseley had been relegated from National One.
Esher did the double winning 20-13 at Molesey Road and 27-12 at Bournbrook.
Last season, after Esher had won 22-16 at home, Moseley broke the trend winning 38-30 in a thrilling game at Bournbrook. However, this season, Moseley continued not to produce their best form at Esher suffering their first defeat of the season 26-22 to a side also undefeated at the time.
Flanker LEE STARLING and winger DAVID McCALLUM scored Esher’s tries, HALLETT converting both and kicking four penalties.
OLLIE THOMAS kicked five penalties from six attempts and converted NATHAN BRESSINGTON’S try scored in the first half.
The rugby pundit JOHN INVERDALE is Esher’s Director of Rugby. In his programme notes when the two clubs met at Esher he wrote: “It’s not often in recent years I’ve been able to write ‘Welcome to a top-of-the-table clash at Esher.’ I hope the writer of Moseley’s programme notes can pen exactly the same words when we meet in the Midlands later in the season.”
Well, we’re happy to write: “Welcome to a top-of-the table clash at Billesley” – with both clubs still 1st and 2nd as they were then.
The comparison in records speaks for itself:
P17 W15 D0 L2. Pts for 496, Pts Against 272. Try bonus 10, Losing bonus 1. Pts 71
P17 W14 D1 L2. Pts for 505, Pts Against 187. Try bonus 9, Losing bonus 2. Pts 69
The main difference lies in Esher’s defensive record, only 187 points, including 15 tries against, far in advance of the rest of the League.
Moseley have yielded 272 points, the third lowest in the League, seven points more than Waterloo, including 28 tries against.
Moseley have lost at Esher and Launceston. While Esher have lost at Barking and Redruth and drawn at Waterloo.
Moseley, as are Esher, are unbeaten at home in the League and, since the start of the second half of the season, Moseley have won all their five games scoring 161 points and conceding 94. Esher, in the same period have lost 21-23 at Redruth, but have been on a scoring spree with 173 points for and 42 against in their other four games.
All of which adds up to another cliffhanger, a humdinger of a game at Billesley, when all Moseley supporters expect home advantage to be the deciding factor.
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