BIG MATCH PREVIEW -
by PETER WOODROOFE
On Saturday Moseley Rugby Club welcomes Nottingham to Billesley for the first time. It is also another first because Moseley and Nottingham were selected to kick off the first ever league rugby game, with the start of the "Courage Clubs Championship" in 1987. Saturday’s game is also an important one for Moseley, as the squad needs to win at least one of its three remaining National League One fixtures to remain in the division after last season’s impressive promotion from National League Two.
The Nottingham club is now in its third season in National One and its side is now a streetwise squad with solid talent throughout. After Moseley’s fine display at Doncaster, it was hoped that Moseley had at last come to terms with the demands of this league, but a return to an error-strewn display at Plymouth Albion dispelled that hope and it is now up to the squad to shake off the disappointment and make home advantage count, knowing a consistent attacking display as at Doncaster could produce results.
With Moseley founded in 1873 and Nottingham in 1877, the first fixture between the two clubs was played as long ago as 2nd February 1884. This is in fact the one hundredth meeting between the clubs covering League, Cup and Senior Club games, with Moseley winning 63 (six League), Nottingham 26 (eight League) with ten games drawn (two League)
When Alick Birkin returned to Nottingham from Rugby School at the age of 16 in 1877, he gathered some friends around him to form a rugby playing team. This was fifty four years after William Webb Ellis had invented the game by picking up the ball in a game on Big Side and running with it to the opposition goal line. Invented is probably not the right word.
In fact, Webb Ellis, later to become the Rev W.W. Ellis M.A., blatantly broke the rules of one sport and perhaps hastened the development of another. Anyhow, Birkin will have been aware of the episode, by then carried down in folklore, and by 1877 the RFU had been formed and was six years old.
1877 is generally regarded as the date of the formation of Nottingham Rugby Club, although the earliest report of matches appeared in the local press in 1885/6 and the first minutes of an AGM date back to 1898. However, there appears to be no doubt, thanks to the knowledge of the Notts’ statistician, that the first match against Moseley took place, as mentioned, in 1884.
After being at Ireland Avenue, Beeston, which was given to the club by Alick’s brother Leslie Birkin, since 1904, Nottingham, after a period of stops and starts have moved to The Lady Bay Complex, West Bridgeford. While the ground is being prepared, Notts 1st XV is playing most of its games this season at Meadow Lane, the home of Notts County AFX, which has turned out to be one of the more successful arrangements between two clubs of different football codes.
Particularly interesting is that TIM STIMPSON’S grandfather played soccer for Notts County. Tim has been signed this season as their backs coach. He won eighteen England caps 1996-2002, while playing for Newcastle and Leicester.
It is logical that as Moseley and Nottingham came to the fore of the game so early, that they would produce icons of the game, for example FRED BYRNE of Moseley, who captained England in the 1890s and was also captain of Warwickshire County Cricket club. In 1895, he became the first Englishman to kick a penalty goal in a Test, at Richmond (the penalty goal became a way of scoring points only in 1891).
Nottingham’s equivalent is V.H. CARTWRIGHT, a born leader of men who won thirteen England caps between 1903 and 1906 playing ‘in the middle of the front row’, Nottingham’s first international player. He went on to captain England, be a referee still in his playing career, became a selector and President of the RFU.
BRIAN MOORE, DUSTY HARE, GARY REES, ROB ANDREW, CHRIS OTI and SIMON HODGKINSON, who later played for Moseley 1993-5, won England caps while playing for Nottingham, REES (22) and HODGKINSON (14), winning all their caps there, and CHRIS GRAY won all his twenty-two Scotland caps while playing for Nottingham.
The two clubs first met in the RFU Senior Cup in 1975-6, Moseley winning 25-12 at The Reddings in Round One. In 1983-4, Nottingham had their revenge winning 10-3 in Round Four at The Reddings.
Both clubs started in League One (no Premiership) in the Courage Clubs Championship in 1987-88. In fact, they played each other on September 5 1987, the first day of League rugby and as the kick-off at Beeston was at 2.30pm, the first match in Division One to be completed, Nottingham winning 21-12. The Nottingham club was relegated to League Two, two seasons after Moseley and relegated to Jewson One in 1997-8. After the formation of the Premiership, Jewson One became National One in 2000-1 and the club was promoted to National One in 2004-5.
Nottingham finished eleventh in a first season in National One, a creditable performance when one sees how difficult it is these days to make a successful adjustment to National One’s professional higher standards. The club did even better last season, improving to seventh, winning thirteen games.
This season Nottingham lies tenth after a 50-0 win over Sedgley Park last Sunday. The leading points’ scorer is newcomer TIM BARLOW, ex-Cornish Pirates with 198. They have scored eighty-nine tries, the leading scorers being winger WILL LOGAN and the experienced winger DAVID JACKSON, who have scored seven apiece. Twenty-eight players have scored one or more tries this season, plus four penalty tries, showing the overall competence of an efficient squad.
The new Director of Rugby is Kiwi GLENN DELANEY, a former club captain who has taken over from SIMON BEATHAM, who gave the club excellent service as a player and coach over the years before a job promotion forced him to make the choice. An assistant to Beatham, DELANEY appears to have moved easily into the DoR role.
In addition to TIM BARLOW, other newcomers this season are props RYAN HOPKINS from Plymouth Albion and MATT PARR from Borders, lock NIC ROUSS, another player from Plymouth Albion, and centre ALEX DODGE, No 8 DAN MONTAGUE and scrum-half RON SPRINGHALL, from Leicester.
A newcomer to the 1st XV is full-back RONAN NIRMALENDRAN, part Sri Lankan, part Czech and born in Britain, who has come from Nottingham’s junior teams. He is an exciting player in the Jason Robinson mould. Coming the other way to Moseley is lock PAUL ARNOLD, who has won his 1st XV tie this season.
The newcomers join experienced players who have played at Nottingham for some years, DAVID JACKSON and lock/flanker CRAIG HAMMOND, the captain, who has led England Counties, both over one hundred appearances, utility back BEN THOMPSON and wingers WILL LOGAN and JOSH KAY. Fly-half, Scottish U21 international NEIL STENHOUSE, the leading points scorer for the last three seasons, is still at the club and has shared kicking duties with TIM BARLOW.
So the Moseley squad faces a difficult task against a streetwise side on Saturday. Crumbs of comfort are that Nottingham have lost four of their last six matches and have only won two of their away games to date this season, against London Welsh and Waterloo. Moseley will be worried about injuries to props BEN BUXTON and KEVIN MORAN, sustained at Plymouth, and will be endeavouring to eliminate errors and play positively.
All this adds up to a keen encounter at Billesley on Saturday and on a good day, Moseley could win. Good fare for supporters of both sides. Enjoy your day at Billesley!
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