PLYMOUTH ALBION v MOSELEY, National League One at Brickfields, Madden Road, Plymouth, Saturday, March 31, 2007 Kick-off 3.00 PM.

Top notch performance
Moseley turned in a highly encouraging display two weeks ago at Doncaster, currently lying third, two places above Plymouth Albion, when Moseley achieved an unexpected but welcome losing bonus point. It is now essential that Moseley carry on the good work as the club enters the critical period of avoiding relegation during the four games to the end of the season.

Robust side
The is, however, a significant hurdle to overcome next Saturday against a strong Plymouth Albion side, not only as an attacking force, eight-eight tries scored this season, but also against the meanest defence in National One, yielding the second lowest number of tries (thirty-nine) and the lowest number of points overall, 372.

That is not all! After a week without a game, Moseley has generally started its subsequent game sluggishly – against Exeter and Sedgely Park, for example. At Brickfields on Saturday, the good form shown against Doncaster must immediately be continued from the kick-off, or the game will be gone beyond recall early on.

Long history
Plymouth Albion was started in 1876 by a group of apprentices from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport. Rather than take the name Devonport, such was their ambition and enthusiasm that they called themselves Plymouth, incorporating the historical aura of the area and adding Albion to emphasise England and patriotism in a predominantly dominant naval area.

The club played at the Rectory Field, Devonport, but when the Navy purchased the Rectory Field for Devonport Services, Albion moved to Beacon Park its ground for the next eighty four years, before returning back to its Devonport roots, to Brickfields Stadium at Brickfields Recreation Ground in 2003.

Aiming high
The ambition of that group of apprentices has come to the fore again as Plymouth Albion strives for Premiership status. Brickfields will be gradually developed to meet the Premiership criteria. A new grandstand, an additional changing room block and a floodlit rubber-crumb training pitch, have been completed. Work has now begun (as per Rugby World) on a new East stand, known as the Redrow stand, after a five-year sponsorship deal with Redrow Homes, which could be in use by next July.

Professional progress
Plymouth Albion commenced League rugby in 1987-8 in Division Three, the highest placed club from Devon with Exeter. Albion qualified for the RFU Senior Cup Competition in 1971-2 from the Area Merit Table and won the Devon cup for eight seasons, including six seasons in succession, from 1983-88. The club finished third in Division Three in 1987-88 (and Exeter ninth) and nine Albion players were in the Devon County squad.

As long ago as 1926, E. STANBURY, a robust front-row forward who could place-kick, won his first of sixteen caps for England. He was in the 1927-8 side that for the first time won five internationals in a season, the Grand slam and a win against a touring side representing Australia, New South Wales, called the Waratahs. Other Albion players who played in that all-conquering England side were wing forward J HANLEY, who played in four matches out of five, missing Australia, and a hooker, R H W SPARKS, who played in three of the Grand Slam games. He won a further six caps and Hanley won three caps prior to 1927-8. Plymouth Albion was regarded as a nursery for forwards in those days.

An interesting fact has emerged while researching this article. Other international players numbered in the Albion list include W A MILLS, eleven caps 1906-8, S G WILLIAMS, 1902-7, and R A JAGO, five caps 1906-7, but they are listed as belonging to Devonport Albion, whereas J PETERS, five caps 1906-8, is listed as belonging to Plymouth. Peters was a black scrum-half and known as Darkie.

The designated club Devonport Albion, as against Plymouth’s list of international players, provides further scope for research for the historian because, as already mentioned, the apprentices from the Royal Naval dockyard, it appears, called their club Plymouth from almost the outset. (Any help from the Plymouth anoraks?) This surely proves that, to quote Sir Henry Butterfield (1900-1979), Professor of modern history at Cambridge University, and later, with different expletives, Alan Bennett in the stage and film version of the History Boys, - “History is just one bloody thing after another.”

Cup peak
In 1987-88, when League rugby began, Plymouth produced its best performance in the RFU Senior Cup, the John Player Cup, reaching the quarter-final after beating Northampton, bottom of Division One, and Blackheath, also relegated, before losing to Wasps, then second in Division One. Albion reached the quarter-final of the Powergen Trophy last season, defeating Fylde away 37-0, and Penzance & Newlyn at home 36-20, before losing at NEC Harlequins 37-24.

This season the club reached the semi-final of the EDF Energy National trophy, before losing to Cornish Pirates (Penzance & Newlyn) 17-9 at Camborne last Saturday. The only time Plymouth has met Moseley in Cup rugby was in 2004-5, when the National One team beat Moseley at Brickfields 76-6, its biggest winning margin in the RFU Cup Competition and Moseley’s biggest losing margin.

League encounter
The two clubs met for the first time in League rugby in December 1991 in a close game which Moseley won at The Reddings. It was somewhat surprising that Plymouth was then relegated after just one season at that level and failed to win a game in Division One in the following season. However, the downward spiral was halted in Division Four South (which became National Three South) when Albion won it in 2000-01, and then gained immediate promotion to National One where successive seasons have seen the club finishing ninth, thirds, third and, last season, fifth.

The two clubs met again in National One in September 2002-3 when Moseley made its first visit to Plymouth since the Easter Tour game in 1975, and lost 46-15 with the New Zealander No 8 DAN WARD-SMITH, now at Bristol with England aspirations, scoring two tries.

Great effort
One of Moseley’s finest recent achievements was in January 2003 before relegation to National One, in defeating defeated Plymouth then lying eighth, 25-24 at Bournbrook. The Plymouth side included the aforementioned DAN WARD-SMITH, player coach GRAHAM DAWE, and former Moseley winger NIGEL SIMPSON, while STEPHEN NUTT, now at Waterloo, kicked five penalties and ANDY GRAY scored both Moseley’s tries. ANDY BINNS played at centre and OLLIE THOMAS at scrum-half.

Well beaten
In the match at Billesley on November 18 last, Plymouth inflicted on Moseley the club’s heaviest defeat since the relegation season from National One in 2002-3. Moseley held the Albion to a ten-point deficit in the first half when French winger NIC SESTARET scored a try converted by South African WIHAN NEETHLING, who also kicked a penalty.

In the third quarter Moseley conceded twenty-one points, No 8 TOM HAYES, flanker FEDERICO GENOUD and SESTARET scored tries, all converted by NEETHLING. DAREN O’LEARY intercepted to score Moseley’s try from thirty metres out, but hooker RICHARD OXLEY, winger LUKE ARSCOTT and NEETHLING scored tries. NEETHLING kicked six out of seven conversions.

Hooker RICHARD OXLEY from Sedgley Park, FEDERICO GENOUD from Los Tordos and WITHAM NEETHLING from Stellenbosch University, London Irish Academy and after three seasons in France, have been recruited and NEETHLING has become the club’s leading scorer in League rugby this season with 162 points. However, he may not be kicking on Saturday as he is nursing a groin injury.

Established players
They join NIC SESTERET who has scored twenty-one tries to date this season, the second highest in National One, after being the club’s leading try scorer last season with twelve; ED LEWSEY, winger, now playing at scrum-half, who has recovered from injury after joining from Exeter last season; and fly-half ED BARNES, who has represented England Counties.

Other well-established backs are South African centre REGARDT VAN EYK, who has taken on the kicking duties, centre/full-back NAT SAUMI, ex-Penzance & Newlyn, last season’s top points scorer with106, and centre Tongan KENI FUSILAU, over one hundred appearances for Albion.

In the pack, tight-head prop SCOTT ZIMMERMAN, young locks TOM HAYES and MIKE LEWIS, and England Students’ No 8 CHRIS LOWRIE played last season. The captain is flanker DANNY THOMAS, who has made over one hundred League appearances for Albion, including being an ever-present in League and Cup appearances last season.

GRAHAM DAWE, the England international who won five caps, two in different World Cups, and on the replacements bench on numerous occasions and who made his debut for Albion on his fortieth birthday in 1999, is still the Chairman of Rugby and can be proud of his achievements at the club.

Tough one…
Moseley’s task at Brickfields is, to say the least, not easy, but the team has to reproduce its form at Doncaster a fortnight ago. Some word of comfort though – Plymouth Albion has lost four of its last six games. Plymouth has always been a favourite place for Moseley supporters. Let’s hope their pleasure off the field can be matched by events off it. Good luck!



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