BIG MATCH PREVIEW - ROTHERHAM EARTH TITANS

 

BIG MATCH PREVIEW by PETER WOODROOFE -


MOSELEY v EARTH TITANS, National League Division 1, at Billesley, Saturday, September 2, 2006, KO 3pm

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to write’ Big Match Preview’ in the 2006-7 season. Here’s hoping it matches last season for entertainment and excitement.

Big challenge
On their return to Division One after three seasons, Moseley face yet another challenge as they adjust to new higher standards of rugby. They have the ‘luxury’ of two home games at the start of their campaign, so they are able to acclimatise in the surroundings where they had so much success last season.

Titanic start…
As luck would have it, they will be welcoming Earth Titans, who inflicted their only competitive match defeat at Billesley last season in Round 6 of the Powergen National Trophy. So they have some idea of what to expect on Saturday.

Earth Titans is the branded name of Rotherham RFC. When Rotherham went into the Premiership for the second time in 2003-4, they took the name of Rotherham Titans after signing a sponsorship deal with Titan Environmental.

After immediate relegation back to National One, they signed a new sponsorship deal with Earth Mortgages, hence Earth Titans. They thus joined another one of Moseley’s opponents this season – Pertemps Bees – in losing the named location of its roots to commercial sponsorship.

Yo-yo club

The name Earth Titans also has an allusion to classical Greek mythology. The Titans were any of the other gods who preceded the Olympians and were children of Uranus, the personification of Heaven, and Gaia, mother earth.

Will the Titans gain promotion again this season and return to Premiership heaven?
They still have the ambition to do so, in spite of the topsy-turvy nature of the last seven season – two promotions, two relegations, and three seasons in National One, including one when they could not be promoted because their ground at Clifton Lane did not meet the criteria required by the Premiership.

Stability

In their last two seasons in National One they have achieved stability after being rescued by supporters, Rotherham Council and local businesses, finishing 8th in 2004-5 and 4th last season.

Last season saw the arrival of new chief executive and head coach ANDRE BESTER, formerly head coach of Belfast Harlequins and Ballymena. He was in a position to make 27 new signings to reinforce the squad after many players had left after their relegation from the Premiership in 2003-4.

They included last season’s top try scorer (20) in National One flanker / wing SCOTT DONALD, signed from Galwegians, and the club’s top points scorer (198), full-back MIKE WHITEHEAD, signed from London Welsh.

The fact that such a new squad with players from far and wide achieved 4th place by the end of the season reflected very strongly on the excellent methods of Bester and his coaches in blending a squad and engendering team spirit. They won 15 and drew one of their 26 games, scoring 715 points, with 613 against.

Cold comfort

Their Powergen National Trophy encounter with Moseley was played on a bitterly cold night and they caught Moseley cold, bagging 10 points within nine minutes. To their credit, Moseley, without Neil Mason, who had returned to Worcester, fought back well and 10 minutes of attacking ended in a try by PAUL COX.

OLLIE THOMAS kicked a penalty, but another try gave the Titans a 15-8 lead at half-time. All three of the Titans’ back row scored tries, the aforementioned SCOTT DONALD, and South Africans HENDRIC FOURIE and No 8JANNIE BORNMAN.

In the second half, Moseley continued to play strongly, but Roth hooker NIGEL CONROY, signed from Shannon showed pace to score try after a break in the centre.

Hooker ADAM CAVES scored a typical Moseley forward try and they were only nine points down with 15 minutes to go, but lock LOUIS McGOVAN, signed from Belfast Harlequins charged down an attempted clearance to gather and score. Two conversions by MIKE WHITEHEAD gave the Titans a 29-13 victory.

Raising the bar

The National One squad’s ability to profit from Moseley’s mistakes and the drive of their strong pack were the difference between the two sides. It’s that pace and strength that Moseley will have to combat this season.

Andre Bester has overhauled his squad again for this season, which means a large number of comings and goings. Twenty-one players are retained from last season and there are at least 15 new signings, including five from Irish and four from Scottish clubs.

Sevens speedster

Winger DAVID STRETTLE, who was the Titan’s top try scorer in 2004-5 with 18 tries, has joined NEC Harlequins. His replacement is Scottish Sevens star ANDREW TURNBALL, a pocket-sized speedster who has made his mark in the IRB Sevens. Amongst those with experience of Scottish rugby are this season’s captain, NEIL COCHRANE, signed last season from Watsonians, and scrum-half JAMIE BLACKWOOD, from Edinburgh.

Local talent has also been recruited – JOHN BUCHANAN, a centre / flyhalf who can kick goals and whose father played for Rotherham, and No 7 SIMON WORRALL, whose knee injury prevented him from fulfilling his selection for the England Sevens squad, both 21 and from Leeds Tykes.

New faces

Moseley lose the outstanding service of DAI HALLMEN this season (See  "players" page) but a newcomer is the very experienced PAUL ARNOLD, who has played in the second row for Leeds, Sedgley Park, Orrell and last season Nottingham, where he scored six tries in 22 appearances. He has also represented England Counties and was in last season’s Lancashire side that won the County Championship, defeating Devon 32-26.

Also in the Lancashire side, was the former Moseley player STEPHEN NUTT, son of the new Moseley President. Stephen is now with Waterloo, also promoted to National One this season.

Other newcomers include PAUL KNIGHT, a product of the Gloucester Academy who, after joining from Sale, made over 100 appearances for Pertemps Bees, scoring 15 tries and JODY PEACOCK, a strong-running full-back or centre from Nuneaton who holds the club career records for points and tries, scored between 1999 and 2006. He scored 201 points, including 17 tries in 2003-4, the Nuns’ inaugural season in National 2.

Tight-head prop CALLUM BLACK is on loan from Worcester. An Academy player, he represented Ireland Under 21 in the Six Nations tournament and was in the Worcester Development XV that played Moseley A at Billesley last January.

All to play for…

And so Moseley embark upon another adventure, one that the playing squad and coaches, who have worked very had in preparation during the close season, are approaching with confidence.

There is a buoyant feeling prevailing within the club and it won’t be long before we shall find out if their optimism is justified.

An intensely interesting, enjoyable and, hopefully, rewarding season to come – just a few days to wait…

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