by Joe Heaton

MOSELEY v London Welsh - Saturday, 26th August, at Billesley Common,

k. o. 3pm (but come for lunch!)

The opening league match of the season! The pulses quicken and hopes are raised. Can Moseley build on the splendid form showed during the latter games of last season? Will the new signings make a major impact? Will the numbers supporting Moseley on a regular basis significantly increase? Will the new laws be to the advantage of Moseley? By 4-40pm on Saturday afternoon we should be well on our way towards answering these key questions.

We could hardly have a more interesting fixture to launch the season. London Welsh Rugby Club, which now has a full-time professional squad, is, like Moseley, a club with ambitions to return to the forefront of the game. Something will have to give.

London Welsh, founded in 1885 for London ’s Welsh community, is a club with a famous history. Its ground is in Old Deer Park in Richmond , near to Kew Gardens , Richmond Athletic Ground, Richmond Station and a wide selection of high class pubs (the late Peter Woodroofe, of beloved memory, highly recommended the Orange Tree).

The two clubs first played each other on November 21st 1925 and, since the Leagues started in 1988-89, Moseley has won five games and the Welsh eight. At the start of last season, however, Moseley won 40-10, one of the club’s best recent away wins but was unable to replicate this at home in March of this year, losing a close match, 6-13

The Welsh have been in National League One since season 2000-01 after suffering the ignominy for such a famous club of playing in Courage 5 (South). Their recent record in Nat One is somewhat better than that of Moseley i.e. 00/01 6th; 01/02 5th; 02/03 5th; 03/04 8th; 04/05 12th; 05/06 12th, 06/07 12th, and 07/08 7th (compared with Moseley’s 10th out of 16). The Welsh clearly hope to improve on this in 2008-09.

Over the years the Welsh have contributed 177 players to the Welsh National XV, notably, Gerald Davies, Mervyn Davies, John Dawes, John Taylor and the great J.P.R. Williams but this has almost come to an end since the Welsh Rugby Union began focusing on home based regional teams, from which its international players are now invariably selected.

A hotly debated issue at Old Deer Park is to whether the club should turn its back on the English leagues and seek to become an extra Welsh team in the Magners League. The present official position is that this would only be considered if the English Premiership decided to prohibit promotion/relegation.

Over recent years London Welsh, like Moseley, has worked hard to retain the amateur ethos of enjoying a game and a pint on a Saturday. The club runs several sides and also has a vibrant social section which attracts many Welsh men and women, who live and work in west London , and are not necessarily followers of rugby. How the move to being a fully professional side will affect this remains to be seen.

As it has authoritatively been reported that the annual cost of running a fully professional rugby union side is a minimum of £500k per annum greater than a semi-professional outfit like Moseley, the Welsh have clearly entered into a major financial commitment with the club’s recent announcement that it would be fully professional from this season. The club is in good hands with the very capable and experienced David Hammond as Chairman, and no doubt he will have arranged the necessary financial backing and organisation for this to succeed.

Moseley’s pre- practice games have given very different indications as to how this opening match of the season will go. The encounter with Ebbw Vale (fifth in the Welsh Premiership last season) was very encouraging with a clear win for Moseley.

Last Saturday at Worcester , however, was a welcome wake-up call against any complacency. Pitted in the first half against most of Warriors International studied 1st XV, Moseley were given a demonstration of the power and sharpness of an English Premiership side, strengthened early in the year by further overseas international players, and did not step up to the mark. The two mixed Moseley packs each half and backs playing together for the first time were exposed to the ruthlessness of a fit and energetic Worcester side. While the introduction in the second half of Neil Mason and Terry Sigley steadied the ship somewhat after the break, nevertheless a further four tries were leaked during the second period.

Much will depend on how well and quickly London Welsh’s now fully professional players gel. If they have trained together throughout the close season, the Moseley players will have to play at their very best to achieve a result in this tough opening fixture. Welsh’s Director of Rugby, Martin Jones, remains but the club has a new coach for the 2008 season, Danny Wilson.

Note:  Under 16s free entry this Saturday!!


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