2005/06 Retrospective 


(Published in the Birmingham Post 6th May 2006). 



Moseley captain Gareth Taylor continued his remarkable run of unbroken appearances this season-he has not missed any of the last 90 games- which means he not only inspired his team to National Two glory, he was there every step of the way. He takes a look back at one of the most enjoyable campaigns in the club's history with Rugby Correspondent Brian Dick. 




Starting the season at Billesley Common was a massive boost for the club and a credit to everyone behind the scenes. Winning our first match against Manchester and getting the bonus point in the last few minutes was just the start we were looking for. That was good but, the biggest thing that month was beating Stourbridge away in our second game. Everyone had written us off with the way we had played there in the last three years and it didn't help when we lost Richard Stott the week before. But Tom Skelding came in and everybody played well on a horrible day. It was the first time in about two or three years that our forwards stood up and showed themselves to be the best in the league. After beating Blackheath, we went up to Waterloo and, at the time, it didn't feel as though it was any more important than another game but ultimately the points we got up there ultimately won us the title. As the match wore on and they came right back at us, it became clear how good the two sides were.



We had lost at Esher in each of the last three seasons, so going there again was our biggest game so far, because they knew that if they beat us, then it would put them in the driving seat. Although we didn't play that badly, they beat us but afterwards in the bar, they drank Moet until it was coming out of their ears. Our lads wondered what they thought they were doing because they hadn't won anything yet. If we'd have won, we wouldn't have reacted that way. They gave us a bottle of champagne which Stottman kept until the end of the season. We drank it seven months later, after we beat Launceston. That was sweet. The toughest games are often the ones after you've played a big match so, although Harrogate were struggling when we beat them after losing at Esher, it set us up nicely for November.


The occasion that sticks out for me was the Earth Titans cup game. It was a Friday night and the first time we had a really, really, big crowd all season. The atmosphere was superb. Although we lost, they were fifth or sixth in National One and it showed we could compete with the top sides in the country. There was a crossfield kick we should have scored from and afterwards Ian [Smith] and Don [Caskie] would say we were quite unlucky that day. If we played them the following week and the week after that, I am confident we would have won because we would get on a roll of National One sides. A fortnight before that we had gone down to Redruth which, after the Esher loss, was a massive test of character for us. All season, Ian Smith would pin press cuttings in the dressing room and that day, there were a couple from down there wondering if Moseley would perform and saying it was a good time to play us. We won 26-19 and the only disappointing thing was we didn't get a bonus point. John Beale was very angry about that.


In years gone by, December has not been a good month for us and once more there were low moments, but some real high ones, too. I don't even want to think about the Halifax game; we won but we didn't play. Then the next week we came up against Barking, who were on a good run and threatening to break into the top three. But we had Jimmy Aston and Neil Bayliss back for the first time for several months and seeing names like that in the programme helped the boys in a big way. We gave them a real beating and afterwards I had to make a speech where all I could say was that they caught us on a very, very good day. Looking back, it was probably our best performance of the season.The next week, Launceston away was totally different. We just did not perform and they were right up for it. They targeted Waggy [Neil Mason] but we did not do anything about it and we should have. It was disappointing the way they acted, they were not the nicest bunch of blokes and I think they will regret the way they were now. But, on reflection, going down there was the best thing that could have happened to us, because a lot of players had a long hard look at themselves over Christmas.


Andy Binns came back and Andy Reay came into the team; that was a big plus for us after everyone had a week-and-a half-off and came back fresh. Starting with Stourbridge at home could not have been better; beating them as we did really showed we were going somewhere. Our next home game after that, against Waterloo, was immense. To win with 14 men was fantastic. It was the first time I had ever congratulated a crowd at Moseley but they really helped us. The feeling at the end of the game, having held on like we did, was the best all season, even better than getting promoted and beating Esher. It topped everything. We did well in the first half but, when we had a man sent off, we went into the changing rooms and talked calmly about what we had to do. Speaking to their lads afterwards, they could not believe they hadn,t won that game. The delight on our faces and the dejection on theirs was something to behold. It made it even more enjoyable.


Although we won at Orrell, it was a hard match for us because we lost Jimmy Aston for the season. He had come back in before Christmas, scored tries and begun to look the player he was a season-and-a-half ago. We were devastated for him. Following that, we had the Tuesday off and came together on the Wednesday and Thursday before the visit from Esher. There was no way we were going to lose that match. Scoring four tries in the first half was amazing. On that day, no-one would have beaten us; if it had been Waterloo, we'd have killed them; if it had been Rotherham, we'd have beaten them too. After this game, I began talking about the focus of the team because we were in the box seat. Having beaten Waterloo twice and Esher at home, the guys felt they deserved to win the league. It was ours to lose now.


Coming off the massive Waterloo and Esher games, we put in one of our worst performances of the season at home to Redruth. We had a week away from the club after Esher and although we needed it, it was very difficult getting back into the grove. Dai Hallmen said that having seen the photos on the website of the Waterloo game, where our faces showed how much we wanted it, the pictures of Redruth showed that we just did not want to be out there. We scraped through. After another free weekend, we went to Henley and everyone was thinking about promotion and how it was there for the taking. Every time you turned the telly on, you'd see Waterloo had picked up five points so, by this stage, we knew we had to keep winning, but we also had to turn in performances as Ian had said all year. Doing both was hard work. After winning at Henley, we outclassed Orrell and once more we sustained a serious injury, this time to Dai Hallmen. There were matches like Halifax and Launceston coming up, games in which he would have been in his element. We were a little bit low because he had been a key player in our pack.



The way we got promoted at Halifax was fantastic, it would have been nice in front of our own fans, but you take it anywhere it comes. But running on the pitch before the Launceston game took our breath away. As we came out, Andy Reay said we should try and soak it up because it wasn't going to be there forever. I probably will never be promoted with Moseley again, I dearly hope I am, so I knew I had to enjoy every second of it. The way we played, that wasn't difficult. They were a shadow of the side that beat us in December and we showed them how we could play, backs and forwards, by controlling the game from start to finish. We were hell bent on winning the title that day, so everyone played out of their skins. After the game was brilliant. Sitting outside, drinking the Esher champagne having won something, was something I will never forget. It was nice to see the likes of Alex Hadley, Paul Coles and Dean Bick-guys who had been there when Moseley were relegated, take the club back up again.




Ian Smith and Don Caskie's views.


In virtually every detail the Moseley Ian Smith and Don Caskie joined two years ago is different from the club they take into National One next season. Admittedly the faces, and team colours, have remained the same-half of the side that lost the club's last First Division match in April 2003 played in the current campaign-but that's about all. When the pair arrived from Cheltenham a year after that defeat to Exeter, Moseley were living an itinerant lifestyle as tenants at the University of Birmingham, oscillating between anonymity and ignominy and were in real danger of slipping further down the rugby pyramid.

Two campaigns later they have regained their former status and are now snugly housed in the rough diamond surroundings of Billesley Common. It has been a miraculous turnaround. With many of the same players that struggled under their predecessor Steve Ojomoh, Smith and Caskie, former team-mates at Gloucester, have overseen a drastic improvement in first team affairs and now preside over a side brimming with confidence and ambition. Moseley have utterly dominated National Two this season. The two-point margin they have at the top of the table does no justice to their supremacy over their nearest challengers. They are worthy champions. They are not the free-spirited runners of 2004-05 but they have nevertheless taken the title by fitting the style of rugby to the demands of the occasion. Whatever it's needed, an Ollie Thomas penalty, a Dean Bick pushover or a Nathan Bressington sprint finish, they have found it. 

And that pragmatism is the biggest change in Smith and Caskie's reign: "When we first came in we brought a fair bit of basic organisation and a bit of confidence into the group," Smith said. "After a couple of months they realised how good they could be and expanded too quickly for their own good, we became very loose. "But from the start of this season the disorganisation had gone out of our game and we could concentrate on what we were actually trying to do with our gameplan. "The boys were a lot calmer, the Photogame management was better, we made more correct decisions and they didn't feel as though they had to go out and entertain." The by-product of which has been the most entertaining season in more than two decades-not least down to the fact their punters now have their own seats from which to view the spectacle.

The two facets, new attitude and new ground, have been the main reasons behind the Moseley renaissance. Caskie certainly recognises the impact the move to Billesley Common has had on the team. "Before we moved here the training pitch was atrocious," Caskie said. "We had to analyse in a shed, before that we did it in the rain. We stood in a huddle for half-an-hour, trained and then went home. "So when we got Billesley Common we wondered if they were too molly-coddled but it has made a hell of a difference.  "The players have been able to get a shower, have meals together after training- that has made a massive difference in the way the team has really bonded. "They've got a home at last. The last few years have been character building but there is only so long you can sustain that." Those hard times, training at Metchley Lane and with nowhere to meet before and after matches also had a galvanising effect on the club.

The players that were prepared to put up with that stayed, most of them home products which has inculcated an esprit d'corps that has served them well this year. "It's been crucial," admitted Smith. "In the lean years these lads coming through have kept the club going. I am pretty sure they would have found it difficult to attract players in those times. "It is something Don and I are extremely keen on because that is what we were brought up on. As Gloucester people every little boy and even some girls wanted to play for Gloucester. I know it's old fashioned but that's who we are and I think it works. "That's why we are hoping to keep all these boys here for next season. I know we have a bloody tremendous task next season but I am sure a lot of these boys can take the next step. "We need to recruit properly and get the right people in, as well as good players, but this group have started a little bit of history, they have got to work extremely hard to keep it going but it's crucial the people who come in understand that." While Moseley have moved forward in their time out of National One the rest of the division has too. First Division teams are better financed, more prepared, fitter, stronger and faster than ever before. Which means that for Smith and Caskie next term begins in July: "It's crucial we get our pre-season right because we don't want to be shocked by the physicality and intensity of the first few league games. It's important we get up to speed very quickly," Smith said.