by Glyn Barlow
This Saturday Birmingham Moseley make the long journey south west to visit old friends from the Championship in Plymouth Albion.
The two teams last met in 2015 when Moseley won 29-0 at Billesley Common. It was this match that saw Moseley secure survival in the Championship, playing in front of spectators in the new Grandstand for the first time, while Plymouth were condemned to relegation.
A fight to the end to avoid relegation was nothing new for the teams, having previously endured relegation dogfights together on more than one occasion. During Moseley’s time in the Championship games between the two clubs have always been keenly contested with Moseley winning 11, Plymouth 10 & 2 draws, the spoils often falling to the home team.
As previously mentioned Plymouth dropped to National One last season, finding the league to be no easy ride as they finished eighth winning just over 2/3 of their games. In fairness they would have managed a more creditable second place had they not carried a 30 point deduction into the campaign for going into administration at the end of the previous season.
The club traces its origins back to 1876 as apprentices in the Royal Navy dockyards, looking to play competitive rugby, formed Devonport Albion. A merger with near neighbours Plymouth RFC took place in 1919 to become Plymouth Albion RFC.
Entering the leagues in 1988 as part of Courage League Three the team struggled to maintain National League status until new Chairman of Rugby Graham Dawe led a revival which took the club to National One (now the Championship) in 2002. The following year saw the move to their current home at the Brickfields. The last few seasons have been marked by issues off the field securing finances overshadowing the playing side, leading to their dropping out of the Championship after 13 years.
In preparation for the current season Albion have drafted in a number of new faces including French Pro D2 scrum half Clement Le Roy, ex-Plymouth hooker Luke Cowen-Dickie from Redruth, back row Rupert Cooper from Nottingham, Kieran Hallett as fly half/coach from Cornish Pirates and South African back / second row Dave Fisher. All will play under new Head Coach Dan Parkes. In addition eight dual registered players will be available to Parkes through an agreement with Exeter Chiefs.
Both teams will recognise a few faces in the opposition jersey with former Moseley back row Dan Williams joining Albion this season from Torquay along with former Billesley second row Niles Dacres. In Birmingham Moseley ranks Elliot Bale and Tom Fidler have both pulled on a Plymouth colours in the past.
So far this season Albion have made a bright start with 7 wins from 10 games including a 19-21 away win at Esher, 40-13 at home against Old Albanian, 39-3 over Darlington Mowden Park and 18-24 away at Hull Ionians. Add to these results away losses to Coventry 34-33 and Fylde 39-37 and you can see Plymouth could well have been much closer to Birmingham Moseley than the 2 league places and seven points suggest.
For Birmingham Moseley this game represents the start of a tough run of matches. Six of their ten games to date have against clubs in the lower half of the league. By contrast November and December brings five games against top eight opponents.
The players and coaches at Billesley Common will be rightly pleased to have run out convincing winners against Loughborough last Saturday, particularly when you consider the disruptions illness brought on their preparations. It was again demonstrated how potent the attack can be when ball is sent wide, with Alex Groves providing the sort of distribution wingers dream of.
Tempering the pleasure of scoring nearly 50 points will be the fact that the team was guilty again of not dominating the full eighty minutes. A period where they switched off in the first half allowed the Students to get back into the game. Credit to the team and management changing their game plan at half time in response bringing their forward strength into play to dominate the second half, but realistically against stronger opposition this may not be an option to save the day. Against Plymouth and other tough teams a full 80 minutes of effort and concentration is a must.
With 9 wins from 10 games and averaging 34 points a game it may seem a little negative to be unsatisfied, but you can’t help feeling we haven’t yet seen the best (or at least the consistent best) from this squad. This Saturday is the ideal time to change that and start to adopt a ruthless efficiency in how they play. It will of course be a pleasure to renew acquaintances with our West Country friends, but it will be an even greater pleasure if they return up the M5 with 5 more league points to their name, but it’s going to take a greater effort from them than we have seen all season.
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