BIG MATCH PREVIEW -
by Joe Heaton
This is Moseley’s first game in the new Championship.
A more demanding start in the new league cannot be imagined, as our first visitors are the 2008/09 runners up, and in their pre-season practice matches beat Premiership side Sale Sharks at home and narrowly lost to them away.
Moseley of course have strengthened their team in both the backs and the forwards including several exciting new backs (with a proven track record) and the return of former favourite Andy Hall in the second (or back?) row. It should be a titanic match, the result of which should give the team’s management an indication of the season ahead.
Home support will no doubt take comfort from Moseley’s magnificent victory over the Chiefs in the double header league and semi-final of the National Trophy in March. Let’s not forget however that, in the league fixture in September 2008 the Chiefs beat us by a considerable margin at Sandy Park - and appear to have significantly improved their squad in the mean time.
The Chiefs have made no secret of their ambition to play in the Premiership next season. Boosted by the extra income generated by their recently upgraded, purpose built ground, Sandy Park, they have assembled a talented squad and expectations are high.
Exeter have come a long way since the leagues started in season 1987-88 when they were placed in National League Two. 2009-10 will be their twelfth season in rugby’s second tier where they have been runners up on three occasions (2004-05, 2007-08 and again last season).
Exeter’s club captain, Alan Miller, will miss at least the next eight weeks of action after he suffered a cheekbone fracture. The injury occurred in a recent closed-door practice session against Launceston and has needed an operation.
One of key factors, influencing the outcome of this game, is whether Moseley have had sufficient practice time to create a genuine team from the players retained from last season and the new ones drawn from far and wide.
The two high scoring practice games, versus Newport (narrowly lost) and London Scottish (narrowly won), are being augmented with further controlled practice matches..
The bureaucratic delays that caused the late arrival of Moseley’s two highly rated Canadian signings (Justin Mensah-Coker,wing, and Bryn Keys, centre) have clearly been very frustrating. Although they are now here, can we expect them to be match fit after less than a week in England?
It will be interesting to see how Ian Smith resolves other key team selection decisions, particularly at half-back. It looks likely that Tristan Roberts will retain the fly half berth with the South African Andy Bergen being preferred in the centre but will Gareth Taylor retain his place at scrum half after an impressive preseason for Welsh international Andy Williams (subject of course to contract negotiations)?
Who will be the wingers and the centres inside them?
With a large and talented squad the possibilities are considerable - but we must wait until Saturday to see how Ian’s mind has worked.
Over the last week there has been a growing sense of anticipation. So much effort has been expended during the close season to strengthen the squad and integrate the new players into the team, that expectations are rightly riding high.
In the new Championship the margin between playing-off as one of the top 8 clubs striving for promotion to the Premiership and fighting to avoid relegation as one of the bottom 4, is wafer thin. Every point will count and strong nerves will be needed.
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