Rugby Union Commentary: Moseley in pursuit of their dream: Second City's finest want to rediscover golden era but their defeat exposes more than just a difference in divisions

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The Independent Online
AS MOSELEY are first among rugby clubs in the Second City, in theory they should be among the foremost in the entire land. But this only goes to show how far apart theory and practice are in this modern rugby world. Look at Bath, tiny by comparison. Look at Gloucester.

For all its one million inhabitants, it seems Birmingham is the last place to expect to develop a big-time rugby club. No rugby tradition, virtually no rugby in the schools, nothing much on which to base the growth and development that would return The Reddings to a place of honour.

This could not be more different from Gloucester, a city one-tenth the size but with rugby as its heart and soul. Gloucester of the First Division may have been fortunate to beat Moseley of the Second, let alone by as much as 20-3, but the score did accurately reflect a more subtle disparity between the two than the simple, obvious gap of one division.

The uncomfortable fact - for Moseley, anyway - is that the city of Gloucester with a population of around 100,000 has the potential to create and keep a team of the very highest quality. It helps that everyone is rugby-conscious, whereas in the Second City no one much gives a hoot about the oval, as opposed to the round, ball.

In these unpropitious circumstances Alex Keay, Moseley's director of rugby, is striving to find straw for his bricks so that he can rebuild. In the fairly recent past Moseley were as strong as any club in England and as lately as 1982 shared the cup - with Gloucester, as it happens.

They began Courage life in the First Division but now languish in fifth place in the Second, having lost more of this season's league matches than they have won.

As they showed against Gloucester, they have a ball-winning pack and backs without a clue of what to do with it.

Possession is constantly turned over in the tackle and so many elementary errors are made that a predatory team such as Gloucester need do no more than wait.

There is more. Problems about the image of Birmingham, the lack of rugby tradition at Birmingham University, the departure of Brummie rugby players to institutes of learning far and wide and their failure to return when their studies are complete. And off the field Moseley have been in turmoil for years.

'It's not as simple as saying the population is large,' Keay said. 'Birmingham may have a lot of people in it but they aren't playing much rugby. To be honest, it's difficult to sell Birmingham though in fact it's an attractive place. It is very hard work.'

As a result of various untoward goings-on the club is so financially strapped that it has just increased admission and drink prices and its match programme, now an outrageous pounds 1.50 from pounds 1, is not only the most expensive around but also a rip-off. Saturday's notes had been written even before the Pilkington Cup ties on 18 December.

Keay has just been awarded a second three-year contract which will take him through to 1997 and by then, he promises, Moseley will be back in the First Division. Whether by then he has one of his many other wishes and they are called Birmingham-Moseley is another matter.

'I wouldn't have thought we were more than 12 or 15 months away and I'd hope that by the end of next season we would be there or thereabouts,' he said. 'We think we have some good young players here now and you could say we are very close to being quite good.'

Moseley were also far closer to beating Gloucester than the scoreline indicates. Without Richard West and Dave Sims, the Gloucester line-out did not function, so Richard Moon sent back a stream of possession which helped give Moseley an overwhelming territorial advantage.

Much good - a single Mike Hamlin penalty against his old club - it did them. They missed their kicks, whereas through Tim Smith Gloucester had a 100 per cent record for the first time this season, and were so inadequate during their relatively brief periods in defence that Gloucester managed a try in each half.

The first was farce, Chris Dossett and Dave Hanson messing up a quick line-out so completely that Mark Nicholson's try was a gift in the true spirit of Christmas. The second was more creative, the lock Peter Miles having been involved in its build-up by insinuating himself into the threequarters before reappearing again as scorer.

So without doing much of their own to achieve it, Gloucester had secured their sixth win in seven games. They resume First Division action at Wasps next Saturday when Moseley entertain Saracens, the club whom Keay represented with distinction for a playing lifetime.

Until he contentiously enlisted with Moseley, Cherry-and-White had been the colours of Mike Teague's rugby life for almost as long as Keay was a Saracen and on Saturday playing against his old club was more than the ex-England forward could contemplate. Instead Teague was in one of The Reddings hospitality boxes hosting prospective recruits such as the Cambridge University centre, Paul Flood.

The recruiting officer, 34, has committed himself to another season with Moseley, so someone loves them after all. But then Teague is from Gloucester - and Gloucester men, unlike their Brummie counterparts, know their rugby. Keay could do with a few more like him.

Moseley: Penalty Hamlin. Gloucester: Tries Nicholson, Miles; Conversions Smith 2; Penalties Smith 2.

Moseley: C Dossett; D Hanson, J Bonney, A Houston, L McKenzie; M Hamlin, R Moon; M Linnett, D Ball, R Wareham, S Lloyd, M Bright, C Raymond, P Shillingford (capt), M Ord.

Gloucester: T Smith (capt); M Nicholson (M Hannaford, 39), D Cummins, D Caskie, J Wootton; A Johnson, B Fenley; A Windo, J Hawker, A Deacon, S Devereux, P Miles, P Glanville, R Baxter, P Ashmead.

Referee: S Womersley (Huntingdon).

(Photograph omitted)