Selecting the Birmingham Post Midlands Team of the Year this season has been a difficult exercise given the financial disparity of the clubs involved.
While Moseley and Birmingham & Solihull have remained rooted firmly in the realm of semi-professional, with their emphasis on the professional, Coventry’s focus has changed and their squad make-up now mirrors that of Stourbridge.
Throw in the fact I have seen neither side play yet this season and it is with regret I feel unable to include players from either National One club in my selection. That is not to say Stour’s Charlie Hayter and Sam Herrington at Cov might not be playing at Championship level very soon.
After an absence of six years Worcester have returned to the second tier but they are very much full-time professional, with the emphasis on the full-time and I do not consider comparing their players with their counterparts at Moseley and Bees to be a fruitful process.
I have, therefore, for the first year, picked a Championship-wide XV, to found at the end of this article, in which the Sixways side are well represented.
Which leaves us where we started, with a team chosen purely from Moseley and Bees players and with all the usual riders applying.
This selection is not necessarily the definitive best XV, merely a collection of individuals who have done most to impress me – for different sorts of reasons - over the last eight months. Let the brickbats fly...
15 Anthony Carter (Moseley) After 12 months when Andy Binns’ shirt weighed heavily on the six players who tried to fill it, Carter came in and produced an excellent first season. The Welshman was strong in defence and willing in attack and the eight tries he bagged made him the club’s top scorer and his retention is an absolute must.
14 Simon Hunt (Bees) Did not sparkle in the play-offs as he had done the year before but the Londoner has clearly benefitted physically from returning to the England Sevens set-up. His return of 17 tries in a side that struggled for most of the season is highly impressive but could have been even higher if he’d come off his wing even more.
13 Bevon Armitage (Moseley) Armitage arrived in late November and immediately blocked the bus route that had passed for Moseley’s outside centre channel before his arrival. The infusion of strong running and defensive solidity into a side that had lost its way was one of the key reasons why Moseley’s performances improved. A slight wobble in form in the play-offs was ended in the game against Bees when he made it his personal responsibility to stop Hunt.
12 Andy Reay (Moseley) A decent start to the season ebbed away as Moseley’s midwinter wobble set in. He lost his form, confidence and eventually his place in the team. But the 28-year-old responded magnificently when it mattered most and not only came back into the side but was installed as captain, after which he ed by example. His carrying became more incisive, his defence improved and the upturn in results clearly demonstrated the side flourished playing under him.
11 Ollie Thomas (Moseley) There I’ve gone and done it. Having been critical of the policy of playing him out of position for the last three months I’ve committed the same sin. Why he was barely used at fly half, even in cup games, was a mysteriously unturned stone but given that fact I can’t honestly play him at No. 10. Neither, though, can you ignore his outstanding goal-kicking. Having started the play-offs at 60 per cent, he ended it at plus 80 and kept his team in the Championship.
10 Brad Davies (Moseley) Brought to the club by Don Caskie, the former Plymouth and Bedford fly-half was then asked to play in a different way by Caskie’s replacement Kevin Maggs. That demanded he operated much closer to the gain-line and it took him time to adapt. His response was to stop working in his father’s building company to concentrate on his rugby and while some might quibble with his success, no-one can argue with his commitment.
9 Ryan De La Harpe (Moseley) Transformed from the cat-on-a-hot-tin roof player whose anxiety to make an impact reduced his early season effectiveness. The Namibian’s belief burgeoned during his scintillating two-try performance in the cup win at London Welsh and as his confidence grew the errors reduced. Still needs much more consistency in his pass but whose to say he can’t continue progressing at the same rate.
>> Next page: Positions 1 - 8, plus my Championship XV of the season.
1 Rob Dugard (Bees) Dugard’s arrival from Coventry was a key reason why Bees’ scrum went from powderpuff to powerful. His 19 starts showed his durability and his brute strength has attracted interest from Newcastle. Very much a work in progress but one that is developing nicely.
2 Adam Caves (Moseley) The definitive two-horse race, with the experience and wily ways of Caves ranged against Ross McMillan’s solid skillset. Caves was consistent throughout, his lineout feed remained solid under pressure and he played injured for long spells of the campaign. The fact his was the side that stayed up and he contributed with the odd try wins him the selection.
3 Terry Sigley (Moseley) While Leo Halavatau had a better first half of the season, he disappeared at the business end. By contrast Sigley came good in the final few matches as he battered Esher’s front row. Indeed it was the second half of the penultimate match when the veteran rolled back the years with the break and off-load that put Ben Pons over for the decisive derby-day score.
4 David Lyons (Moseley) Lyons came into what was effectively his first season in senior rugby with the enormous boots of Aly Muldowney to fill. He did a superb job. While other second rows in the area boast one outstanding attribute, Lyons comes nearest to combining them all. He has a bright future.
5 Dan Sanderson (Bees) The dual-registered Northampton lock had been a bit-part player until the last few weeks as he tried to combine the pressures of playing for the Saints development side and his training at Franklin’s Gardens, with those placed on him by Bees. However, in the last few games he emerged as arguably their best player and has everything you want from a second row, size, athleticism, power and a hard edge. After just four seasons in the sport Sanderson is one to watch.
6 Michael Maltman (Moseley) When all about him fell to pieces in the autumn Maltman was a beacon of light in the Moseley back row, despite spending much of his time out of position at openside to develop his handling. Deceptively quick with ball in hand and strong in defence the young Scot’s energy allowed Chevvy Pennycook to prosper while also making a name for himself. He also scored some excellent tries – not least against Worcester and in the watershed play-off victory over Esher.
7 Jack Preece (Bees) Virtually swept the board at Bees’ awards evening and justifiably so. Devastating over the ball and surprisingly strong when carrying, the 21-year-old is the archetypal breakdown ratter. Picking up an injury towards the end of the regular season hurt Bees and his tendency to get on the wrong side of referees hurt him but otherwise Preece has a very good and long career ahead. It’s incredible to think he’s already made more than 60 senior appearances.
8 Chevvy Pennycook (Moseley) Having commented in the last few months that he is not ideally suited to No.8 Pennycook has proved me wrong and been Pool C’s standout player. The tries have been valuable, the breakdown work has continued but the steadying influence he has been at the back of the scrum has been key. One incident stands out. Playing Esher at home with the game in the balance, Moseley had a forward in the sin-bin and a scrum in their own 22. Pennycook picked up and made it across halfway. Inspirational.
My Championship XV: Rob Cook (Cornish Pirates); Josh Drauniniu (London Welsh), Hudson Tonga’uiha (London Welsh), Juan Pablo Socino (Rotherham), Marcel Garvey (Worcester); Andy Goode (Worcester), Gavin Cattle (Cornish Pirates); Mako Vunipola (Bristol), Aleki Lutui (Worcester), Michael Cusack (Doncaster), Robin Copeland (Plymouth), Ben Gulliver (Cornish Pirates), Neil Best (Worcester), Chevvy Pennycook (Moseley), Sione Kalafamoni (Nottingham).