A year that started under skies of sunny optimism at Brickfields ends with foreboding clouds gathering on the Billesley Common horizon, as the cold snap otherwise known as relegation threatens to condemn Birmingham’s most high-profile rugby club to the sporting deep freeze.
Victory at Plymouth last January 2 by a side bejewelled by uncut diamonds like Jonny May, Rupert Harden and James Rodwell promised a prosperous 2010, one in which Moseley would build on the previous season’s Twickenham triumph and ten-year high league placing.
Indeed the feel-good factor lasted two months, until 4.45pm on March 13 when – having just beaten league leaders Bristol with tries from May and fellow England age group starlet Henry Trinder, the unlikely prize of promotion – or more accurately the right to turn it down – appeared to still be a reality.
In between those wins over Albion and the Men from The Mem, Bees were beaten and a first success at Rotherham in more than a decade was inked into the record books and everyone of Red and Black persuasion was looking forward to a series of pressure-free matches against the best teams in the division.
And the prospect of watching their local rivals at Sharmans Cross and Butts Park scrap tooth and nail for metaphoric and literal survival had a certain grim fascination too.
Then, in a single second, it all changed. As Ian Smith’s men frolicked from the Billesley Common pitch news from Castle Park filtered through that Plymouth had beaten Doncaster and nicked Moseley’s top eight spot. Faces dropped, hearts became heavy, their world spun 180 degrees and if there was to be a battle Moseley would be in it.
Seven days later, wearied by a long season and deflated by the situation that meant their 46 per cent win ratio brought no guarantees, they found themselves in the relegation play-offs and easy prey for a rejuvenated and resurgent Bees, who snapped their way to a first win in ten months.
Tristan Roberts’ incredible last minute penalty miss in the second play-off game at home to Rotherham, when he could have almost reached out and touched the posts never mind kicked a ball through them, followed by the worst rugby match in living memory and a 6-3 defeat at Coventry, had Moseley in dire straits.
The injustice of it all rankled, indeed it still does, but in three tumultuous weeks Moseley had gone from rapture to rupture and their place in the professional game hung by a thread.
The only possible explanation was the mental strain such a narrow failure placed on their relatively small squad.
It was a bit like climbing an arduous peak only to reach the summit and see another higher, even more perilous one looming ahead. The psychological strain should not be underestimated.
It was great credit, therefore, that they managed to haul themselves up the next mountain. Make no mistake they were fortunate their fourth play off game was against a Rotherham side that had already secured its safety.
But a force-of-will victory at Clifton Lane – a second in a couple of months, put Moseley in positive mood for their penultimate game against Coventry.
This time the mental baggage belonged to those in Blue and White and Smith’s men – inspired by Roberts – played on the visitors’ anxieties and effectively relegated them with a 37-5 thumping.
Just as quickly as the stress had built up, it melted away and the more blood-thirsty among the Billesley faithful would get their chance to administer the fatal blow to their nearest rivals in the final Pool C game.
In the end Rotherham rendered proceedings on the Common irrelevant as Cov flatlined. Not even Callum MacBurnie’s four tries were enough to end the season with a win as Bees wing Simon Hunt, Moseley’s bete noir, dragged his men to safety.
Defeat didn’t mean anything but there are still players in the Moseley side who begrudge the fact they were not given a penalty try at the end of that 38-34 classic.
The summer was spent addressing issues at fly-half and full-back and the recruitment of Brad Davies and Anthony Carter went a long way to doing so successfully.
Subsequent events mean the jury is still out on Davies but no-one can doubt the quality ‘‘Shaggy’’ Carter has brought to Smith’s squad. For the first time since Andy Binns retired the last line of defence is a reliable one.
But the loss of Ryan Wilson, Aly Muldowney and Rodwell was always going to cause problems for a side that was built around a strong pack.
David Lyons has suggested he could develop into a Muldowney-type all-round second row, Chevvy Pennycook’s brilliance has more than plastered over the cracks left at No.8 and Michael Maltman has filled the Wilson role of talented yet unproven Scottish flank-forward.
All of which meant the start to the current campaign was positive – even though Esher mugged them on opening day. Bristol and Cornish Pirates were held at home and there was a first ever win at Doncaster, for whom Roberts now plays.
But no-one was prepared for what followed. A slump in form as serious as any in Smith’s six-year tenure, one that prompted extremely frank discussions in the club’s upper echelons.
Moseley’s commitment levels became subterranean and whippings by London Welsh and Plymouth almost brought the shirt into disrepute. The lack of a dominant outside centre suddenly became the decisive factor in selection.
It also necessitated the arrival of Bevon Armitage whose first three games have coincided with an upswing in output, though to be fair a disinterested Doncaster outfit had already been beaten by the time Armitage made his long-awaited debut at Bristol.
Then came the quite brilliant revenge mission at Old Deer Park, in which scrum-half Ryan De La Harpe showed there is a more ambitious way to skin Championship cats than mere reliance on a decent pack.
Whether Moseley’s new trajectory is sufficiently upward to keep their place in this year’s Championship remains to be seen but if, as seems likely, they end up in the relegation play-offs again, this time they can have no complaints.
Moseley Player Of 2010: Chevvy Pennycook - Just edges ahead of Adam Caves for his mastery of both openside and No.8.