In real terms Moseley’s forwards might have shoved Bristol’s just a few metres during last Friday night’s Championship clash at Billesley Common – but symbolically the Red and Black pack travelled a long, long way and, in their pulsating 23-14 victory, every inch of forward progress represented a mile.
Each scrum, lineout maul and counter-ruck that nudged the visitors back, was a little statement which underlined just how far the Mose eight have progressed since the start of the campaign. And make no mistake, they needed to.
After all there have been times this season when the Moseley forwards were a real cause of concern, so troubling in fact I will admit to misgivings that their underpowered youngsters might have ended up being shunted right into National One.
Especially after the Newcastle forwards hammered seven tries through them in October and even more so on Remembrance Sunday when Leeds drove a callow Moseley octet up hill and down dale. It’ll be interesting to see how the packs compare on Saturday when Leeds make the return trip to Birmingham.
That’s because if there is one reason for the recent improvement in results – Moseley have won four of their last six league matches and have turned Billesley Common into the inhospitable environment for reasons other than climatic – it is the coming of age of their forwards.
Of course Kevin Maggs’ men are not yet safe from relegation, though Friday’s win put them 11-points clear with only four matches remaining and it would need a massive turnaround to even drag them back into the picture. And the way piano pushers are pushing that’s difficult to envisage.
But why? What’s been the catalyst? How have Moseley gone from shuntees to shunters?
History will probably simplify the issue into the arrival of Ben Evans, the veteran Wales international prop who was outstanding last Friday.
The 37-year-old has undoubtedly been a vital figure in the transformation.
Indeed one only has to recall his debut at Nottingham, just a few days after Moseley had struggled to put out a front row against Gala, to attest to just how important the tighthead has been.
Almost instantly the Moseley scrum was transformed from gelatinous to gelignite and in his first 40 minutes for the club Mose won six set-piece penalties, four of which were directly attributable to Evans.
That is not to say scrummaging has suddenly become a one-way street, the vagaries of the dark art means some referees have taken exception to Evans’ methods but when he gets on top, as he did against Bristol, he’s still ruthless.
As comforting an on-field asset as that is, many of his team-mates point to his upbeat presence off the pitch as well as the advice he offers to younger front rowers as equally significant factors.
Evans has started eight of the nine fixtures he’s been available for, five have been wins and the only one he missed was in Llanelli. When Mose were hammered 40-17.
But let’s not go overboard, one man does not a pack make and even when he’s been replaced, as he was in the vital victory against Doncaster, there is barely a blip in the supply line of possession.
Evans’s arrival coincided with the return from injury of club captain Mike Powell, who had barely registered in a playing sense after tearing a bicep in his second game.
The former London Welsh lock has played five of the last six and has undoubtedly solidified the pack, even if he has had a couple of ill-conceived trips to the naughty step during that time.
His combination with Evans has given Moseley two vastly experienced players in the front five, and his return has coincided with a massive improvement in the Moseley lineout, which Powell now rates statistically as one of the top four in the division.
The result is that the reliability of the Moseley set-piece has had an extremely beneficial effect on the rest of the side and the individual components who are playing with more confidence than four months ago.
At Leeds in November they all worked hard but in drips and drabs, they seemed a loosely connected bunch of individuals, in short cannon fodder to an well-drilled Championship pack. Now they are working much more as a single entity. And for that Dave Hilton must take a massive amount of credit.
There was a time when the 42-year-old was not only Moseley’s forwards coach but their best prop too, however, having taken a step back from playing he has masterminded the turnaround.
That’s certainly the opinion of Adam Caves: “He has managed to turn what was an average pack into one that sides are worrying about,” the hooker says.
“It’s about working as a unit, he’s saying we are working too hard in certain areas, not hard enough in others. Pushing and pulling in different directions doesn’t get you anywhere. He can pinpoint who’s not working or who’s not being effective.
"He’s got no hesitation in pulling you out and putting someone else in.”
Powell agrees that is has taken time for Hilton’s practices to become embedded. “It takes time with any new squad and being part-time it has taken us a little longer,” he adds.
“There’s a million and one different ways to play rugby and to some extent it doesn’t matter which one you choose - as long as you all do the same thing. We had boys come in from other clubs with their different ideas about how to do things like defend lineouts. Now we are much more off the same song-sheet.”
Young players like Stef Thorp and Ethan Waller have also spoken about how Hilton has passed on the secrets of the scrummaging, information only someone with benefit of 41 international caps can know.
Indeed Thorp, who did splendidly when he came into the side, is now having to battle Waller and his fellow dual registered loosehead Tom Warren for game-time.
The availability of the Northampton Saints pair has given Moseley a strength in depth they just didn’t have,
That situation has been replicated in every area of the forwards where Evans and Danny Herriott will face a challenge for the No. 3 shirt from Craig Voisey and for the first time in several years, Caves has a genuine challenger at hooker in the shape of Sam Wilkes.
Powell’s return has upped the second row competition between Buster Lawrence and Addison Lockley and the tussle between Ben Pons and Olly Robinson on the openside is too tight to call.
With Ben Pienaar now injured for the season, another Saint Sam Dickinson is a ready-made replacement at No. 8.
Those options were hugely important against Doncaster, when Lawrence came off the bench to score the decisive try and if anything Moseley appeared to enjoy more bang from their replacements than both Cornish Pirates and Bristol.
And then there’s the intangible. “I think referees now have a perception that we can be a dominant scrum,” Powell contends. “That certainly helps.”