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Rugby Union: Thomas showing quality pedigree; Brian Dick on an exciting prospect from Moseley's latest crop.

Byline: Brian Dick

With the ice and mud of winter about to assail English rugby, it seems an odd time to be talking about green shoots of recovery but then Moseley never have done things by the horticultural textbook.

Trampled out of National One two years ago, they hired Steve Ojomoh, a Californian Redwood of a man, to headline their inevitable return only for the former England No 8 to be felled by the combination of injury and his own coaching inexperience.

In the summer, Operation Ojomoh was sawn off at the knees and Ian Smith, who makes up for in hardiness what he lacks in plumage, was brought in to nurture the talented saplings being produced by the Bournbrook Nursery.

One such off-shoot, fly-half Ollie Thomas, has his roots deep in the Moseley soil. His father Alan was a stalwart of the 1970s team that ranked among the best in the country.

Thomas first pulled on the red-and-black when he was five years old and is the most likely of his contemporaries to develop into the sort of perennial the club need to recover their former glories.

But while those roots run deep, it is often pointed out that above the ground he is less than imposing - at least, physically. In footballing terms the 21-year-old is supremely gifted with the pace, hands and boot to dominate a game.

Which is what Moseley need him to do today when National Two leaders Doncaster bring their unbeaten league record to Bournbrook.

Much as Sedgley Park were last season, the Yorkshiremen, having spent heavily to hire former Springbok centre Pieter Muller as head coach, are the dominant side in the division and with Thomas and his team winning but not impressing, today's league match is their most difficult of the season.

'It is the sort of game that if we were playing like we are now 18 months ago, we would have been in for a beating - but that is not at all the case any more,' said Thomas.

'Doncaster have got a big 12 [Chris Yates] who likes to eat fly-halves but it is exactly what both me and the team need - a real challenge.'

And taking successive victories over Blackheath, Wharfedale and Bracknell into the game, Thomas believes it is one that can be met.

'Even though we have not played well, most of the guys are really looking forward to it after our run of wins,' he said.

'I have noticed a definite confidence about the team that, even when things aren't going well, we manage ten minutes of good rugby to win it for us. That's exactly what happened last week. As individuals, we all have more confidence.'

It is Thomas's individualism that makes him stand out at stand-off. His metronomic place-kicking belies a player of grace, audacity and rare invention.

Moseley's open game-plan suits his range of talents perfectly and with wingers like last season's top two try scorers, James Aston and Nathan Bressington, to finish off what he creates, Thomas could be the star atop Moseley's tree.

He is growing into his role, too. He is the league's leading points-scorer and, with 162 already on the board, has already surpassed his total for the whole of last season.

He is perhaps the personification of a young side. 'I have grown up with the team,' he said. 'The team has matured because we have got more of a structure to our game now which makes it so much easier.

'My game management has been much better too, until the last two or three matches that is, when it has not been too great. But Smithy has taught us not to dwell on that but to sort it out. There is a lot of onus on us to sort those things out.'

That culture of independence is something that director of rugby John Beale has been preaching for several years. Often, after a defeat, he could be heard lamenting the fact that good players were not producing.

And while he and Smith stress the primacy of performances over points, the fact that Moseley are winning ugly must fill him with pride.

It is a far cry from two years ago when Thomas made his cup and league debuts for his father's club.

First, in October 2002, was a 12-minute stint as areplacement for Charlie Millichip in the 28-25 Powergen Cup loss to Waterloo.

'The only thing I can remember about it is at the end when I could have scored in the corner,' he recalls.

'The ball spilt through and I was running through, just about to score, when one of their guys ran across me and flipped my legs up in the air. I thought I was going to have a moment of glory, but it wasn't meant to be.'

A week later, he found himself on the pitch at Sixways experiencing 14 minutes of a 74-8 thrashing by Worcester.

'It was probably one of the biggest crowds I have ever played in front of,' he recalled. 'I came off the bench and remember their guys being massive, even the backs. I took a few hits and got caught at the bottom of a few rucks which wasn't too nice. That helped me realise what I had to do.'

Which was everything. 'Fortunately, I have always been quite realistic that you can never be fast enough, strong enough or fit enough, but I realised at that time that I was way behind in my preparation.

'The pace and fitness of the game has never been a problem but at the time I first started, I had not been in the gym at all, had not got a decent diet.'

Thomas now spends most of his time working out and as part of the club's school programme, coaching the city's children.

His scintillating performances have attracted a few admirers, with top-flight clubs anxious to look at the new generation of rugbyplaying Thomases.

'I would like to see myself in the Premiership, but I don't think I am anywhere near ready at the moment,' he admits. ' The one thing I have already got is the cockiness and arrogance to think I could do it.

'I would love to be able to test myself at a higher level and there are a few guys in the Premiership who aren't that big at all and they're making a success out of themselves. Obviously, my physique doesn't help but I am working really, really hard on that at the moment.'

Which, of course, will make him less of a tasty morsel for today's fly-half-eating inside centre.


Fly-half Ollie Thomas has come through the ranks at Moseley and is one of the club's brightest prospects for a happier future
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Dec 11, 2004
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