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My Life in Rugby: Neil Mason – former Moseley and Worcester flanker

As a competitive back-row forward, there is always going to be a thin line between being on the right or wrong side of the law. The Birmingham Mail once ran an article claiming I was the most yellow-carded player in Championship history but I never thought of myself as a dirty player, just someone who did what it took to win. Somehow, I always seemed to be in the middle of the trouble! I crossed swords with players like Paul Tupai many a time and had some great battles, particularly with Plymouth, over the years. But the great thing about rugby is that you shake hands after the final whistle and have a beer with each other.

I joined Moseley halfway through the U16 age group. They had money troubles at that point and Jon Higgins and I went to Worcester. The year after we joined Worcester academy system and enrolled at Worcester Sixth Form College on a rugby scholarship. We got them to the quarter-final of the Daily Mail a year young and then the final the year after, against Colston’s. Eventually, I broke into the first team and was part of the club that won promotion to the Premiership.

Pat Sanderson’s arrival at Sixways restricted my game time and I was loaned out to Moseley, but not before making my Premiership debut against Northampton in the final game of the 2004/05 season. Drew Hickey’s late try sealed a 21-19 win that kept us up and sent Harlequins down.

In my first season as a senior player at Moseley, we won promotion to the Championship. Although we were battling in the bottom half of the table most seasons, I loved every minute of my time at the club, playing over 250 games. It’s the banter with the likes of Richard Stott, Adam Caves, Mike Powell and Chevvy Pennycook, and the adrenaline of competing, that I miss the most now.

Year-on-year, we had one of the smallest budgets in the Championship and every season we defied the odds to stay up while also taking a few big-name scalps along the way. We went three or four years unbeaten against Bristol and, best of the lot, we beat Leeds, when they were a force in the game, in the EDF National Trophy Final at Twickenham.

The fans still talk about that game. Apparently, Leeds had a party organised for when they returned up north, they were so confident of winning. But we were on top from start to finish. It did help that we had the brilliant Henry Trinder on the wing for us; they kept kicking to him and he ran it back with interest. The front row of Nathan Williams, Adam Caves and Terry Sigley set the precedent for the whole game because, every scrum, we had them in the bag. I remember seeing Terry get up from one collapsed scrum, be sick and then pack down again. The other lad was complaining about putting his face in a load of puke.

Kevin Maggs replaced Ian Smith as head coach and did a fantastic job with limited resources. He got some great players in like Olly Robinson. That was the springboard for him to go on and do bigger and better things. Running a small squad meant injuries to key players hit us hard. We had to chuck some young lads in at the deep end and it was becoming increasingly difficult to survive. Eventually, a core of the team decided to call it a day, me being one of them. But I did manage one more promotion – from level nine with the club’s amateur side, Moseley Oak. We didn’t lose a game all season.

Since retiring in 2015, I’ve been able to concentrate on my transport company while also helping out with the wife’s beauty salon business. That said, I’m still up for Vets tournaments, especially those abroad.

*As told to Jon Newcombe

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