Artificial pitches, attendance, player reactions post Park, injuries and unopposed practice…

Despite the result and the disappointing first 70 minutes, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip down to Rosslyn Park yesterday. It’s a ground that’s changed very little since I first visited it, many, many years ago and is reminiscent of the many  we used to visit 20 or 30 years ago. Little has changed. That’s not meant as a criticism, just that the stands, are somewhat antiquated now and no matter how many coats of paint, they speak their age.

The club though has invested in other areas, most notably the 3G pitch. This is the third team in the last couple of years (?) that have opted for an artificial surface and I must say that every time I watched Cov playing on one, I haven’t been aware of it detracting from the quality (or otherwise!) of the game.

In what were pretty damp conditions, with consistent rain pre and then during the game, on a grass surface the pitch would have undoubtedly cut up. It’s a nightmare scenario for a head groundsman.

Yesterday, although the ball was clearly greasy and handling was still a problem (as shown by the number of unforced errors made by both sides), the lack of mud and divots in the pitch meant that players were able to keep their footing better than they might have been able to do on a normal grass surface.

There were a number of problems with the setting and initial contact in the scrums, with Rosslyn Park seeming to make an initial push prior to the ball being put into the scrum. Scrums had to be reset and a number of penalties were awarded to/against both teams (especially Park) as a result of infringements spotted by the referee. However, I can’t help feeling that had this been played on grass, the problems with the front rows keeping their footing would added greatly to the difficulties and the game would have been even more disjointed.

The bounce seemed true and although kicks do tend to run on a little further than they would normally, the game wasn’t any the less of a spectacle for the different surface. Whilst this is probably the way forward for many clubs, and indeed Jon Sharp has himself expressed an interest in an artificial pitch at some point in the future, seeing two teams caked in mud and indistinguishable from each other does make for some amusement amongst the crowd and add to the atmosphere of the game itself.

One final thought on artificial pitches…

…the Chairman has bemoaned the fact that the present set up at the Butts means that the Butts’ pitch isn’t used much as a commercial enterprise over and above the 15 home games. He has said he would like the club to benefit from the financial rewards of a pitch in use 7 days a week – something that makes sense.

When I arrived at the The Rock yesterday at just after 1.00 pm, there was a game already in progress. I know there has been some discussion on the messageboard about running a 2nd XV, something that’s isn’t possible with only the one pitch, but it would be entirely feasible with an artificial surface.

Despite my previous comments about the extent corporate interests sometimes seem to outweigh the needs of the playing side of the club, I do totally accept the reasons why facilities need to be developed in and around the ground – if revenues from such development are streamed into the funding of an artificial surface, it would have my vote, provided the main priority is the rugby itself. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum, but for me there’s a more obvious answer. The rugby should always come first.


One disappointment yesterday was the size of the crowd, which according to The Rugby Paper was a pretty mediocre 405.

Yes the internationals were televised (although they were screened in the clubhouse and England played yesterday) and yes, it was raining, but 405 is still well below Rosslyn Park’s average gate of 523. Certainly the match had been well publicised on their website and through their Twitter account, so I was expecting a few more.

With the sacking of their Head Coach, James Buckland on the Thursday, maybe supporters were disillusioned  what with the goings on within the club and the results on the pitch and so voted with their feet. However, it does also serve to underline to some extent the point I made in an previous post, namely that Coventry are seen as a particularly attractive club to watch these days. Parks highest gate of the season is well over twice that of Saturday. To put that into context, Coventry’s lowest gate this season is a very creditable 84% that of it’s highest, showing what a loyal fan base it enjoys. At least I think it does.

The travelling support, although small considering Park aren’t too far away in terms of travel, especially by road, made their presence felt. I know that their support was appreciated by the players.


With feedback on the messageboard pretty negative regarding Coventry’s performance up at Fylde the week before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Concerns about the attitude and commitment of some of the players took me by complete surprise, but in retrospect, as was hinted at by one of the Coventry staff at the ground on Saturday, many of the players had been left shell-shocked by the news regarding Scott Morgan and the appointment of Rowland Winter. Maybe the Fylde game was a reaction to that, especially as players won’t have had an opportunity to discuss what had happened a great deal before meeting up on the morning of the game.

Whatever the reasons, I was keen to see how Coventry would react to their defeat against Fylde and to some of the inevitable backlash.

And I was impressed…

Whilst the game wasn’t notable for the skills on display, there was definitely no lack of effort on the part of the players. They gave their all and whilst the seemed to come alive rather too late in the game to change the end result, there was much to credit and by the end of the game many of the players were out on their feet.

(Question: Does a 3g surface make the game quicker and therefore more tiring, or would a wetter and muddy surface sap the energy levels that much faster…?).

Certainly the response of the players after the game was laudable…I’m a great fan of social media, especially Twitter, something many players also use. I know it has been commented on negatively before, but here are three very positive examples of players’ reaction post the Park game:

Tom Poole:

Sam Smith:

Dom Lespierre:

Speechless…gutted not even the word. Left it all out there but too little too late unfortunately. Just gutted. Thanks for travelling support.

Dom, in particular (as well as Tom Poole and Matt Price) regularly thank the supporters, as do  others, I’m sure. It is always very much appreciated.

In various ways all three show what the game, and the defeat means to them, both as individuals and to the team. Sometimes, we get carried away as supporters and forget to step back and think about what the players feel and experience. It was a bruising encounter at times yesterday, and young Sam Smith was definitely suffering the effects on Sunday morning. Without being too specific, I trust it didn’t spoil his Valentine celebrations!

Yes, I was very encouraged by the way the players conducted themselves on Saturday, even if the performance lacked any real quality. If the team do as Tom Poole says they must, namely ‘pull tight’ over the coming weeks then I still think a few teams might be in for a shock.


Given the massive injury list that has accounted for so many first choice players this season, I wonder what conclusions the club have drawn as to why players have been more prone to injury recently than in previous years. (I’m assuming this to be the case….?). Are the number of injuries indeed on the increase and if so, has the club identified any underlying reasons for this.

Or is it purely down to bad luck?

Whatever the answer, the injuries have surely been the main contributing factor to a season of disappointment. They cannot be used as an excuse, but they must have had an impact. The club, I’m sure, will have looked at the problem from all angles, if only to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Is there something that has been highlighted as the most likely cause and if so, has anything been changed as a result?

As an overweight, unfit and increasingly unsporty 50 something, sports science isn’t exactly a forte of mine, but I’ve given the subject some thought and come up  some possible questions I’d have asked were I involved in the club. I rather expect all the answers to these would be as you’d hope, but as someone interested enough to ask, it would be fascinating to hear what the club have identified as the root cause…

  • was the pre-season work sufficient to prepare players for the competitive nature of the ‘friendlies’ prior to the start of the league programme (Ealing and London Welsh in particular were tough fixtures going into the league programme)?
  • were players who were signed in the close season and whom had recently come back from a lengthy injury ready for competitive rugby?
  • did some players injury early in the season come back too quickly?
  • is the training programme monitored closely enough outside of the training sessions, especially for those players who are part-time?
  • do players stick to their training programmes when not supervised?
  • is there anything about the conditions/pitches that is noticeably different that might contribute to the increasing number of  injuries?
  • with some of the injures picked up during the Tuesday/Thursday training sessions, is there anything within them that might be a contributory factor?
  • are players trying to play through injuries because they are loyal to the team or in fear of being unable to regain their place in the side once out of it, thus actually exacerbating them?
  • is diet a factor?

It’s not something we’ll probably ever been given the answer to, but a presentation by the Fitness Coach/Medical Advisor as part of a Fans’ Forum would be of great interest, or even a feature in the programme.


With the above in mind, I was interested in a ‘retweet’ from Rowland Winter of an article about the benefits or otherwise of non-contact, unopposed practice, written by Ben Franks (no, I haven’t either). It offers us an insight perhaps into the preferred training style of the new DoR, or if not that, then at least an idea of his thinking in this area.

The writer suggests that unopposed training fails to provide the appropriate context in which the skills should be taught; in essence, training shouldn’t be about coaching the skills themselves, but rather about being able to apply the skills in the right context. Unless the practical applications of skills within the structured training programme is encouraged within a match like situation, skills won’t be effectively learned.

It’s not a long article, but it is quite an academic one, but if this is the depth that DoRs now go to, then it shows the importance of perhaps having one that’s full-time, rather than part-time, as Scott Morgan is at present – much as I wanted Scott to remain in post. Indeed, Scott himself has acknowledged this.

It might be that opposed, full-on, practice is something that Cov already use, but I just thought it was a) an interesting article and b) indicative of the style of coaching Rowland Winter might bring to the Butts.

Unopposed Practice – What Exactly Are They Learning?




Author: Tim

10 thoughts on “Artificial pitches, attendance, player reactions post Park, injuries and unopposed practice…

  1. Thanks for this Phil…I heard the report on Radio 5 this morning but it was lacking detail.

    Seems that there is more yet to come out about this once the reviews have taken place and if there is something in it, then it’s going to be more of a worry for rugby players than it is footballers.

    If there is a risk, then I imagine there will be a few lawyers rubbing then hands in anticipation, not to mention many worried players and ex-players concerned that they have been inadvertently exposed to risk.

    Whilst not wishing to demean the seriousness of the subject at all, it’s unfortunate that the reporter should write that 3G surfaces are so popular because they allow pitches to be used continuously in bad weather though the Winter, especially ‘at grassroots level’!

  2. It becomes extremely expensive, doesn’t it…I guess you have to weight the cost against the anticipated revenue – I would have thought it would get well-used though and the benefits to the club of being able to host 2nd XV fixtures could be huge.
    Good point about the upkeep of the present pitch, which has you rightly say has looked superb all season – no implied criticism of Eric was intended.

  3. On the subject of 3G pitches…

    “The initial cost of a 3G can vary from £600,000 to £1m, but maintenance costs are less than grass and, while the carpet needs replaced within ten years, the bulk of the costs of a new pitch are in the foundations; the carpet itself can cost less than £100,000.” (The Scotsman).

    I have also seen costs of about £500,000 at the lower end of the cost spectrum, but as Cov Bears RL are now playing the summer game at the BPA the grass pitch (superbly maintained and looked after I might add) doesn’t get much chance to recuperate. Having a 3G pitch would enable both union and league AND both second teams (Cov Bears are starting a second team this season, hopefully Cov Union will follow) as well as other opportunities for other teams/community coaching/kids rugby parties etc. And of course the kids can get on the pitch at half time all year round!

  4. Shows how time plays tricks on you…really thought he came to us from Leicester! Thanks for the info, Mick – see you on Sat!

  5. Richie Robinson came to Coventry from Blackpool on the recommendation of the late Frank Ronnieback who served on the Coventry Rugby Supporters Club committee. He left Coventry to join Leicester. Do not forget this was back in the amateur days. If memory is correct it was Martin Fairn who replaced him at Coventry.

  6. That’s the one! I mentioned RR because he always used to frustrate me….great centre but struggled to catch the ball. Not sure about the training sessions – if they were open to supporters, I’d pop over occasionally.

  7. Yep., I though it made interesting reading. Do you happen to know whether Cov have full-on practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I always imagined they did…I do think the loser you can replicate match day scenarios the better, but recognise that this is more likely to result in injury. Not sure where the balance should be. I definitely agree about Cov struggling at times with fast, intense off-loads, often spilling the ball at crucial times (although any knock on is crucial, I guess) – JLR used to frustrate me sometimes when he took the ball at based and sometimes failed to catch it cleanly – anyone remember Richie Robinson…?!

  8. Interesting to read the article on unopposed practice Tim. Whilst watching Cov warm up with scintillating pitch-width running and passing moves my friend and I often muse at how easy it is until faced with the opposition tackling the hell out of you.
    There was also a comment made before the England game yesterday about how Italy were also running about and throwing the ball around pre-match whilst England were practising skills in close quarters – the inference being that this more closely resembles match intensity.
    I do think Cov at times struggle with their handling skills and ball retention – something that has hurt us this season… maybe a change in approach is what’s needed?

Any thoughts:

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