Be warned…spoiler alert.
This post will involve some gossip, a good deal of speculation all mixed together with a fair degree of opinion.
Anyone not subscribing to any of the above is most welcome to stay.
Whilst we should know the names of the players Rowland Winter is retaining for the 2016/17 season by tomorrow, he’s already given us three names via interviews with John Wilkinson in the Coventry Telegraph – in his first he confirmed that Rob Knox and Dan Rundle would be here next season and then in yesterday’s online edition he revealed that:
I was impressed with Andy (Brown) watching the England Counties game and I’m looking forward to working with him next season
I’m delighted that Andy will be back, he’s probably been the most consistent player in the squad this season. He fully deserves the accolade of representing England Counties and I’m sure the experience gained from representing his country now and, hopefully in the tour to Canada in the summer, will ensure he comes back an even better player.
How many more will be added to the list of retainees is a matter for conjecture but if rumours are true (sorry),then we can expect no more than 10, and this could well be an over-estimation. The reality though would seem to be that there will be between 20 – 25 players in the current squad (excluding loanees) who are deemed to be surplus to requirements and who will be playing their rugby elsewhere next season.
This really is a firing squad.
But soon to be a hiring squad.
And with that in mind, what I’d like to focus on in this post is the size of the squad we will have come the start of next season.
If you recall, JW suggested in his first article on the new DoR that:
Winter is looking at a squad of around 28 to 30 players on top of the development group with a couple of player-coaches also involved and without any dual registered players.
Which would make 30-32ish in total.
In addition there will be a further dozen or so players who will train on Mondays but who will play their rugby elsewhere during the week. They will form the basis of the Nighthawks team for a total of 10-12 fixtures over the course of the season.
However, as I read it, this second group of players will be made up of youngsters between the ages of 18-21 and who aren’t yet ready for National 1 rugby. They have the potential to play at that level and the feeling is that they will benefit from being part of a high performing National 1 side:
but the top end for these boys at the moment is 18 and there’s a gap from where they’re at when they leave the college system to National One and where Coventry aspire to be which needs to be filled.
This is something that Winter clearly believes in:
It’s a pathway that I believe in massively and that will underpin everything we do.
and there will be many supporters who are greatly encouraged by this.
It is, as he goes on to say, a precursor to a full 2nd XV which he hopes to bring in the following season.
However, this additional group of 10-12 players clearly aren’t going to be considered for the 1st XV any time soon so that original figure of between 30-32 remains the same. Given that he is reluctant to use dual registration players (‘without any dual registered players’), this does seem on the low side, although he does leave that option open by saying if later on it is felt DRs are needed then they can go down that route.
A match day squad is 20 (plus two traveling players to away games). It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that next season we could suffer another horrendous run of injuries and if it’s as bad as this year’s, then that could mean as many as 10 or more unavailable on any given match day.
I’m not sure how the sums add up as they stand. Were such a scenario to arise, then we really would be down to the bare bones and if we suffer injuries to the front row in particular, we could be struggling to put a side together, given that there has to be 2 specialist front rowers on the bench as well.
However, there is another possibility – well, two in fact. Northampton and Wasps…
Winter is also currently working as an elite player development group coach for Northampton, a link he sees as “a huge avenue”, and he also views the presence of Wasps in the city as something which can work to the benefit of the club.
Both Premiership clubs could offer a possible solution to the problem. If there’s one way that partnerships with clubs like Northampton and Wasps ‘can work to the benefit of the club’ it’s by offering us a few Lewis Ludlams and Beno Obanos (but then only on a season loan), although I’m not altogether sure how this is any different from DRs.
I’ve no problem with loanees provided they are season long…it makes sense to give talented youngsters the opportunity to play third tier rugby. When it works out, both clubs benefit, as does the player. Where I ‘m not quite so enthusiastic is when DRs are loaned out to us, only to be recalled to play in age-group competitions (other than internationals, of course) or to fulfil other fixtures, Whilst it obviously suits the Premiership sides, it can be disruptive and unsettling to the host club.
Even more ridiculous is the Adam Parkins situation. I’m very pro Adam and was delighted when we signed him mid-way through last season. However, no one has really explained how this gentleman’s agreement with Northampton works – at times we could have really used him when we’ve been struggling with injury whilst over at Franklin’s Gardens. Never again, I hope.
Surely, Rowland Winter must have an additional source of players in mind to top up this initial squad of 30 even now, rather than waiting to see whether they’ll be needed at a later point in the season?
I know that there are those who have felt that in previous seasons we have had a larger than necessary squad and it has generated some interesting discussions.
For the record, I think that whilst a squad of 32 seems rather on the low side, but I accept that if it means that there aren’t players who are having to sit out Saturdays because the can’t get game time elsewhere (as I believe happened on a couple of occasions this season), then it can only be a good thing.
A larger squad can sometimes be quite disparate, whereas the sorts of numbers being talked about here should ensure a real camaraderie. Whilst we have benefited hugely on the pitch from having the likes of Matt Jones and Wayne Evans playing for us these last two season, travelling the distances they do, they’re not going to get involved in anything the players do outside of training; social events that develop a bond between players and within the squad.
With the likelihood that Scott Morgan won’t be involved in the club for much longer, the Welsh connection is probably coming to an end , something that might ironically benefit Cov in the long run.
Local players who live and work close to Coventry might be an important factor when it comes to developing team spirit. Sometimes, it’s the little things that just tip the scales in the club’s favour. Having said that, come the end of the season and the squad list is released, we’ll probably find there are half a dozen players from the principalities and it will be a huge slice of humble pie for me…
Coventry’s experience of recruiting overseas players hasn’t been particularly positive this time around and I wonder whether they will be taking up this option again next season? Whilst there are those who have been critical of the recruitment drive that took place prior to the start of this season, for me both Courtney Roberts and Devlin Hope showed enough whilst they’ve been here to merit more 1st XV appearances.
I’ve written enough about how frustrating it’s been to see two players seemingly more than capable of making the grade at this level getting such little opportunity and I’ll desist from repeating what I, and several others also, have previously said.
However, apropos of this, given the fact that Roberts and Hope have only had 10 starts between them (surprisingly given Courtney’s early departure from the club, he’s started 5 times, the same number as Devlin!) will the club decide that looking overseas might not be the most effective way of strengthening their squad? Gaston Mires and Danny Carpo were already in the UK when they were signed, so that’s a slightly different scenario.
That’s another one of those questions that will only be answered once the final squad list is released. My guess is that perhaps they won’t.
Once the retainees are confirmed, we can begin to look forward to the announcements of new players coming into Coventry. It’s always exciting and a cause for plenty of second guessing and speculation and doubtless there will be a few names banded about who never make it…remember Mike Phillips!!!!
But that’s part of the fun…
Or at least it should be.