With only a week before Coventry’s first pre-season friendly against Broadstreet, I thought it would be interesting to pop down to The Butts and see just how much training had moved on from the last time I’d visited the ground, some three weeks ago.
I’d expected it to be a little more intense, especially after the Dublin weekend and the squad’s first inter-squad practice game, but I certainly hadn’t envisaged quite the degree of physicality I witnessed this evening.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
First things first though.
Perhaps the most important news of all is that The Butts has become a ‘Pokestop’ and my son reliably informs me that the character you can see in the photo alongside is called ‘Jynx’.
For the marketing strategists at the club this could well prove to be a potential goldmine. Properly advertised, you could have hundreds of youngsters queuing up outside the crowd on a Saturday just to capture their favourite Pokémon – stand aside the elephant as the club mascot, it’s obviously now got to be Pikachu or even Jigglypuff…(there’s probably one that is already in Cov colours…). Sam (my son) was taking pictures for Josh (my grandson) and there will no doubt be some pleading on Josh’s part to be taken to the ground in due course. It’s definitely a USP…
As for the training, well interestingly most of it took place in the Butts Park, adjacent to the ground. Rowland Winter took time off from overseeing the training to explain that given the increased numbers involved on a Monday as a result of the addition of the 10 or so Development Squad players and since the grass there was that much longer, the park was a better option (plus the fact that he didn’t want to incur the wrath of Eric by causing unnecessary wear to the pitch itself, which is probably the best reason of all).
I have to say, watching the players train in the park was something of a surreal experience. Members of the general public looked on with expressions ranging from genuine amusement, to the mild interest to the complete bemusement. Some sat on the benches to watch, some were momentarily distracted from their conversations, whilst others glanced dismissively and carried on their way without a second glance. Even some of the locals from the Broomfield Tavern that adjoins the park came out to watch, armed with a variety of drinks, and as the local supped in the evening sun, it must have made for an interesting topic of discussion.
I don’t know how many people will have seen Cov train in the park this evening, but it must have been scores and if some of those folk go home and mention it to their families or friends, well it gets Cov talked about and that’s no bad thing.
A series of five short training exercises got everyone warmed up, including players running at defenders using hand offs to break the tackle, as well some sort of Graeco-Roman wrestling practice which the players clearly enjoyed. This led on to the main part of the session which featured intense work on both attack and defence, with the attacking side going through phase after phase of recycling quick ball as the defenders tackled everything that moved.
Rowland Winter told us from the onset that we could expect to see Cov play a far more expansive style of attacking rugby this season and if what I saw today reflects what we’ll be seeing over the coming months, then it should be hugely entertaining. For what must have been 30 – 40 minutes and with perhaps only two very short water breaks as respite, players were constantly on the move. Ball carriers tackled with supporting players quickly ensuring ball was available for the next wave of attack. It was all pretty relentless and I should think Hannah Walker, the physio, could only look on with trepidation. I can’t help but feel they’ll be one or two aching bodies on the morrow that she’ll need to attend to given what we witnessed this evening..
I understand that even some of the players signed from Championship sides have said that the pre-season training has been at a level above that which they’ve been used to at their tier 2 clubs. Roland Winter has already made it clear that he wants to get structures in place that will better prepare Cov to compete not just at the top end of Nat 1, but also with the stronger clubs in the Championship. Even at this early stage in his tenure, it’s not hard to see how this is also permeating through onto the training pitch as well.
No one knows as yet how this squad will perform over the coming weeks and months, but everything seems so much more professional, even on the training ground. Tough as it was, there were still a lot of whooping and hollering and there was plenty of encouragement for each other – nothing I saw would suggest anything other than this being a squad who are bonding well together and, come the season proper, they will a force to be reckoned with.
Not having been to training sessions in previous seasons, I’ve nothing to compare it to and of course I accept that everything I saw today might be no different to that of previous years – but, well, I’ve watched a fair few squads play over the last five decades and this one already seems… different.
It was a hot, fairly humid evening and some of the players took some big hits…one thing for sure is that no one seemed to be holding back. Never mind this being a training session, it was physical and on a couple of occasions players clearly didn’t warm to the degree of physicality that was being shown. Come the breaks in play, though, it was all smiles and arms round shoulders, but players are definitely out to make a statement. Inevitably, there will be some very disappointed players in the squad once the side for the first National 1 game is announced and it will be interesting to see just how RW and the coaches go about keeping those who aren’t selected hungry and motivated.
Last season this was something of a problem and there were clearly players who became disillusioned when they failed to be selected week in, week out. I’ve never been a great believer in rotating a squad to give everyone a game, believing that you put your best team out wherever possible. However, I appreciate that’s not everyone’s view…I’ll be interested to see just what RW’s approach to this potential pitfall is. Given his thoroughness in planning, I’m sure that is something the coaches have discussed already.
For the final 20 minutes or so the players moved back to the BPA. Forwards and backs split up to work under either Brendon Snyman (forwards) or James Pritchard (backs). The forwards worked on defending against the catch and drive from the lineout and those readers who watched even just a handful of Cov games last season will know this was very much our Achilles heel, with far too many tries conceded after the opposition kicked to the corner from a penalty and, from the ensuing lineout, drove over from close range.
Today’s session though was more about preparing for the Jersey game as apparently they are particularly strong in this area we’ll soon know just how effective Coventry’s preparation has been in this area of play.
We left the ground in the knowledge that the players are being pushed hard and are responding in kind. It was looked a tough physically demanding session…
…and definitely no walk in the park.
On the Messageboard Nigel H raised the interesting question as to what is meant by ‘full-time’ as far as the Cov players are concerned.
As I understand it, full-timers are expected to train for between 25-30 hours a week under club supervision (to include meetings re: fitness/data feedback etc and the evening sessions), as against the two and a half to three hours a week last season, so the 18 or so already benefiting from this additional time are pretty much full timers, although many also put in additional time supporting Matt Price in the club’s various community projects.
Part-timers will be expected to put in 12-15 hours of training a week alongside their daytime jobs.