Thursday night’s training and a chat with Rowland Winter…

Well, I managed to make it to training…

…and I’m glad I did.

A first glimpse of Freddie Tuilaga, an interesting and informative chat with Rowland Winter and 75 minutes in the good company of a couple of other Cov supporters.

Not a bad evening.

Not a bad evening at all.

It was encouraging to see a few more watching from the main stand as well; training nights on Thursdays are open to everyone, as they are on other nights, although they don’t always take place at the Butts. Rowland Winter is keen for supporters to come and watch the players train and he is more than happy to field any questions; indeed yesterday turned into a very welcome question and answer session, with nothing really off-limits.

I certainly haven’t come across anyone at Coventry Rugby Club in a management role as accessible as Rowland Winter is and whilst it is way too early to judge him in terms of his success as a DoR, as a front man for the club…well, he is the perfect choice.

He is both affable and articulate and always willing to share his thoughts and feelings, as well as answer questions, questions which at times must seem so naïve and ill-informed.

And with such patience. too.

And hopefully, this post will be all the better for that.Rowland gave up a fair bit of his time to come over and talk to us – and here’s the thing.

There’s was no talking at us, no telling us what he wanted us to hear. He talked to us.

We asked questions, he answered them.

We were very much in control of the conversation. If he was uncomfortable with a question, which seldom happened, he gave us the politically correct response and smiled and moved on to the next one. No shocks, no gossip and very little that can’t be included in this blog.

So no revelations here…but plenty that I hope will be of interest.

Starting with selection.


Rowland talked a little about the reasons behind some of the changes this week, in particular in the back row.

The feeling amongst the coaches is that Plymouth will offer far more of a challenge up front than Fylde did last week and we probably won’t have it all our own way in the scrums. With that in mind, they want to focus more on the line-out, and Dyer and Grace give more options than Bone and Harry in that area. Both did well against Fylde but aren’t as suited to the way Cov might look to play on Saturday. Rob Conquest also comes in because technically he is better in the lineouts  than perhaps Tom Jubb and Tom Poole, even if he might not offer quite so much in other aspects of his game.

Because there is a strong possibility that both Freddie Tuilaga and Jack Willis might both be on the pitch at the same time, having Sam Harry in the team as well would mean the back row could be extremely inexperienced at this level, so Eoghan Grace’s  presence might also be needed to add a little ‘nous’ if required.  Darrell Dyer’s inclusion also ensures there’s sufficient cover should one of the second rows get injured.

RW made it clear that in Keiran Hallet, ex of the Cornish Pirates, Plymouth Albion have someone who is capable of kicking points from anywhere in the opposition half. If we are ill-disciplined then we’ll be punished. Big time. We won’t see from Plymouth play with the fluidity of Fylde, nor are they likely to opt to kick to the corner…they will do everything they need to win the game and by the sound of it they won’t worry if it’s not too pretty to watch. And nor should they.

We will have to be on our guard and not give away unnecessary penalties, which might be another reason why James Litchfield and Tom Jubb aren’t in the match day squad..?


Freddie Tuilaga was, of course, instantly recognisable and whilst he’s not the tallest of players in terms of his peers, his physicality every time he got the ball was clear to see.. I don’t know how much homework opposition teams will have done on Freddie and I guess there isn’t too much information available anyway, but it is clear that any team that marks him one on one is going to struggle. It will take two players at least to bring him down more often than not and that must work in our favour. RW was full of praise for him and has been impressed with his passing and general distribution which he compared to that of the backs. I understand that one or two of the Coventry players on Tuesday found out just how strong and powerful he is when, in full contact training, they were foolish enough to try and tackle him.

He’s not the quickest of players, but he offloads well and will cross the gain line, and if that results in the opposition being turned, then advantage Cov. RW didn’t want to give too much away as to when in the game he might appear, but whenever he does, expect another Cov cameo…

I did ask how many games a loan DR player, required to play ‘A’ games and appear in the LV Cup, might be expected to miss during the course of a season and the answer was encouraging…in 2 weeks time there’s a couple of LV games after which the run up to Christmas is free, with no commitments to the ‘mother’ club, with only a couple more games in the new year. I guess international call-ups might get in the way if they apply, but I forgot to ask that! D’oh.

What is clear is that Cov should be able to get more games out of Freddie than I certainly expected, provided he remains fit. And I also have a sneaking suspicion that Rowland Winter is hopeful that we might see more of the Wasps Academy players than just the original 3 weeks, but that’s just me speculating.


I mentioned yesterday that second guessing the team each week is almost impossible because there’s often what appears to be one or two ‘left of field’ selections.

I did feel pretty stupid listening to Rowland explain how player selections are determined  – and as he was talking it was clear that what appears ‘left of field’ to me is actually perfectly logical. It’s just that we’re not privy to the information. So, here’s a quick insight into why some players seem to suddenly appear or disappear in any given week…

Rowland Winter, by his own admission, is a bit of a geek when it comes to data and it’s use in sport. Rob Norman and his team are constantly monitoring every player across all aspects of their health and fitness, from sleep patters and nutrition to stamina and strength. The data is regularly manipulated to provide information as to a player’s current overall fitness on a weekly, if not daily basis. We might see a player perform well on the pitch only to see him ‘rested’ the following week and be confused as to why this has happened. The chances are, however, that this is because there has been a consistent drop in his data over the last days/couple of weeks without us necessarily seeing a drop in his performance.

So, whilst we might not have noticed any difference, there will have been warning signs from the information that has been collated and drops in levels across the areas tracked mean that a player is more prone to injury…hence the player is given the chance to rest and recuperate, supported by the rehab team.

And remember, we haven’t had anywhere near the number of injuries we suffered last season.

This is one of the key reasons why.

I think I’ve got this right – and if I haven’t then hopefully Quent Melhuish, who was with me when Rowland was explaining what happens, will set the record straight – players who have played five 40 minutes or more periods in consecutive games are rotated to avoid unnecessary risk of injury (which is one of the reasons why Eoghan Grace didn’t play last week). With the squad we’ve got we can do that – perhaps that hasn’t always been the case when there hasn’t been that strength in depth.

Further, players who haven’t played for two consecutive games and are fit (ie available for selection but not picked) meet with the coaches to determine whether there is a need to give them match practice with a junior club to ensure they are ready to come back into the team when needed.


I mentioned that Rowland Winter gave the politically correct answer on a couple of occasions.

I lied.

It was just the once and it was in reference to the club shop and the availability of club kit to supporters.

RW is clearly very sympathetic with supporters who are becoming increasingly exasperated with the delay in the availability of club merchandise. Empathetic even.

But he’s in an invidious position.

He is responsible for all aspects of the rugby playing side of the club…merchandise is not within his remit, so he couldn’t really say much other than the club has been in talks for several weeks with the suppliers. And there the conversation ended.

I know the Supporters’ Club are going to follow this up during the week and I’m sure they will meet with the right people who can probably shed more light onto the situation.

So back to the rugby.


Every week 4 players selected for the next game are given the tape of Coventry’s game the previous weekend to watch and review. They meet, agree common points to come out of the game, the WWWs and the EBI (what went wells and even better ifs), and then report back to the coaches initially and then on Wednesday to the rest of the team. A different four players preview the coming game using tape(s) from the opposition’s last game(s) and also report back in the same way. Not only does this ensure that the team are familiar both with their own game and that of the opposition, it also involves a degree of distributed leadership. It’s a really interesting idea, one that is often used in schools these days, and empowers individuals to take more ownership of their own and their team mates’ performances.

In addition, during the week Rowland Winter watches one or two full games a night (after the rest of the family have gone to bed) from the previous weekend’s National 1 fixtures so that he keeps up-to-date in what is happening outside of Cov’s own games.

Anyone who believes Cov doesn’t prepare well for its games needs to have a complete rethink…


There are a couple of things still to mention, but I’ll include them in tomorrow’s post.

Hopefully, there’ll have been something in this that will have been both new and of interest – certainly I learned a lot that I hadn’t been aware of before.

If Rowland Winter does get to read this, a huge thanks to him for giving up his time – I’m more than happy to reciprocate and go through with him my collection of British teaspoons of the C17th and C18th centuries.

Spoon by spoon.

I’ve also got a fantastic PowerPoint presentation – happy to invite the players along too…

Stirring stuff, really…


Burger Watch

About 200 metres from the ground, walking in the direction of the city centre, you’re likely to come across the Istanbul Restaurant. Don’t be misled though, it’s actually not much more than a take-away with a small seated area at the back.

But it’s definitely worth a visit.

Istanbul claims to offer:

great tasting currys (sic), pizzas, burgers, Kebabs and Southern Fried Chicken,

claims which I have to say are in no way exaggerated.

istanbulsYour food is cooked to order and the staff are always extremely pleasant and polite and I’m embarrassed to admit that it has become something of a regular pre-match watering hole when Cov are at home.

I say ’embarrassed’ for two reasons. The first is that my son and I should really be eating the food on offer in the ground and the second is because my Saturday eating habits are being exposed to all and any previous assurances back home that I show even a modicum of self-control have been blown out of the water right now.

I just hope this is one of the posts which family and friends ignore.

I could be in big trouble otherwise…

Particularly when I admit that, encouraged by a son  who’s yet to experience the effects of age on a trim(ish) waistline, I opted for the double burger and cheese option, with chips of course.

At £5.00, it’s the most expensive of the burgers yet sampled BUT the single burger brings it down to a competitive £3.50.

The bun is warmed through and slightly toasted, although not to the degree it was a Blackheath and the burgers retained their shape well when well cooked, with little fat burnt off in the process (which makes me feel a little better!). The chips were good, but could do with being just a little bit crisper.

Served as they are in a polystyrene tray, they retain their heat well, which makes them perfect for sneaking past the turnstiles at the BPA and eating in the main stand before we’re spotted (other than by Ian Hodgson of course, another early bird…).

They have a lovely, beefy, taste to them and the cheese, although processed, adds much to the flavour, having melted onto the bun and the burger.

Big in size and value, they have to go to the top of the pile for me so far, although probably having had a good few over the years,it’s not as if I’m totally impartial over this one.

If you haven’t sampled an Istanbul’s, then you’ve been missing a treat.

Go on, give one a go…

Best Burgers  2016

1. Istanbul’s (17 Butts)* – *****

2. Esher RFC – ****1/2

3. Blackheath RFC – **** (no burger report)

4. Coventry – RFC – ***

*based on the cost of a single burger and chips





7 thoughts on “Thursday night’s training and a chat with Rowland Winter…

  1. Thanks Quent – it was almost a case of information overload at one point! Really interesting though and it certainly makes sense of one or two selection decisions. Must do it again!

  2. Fair point Phil…you can certainly kill creativity by over complicating training, but you’d hope that given the coaches desire to play running rugby that they won’t over complicate the training and allow the likes of Stokes and co to do their own thing. I guess it’s about getting the balance right – and if it reduces injuries it has to be a good thing..

  3. The use of technology has certainly crept into many sports, along with diet,sleep patterns, squad rotation, psychology etc and if it improves sport especially Coventry then I am all for it, a word of caution though it should be used to compliment players and not stifle individual skill. If current methodology was used in the 60,s the likes of George Best would have never got on the pitch……..
    Only saying😉

  4. Hi Warren, well worth a trip down if you can afford the time. Plenty to see and RW will always come and have a chat…

  5. I did think of a couple of things that I’ll put into tomorrow’s post, but they are only minor. Really enjoyed popping down…thought the training looked very focused and whilst was already looking forward to seeing how they perform against Plymouth but watching Freddie has only whetted my appetite even more …

  6. Tim – you certainly captured everything that was discussed and happened at training last night, an excellent review. I cannot think of anything you missed. Great work. Thanks.

  7. Very interesting to read more about how the players are selected, and an insight into the preparation during the week. I keep saying to myself that I’ll go to training one night when not working, but haven’t got round to it yet.

Any thoughts:

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