Club talk

A masterclass from David Duckham and friends….

I am indebted to Rob Carter for forwarding the pictures and text used in today’s post.

Rob is a member of the Supporters’ Club Committee and the man behind all the artwork involved in the promotion materials, included the Supporters’ Club logo, Tuska the elephant. Rob isn’t one  for the limelight, but he is hugely talented and as passionate a Cov supporter as you’ll come across.

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I think it is fair to say that Rob and I are of an age…

…or perhaps more appropriately in this case, of the age (although if it comes down to ageing rather than just age,  then Rob seems to have fared somewhat better than I have).

Just some of the many palyers who represented the country whilst playing for Coventry in the 60s and 70s

Just some of the many players who represented the country whilst playing for Coventry in the 60s and 70s

We both grew up during the golden era of Coventry rugby, that period in the late ’60s and early ’70s when, for a time, Cov really was the best team in the land and when we were so fortunate to have in our midst the likes of David Duckham, Peter Rossborough, Geoff Evans, Peter Preece, Bill Gittings, Rodney Webb, Keith Fairbrother, Tim Dalton, Jim Broderick, John Gray, Barry Ninnes, Roger Creed, John Barton, Fran Cotton, Barrie Corless, all of whom represented their countries during that period. Others, like Judd, Owen and Godwin, I will have watched but have little memory of.

Halcyon days, indeed.

There are many supporters who go back even longer than Rob and I do (my mum, for instance, still attending the odd game at 91, saw her first Coventry game in early 40’s), but for most of us who have been supporting Cov for 5 or more decades, these were Coventry’s finest years.

There is a tendency for those supporters too young to have watched the Coventry sides of the early ’70s, to glaze over somewhat at the mention of  John Player Cup successes, or the names of some of the Cov greats…they’ve heard it all before.

Regularly.

I’m not altogether sure why mention of Cov back then should engender such a response…more is less, surely? However, to them I can only apologise as this post might not be of quite such interest as those written very much in the present.

However, given that Peter Rossborough, the current Club President and one of the key players in securing the club’s future following the financial crisis a few years ago, will also feature heavily in what is to come, perhaps it might be of some  interest after all…

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Rob kindly forwarded to me some scanned images and text from David Duckham’s three volume series of books entitled, RUGBY UNION: CAPTAINCY: FORWARD PLAY: BACK PLAY. 3 VOLUMES, written in partnership with Michael Blair.

I have to be honest and say I’ve never come across this before, although Rob remembers seeing a copy many years ago. That said, the pages included here come from a copy picked up in a charity shop by Rob’s discerning brother.

Charity shop…surely not?

And it is a corker…not just because of the photos, which show some of the Coventry greats in the most staged of photos, clearly taken at Coundon Road (with all the nostalgia that creates), but also because of the text too. The language is formal and rather stilted and when read today, it seems like something straight out of the BBC news archives of the 1940s and 50s, only as seen on Harry Enfield and chums. It quite often reads as if it is gently mocking the game…

Take, for instance, the advice given to full-backs when catching the high ball:

Once the catch has been made here is a tendency for the catcher to stand mesmerised until he is flattened. This, if possible, should be resisted…

cov-6-001The photo to the left  shows Peter Rossborough about to take the catch with, and here I might be struggling, a determined Simon Maisey (Will’s uncle?) about to kick Rossborough into touch, or so it appears.

The caption accompanying the photo is:

The all-important art of full back play – taking a clean catch, without being distracted by an oncoming assailant.

The advice offered suggests the catcher should never turn to face tackler full on as that way you can get ‘badly hurt and the ball will probably go straight back into the air’ – glad to see they had their priorities right in those days…

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The advice here is to cradle the ball, shield it from the opponent until help, hopefully arrives – presumably from the US cavalry…oh how we used to love the amateur game!

From there, the receiver should apparently point the shoulder at the ‘approaching hordes’, presumably because in this game Coventry are playing a team of rampaging Orcs, fresh from their unsuccessful tour of Middle Earth…

On a more serious note, some of the text also refers to a catch made on the run, but there is no reference to the tendency to jump into the catch which seems so prevalent these days and is responsible for so many injuries and, indeed, yellow cards.

If you look closely, you can just about make out the old clubhouse at Coundon Road – there will be those reading this with far better memories than me – the club shop used inside and adjacent to the entrance to the clubhouse, but I rather think that might have been something added on at a later date…?

As far as passing is concerned, Duckham freely admits that it is easy for him to ‘expound all the theories of mid-field passing because I never had to learn them myself’, although he goes on to discuss at some length the finger-tip pass which involves more speed, together with the warning that  ‘more speed amounts to greater risk’. However, this is minimised so long as the passer offers the ball at waist height and in front of the receiver .

If it’s passed at the receiver, ‘all is lost’…something that we’ve seen happen a few times this season!

Perhaps David Duckham is best known for his side-step which so often left defenders rooted to the spot as he stepped first in one direction, before sprinting off in the other.

In the book, Duckham explains how it is achieved through a series of photos:

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The defender has to be forced wide in order to create more of an angle which allows a better chance for the attacker to beat his man (far left). In the next photo (top right) the defender has been forced to the right, allowing the attacker at the last moment to:

Stab (the right foot) sharply with an appropriate body lean to generate the weight shift tot he other foot.

As the weight transfers from the right foot to the left foot, the attacker then accelerates through the flailing arm of the hapless defender (bottom right).

Duckham makes it sound so straightforward, but it’s not something we see used too often in the modern game, with players choosing to either go through or round the defenders.

According to Duckham…and this won’t go down too well with the current coaches, or some of the supporters who sit in the same area of the main stand as I do for that matter, a winger can:

get away with a patchy tackling technique as he is invariably taking his man from the side and often has quite a time to set him up.

He adds that positioning is ‘all-important’ and that when confronted with a rampaging forward charging at you ‘a stomach for the really painful tackle is required’.  

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In the image on the left, Duckham, looking as if he’s started to carry a little more weight than in his hey-day, is lining himself up for the tackle, the art of which, in this case, is to apparently position yourself in between the two attacking players  thus persuading the ball carrier to opt for the dummy and then:

as the ball is withheld, (he) steps sharply back in line with the ball carrier.

Good to see how Peter Rossborough is smiling as Duckham prepares to take him out. Doubtless, he’s just seen the draft of the previous section of the book, the one in which Duckham owns up to his ‘patchy technique’ as a winger…

And so it carries on…a fascinating insight into what rugby was like back then and just how much things have evolved.

For anyone interested in getting hold of a copy of RUGBY UNION: CAPTAINCY: FORWARD PLAY: BACK PLAY. 3 VOLUMES  and discovering more of David Duckham’s thoughts on the game as was, then I have tracked down a copy from the Amazon.com (the American site) for a princely sum of $1.27 (and in hardback, too!)…

Link to Amazon.com…

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As an impressionable, starry-eyed lad in my very early teens, David Duckham was a true sporting hero to me.

It’s hard to describe just how charismatic he was on the pitch and the effect he had on the crowds whenever he received the ball. Many, many players have come and gone since Duckham, but for me no one has come close to matching the excitement he generated – lots have entertained since, but none has been as mercurial. A back line of Gittings, Cowman, Preece, Evans, Duckham, Webb and Rossborough, all-capped except  for Bill Gittings, was the finest of its generation at club level and you’d be hard pressed to find it’s equal since.

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And as a reminder of just what we are missing in today’s game, a couple of clips.

Firstly, highlights of the Barbarians vs All Blacks game of 1973 – the one with THAT try.

Whilst anyone who loves the game of rugby will never tire of watching Gareth Edward’s dive for the corner in the opening minutes, it’s well worth letting the clip run through to minutes 2-4, as this section includes two runs from Duckham that were so typical of what the great man produced regularly at club level. The second of his breaks includes the dummy he threw that proved too quick for the cameraman and, as he pans right, Duckham accelerates away in the opposite direction. There’s another classic Duckham run in the final minute of the clip as well.

If you have the time during the day to watch it, please do. It might be 43 years ago, but it still ranks as one of the greatest games ever played…and Duckham was there.

 

 

The other clip is of a 1970 game involving Fiji vs England U 25s. Not a memorable game in itself and certainly lacking the excitement of the previous one, but it is notable in that the England side contains both Duckham and a young Peter Rossborough.

According to the commentator, the performance of PR on the day would have certainly caught the eye of the England selectors…which is presumably the case as it was less than a year later that he was winning the first of his  7 full caps for his country.

England had a ‘convincing’ victory – 14-12.

 

 

For those old enough to remember David Duckham and Peter Rossborough in their playing days, I hope reading this has brought back some fond memories of a by-gone era, one that will always important to me because it sealed my love of the game, and of Cov in particular, for the remainder of my days.

For those born too late to watch these Coventry greats, then maybe this will help to explain, to some extent, why their memories live on so strongly…

 

 

11 replies »

  1. Thanks as ever for keeping up the blog Tim – much valued by this supporter who can’t get to many games.

    I was struck in the above by your reference to ‘all capped except Gittings’ – although elsewhere you do refer to him as capped.

    I am just too young to remember Gittings (Lander and Grimshaw were the first ones I saw). But I was told about him by older relatives who said he played one game for England against New Zealand behind a beaten pack and was never picked again. It was implied to me that the Twickenham blazers treated him unfairly because he played for Cov rather than a posh London club. (Perhaps they were looking at things through blue-and-white tinted glasses since there was hardly a shortage of Cov players selected for England in those days – Judd captained England in the match he played in.)

    Anyway, some years later, allowing myself to be diverted from serious research, I looked this up in a newspaper database and found Gittings sealed his fate by throwing a bad pass. But intrigued by your post I looked it up again and found Gittings not even mentioned in The Times report.

    But I must have read it somewhere, because I see there are highlights of the game on Youtube – apparently the match (4 Nov 1967) was the first to be broadcast in colour – and indeed Gittings did throw a loose pass that led to NZ’s first try.

    Looking at the footage it seems Gittings did have a rotten time of it – a try was poached from under his nose at the base of the scrum and he dropped a catch, again leading indirectly to a NZ try. But later in the game, there’s an example of him diving in to the base of a scrum to gain a turnover, leading to an England penalty. He also got a pretty good pass away for an England consolation try in the closing minutes.

    I supposed scrum halves are always heroes behind a winning back and scapegoats behind a losing one.

    Never quite sure how to embed links but the footage is at

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    • Mea culpa – absolutely right Iain, I did, indeed, contradict myself (and now corrected in the post)…and as you rightly point out, Gittings was capped just the once. Great bit of research as well – I thoroughly enjoyed the video. I couldn’t believe the little time it took for the scrum to settle! And the NZ pack a stone HEAVIER at an average of 15 and a half stone! Can you imagine how they would cope against the giants of today? 1 cap for Gittings, then – remember Steve Thomas, the Cov legend (who still comes to watch even now) – arguably the best no 9 never to be capped (certainly of his generation, anyway).

      Thanks for taking the time to respond…a really interesting read (and viewing!)…

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  2. Still think Pete Rossbrough was ahead of his time in that as an attacking fullback joining in the “threes” . Something Srege Blanco copied to such effect, whereas PR being ahead of his time didn’t fit in to the standard tactics of the day.

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    • Totally agree, John…he was such an exciting player to watch; as you say, he was very attack-minded and it was that aspect of his game that probably got him his caps, and his slightly suspect defence probably ended his international career sooner than it should have. He was surprising quick, too, although he never looked like he was sprinting – he always seemed to ease into overdrive.

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  3. It’s a sad fact that when David Duckham had his autobiography published (Dai for England) he was deemed a professional by the RFU. Many players from that era fell fowl of their governing bodies because of this. A case of born too soon.

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    • Yes, I’d heard that before…I wonder how he would have prospered in today’s game? Great players would be great in any era and I guess he’d be a major player in world rugby today…

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  4. That first clip brings a tear to the eye no matter how often you watch it. So wonderful to see such open running and superb rugby skills. I don’t think THAT try would have been scored in today’s game as the whistle would have gone for a high tackle in the build up. Thank goodness Sir let the game flow.

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    • In the light of all that’s being said at the moment about the dangers of high tackles, NZ would have been down to 12-13 players at one point. JPR looked like he was targeted, although he wasn’t adverse to the odd illegal tackle himself…!

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  5. I hadn’t seen the second clip before Tim. Interesting that the need was felt for an England under 25 team, it backs up my theory that top flight players seemed so much older then – as did policemen…

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  6. Tim, in the Moseley electronic newsletter, is an article on the history of Moseley v Coventry that might be of interest. Part one starts in 1875……

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