24th February, 2017.
England Counties v Scotland Club XV at Billesley Common.
A really impressive performance from England, outplaying Scotland in almost every department and winning 45-28.
4 Coventry representatives on the day in that England Counties squad…Andy Brown, James Litchfield, Pete White and James Stokes.
4th April, 2017.
Just five and a half weeks on and the number of players from that squad who will be wearing the blue and white hoops next season has more than doubled, increasing to eight with the additions of Nile Dacres, Jack Preece, George Oram, Heath Stevens (thanks, JW) and Dave Brazier.
How many of next season’s 8 players from this England Counties squad v Scotland can you recognise…?
The two props, the two second rows, a back row, the scrum half, a centre and the full back – virtually the entire spine of the team and all having represented England Counties with distinction.
Put into the mix the fact that Cov has retained at least 19 of the current squad (including Stevens), a squad that is presently on an impressive run of form since just before Christmas that puts us right up there with any of the teams above us, with the obvious exception of Hartpury, and things are looking extremely positive for next season.
Then add the mystery signing who has yet to be announced, the one that will make ‘the rest of the league stand up and take notice’ (as if the current announcements haven’t already had that effect) and it rather looks as if something special is happening down at the BPA right now.
The appointment of Louis Deacon, the retention of Boris Stankovich and the impact of Nick Walshe and Brendan Burke are also significant as not only is this a squad that must surely be looking for a top three spot next season, it is also one being coached (under the direction of Rowland Winter) by potentially the best management team currently in the National One…wins at home against all the leading contenders next season support that belief.
And the surprising thing for me is that the announcement of the latest recruits has almost gone unnoticed, or at least without comment, by Coventry supporters.
1200+ last weekend to watch the Rosslyn Park game, the vast majority of whom will have left the ground extremely excited bat the Coventry performance and yet just 6 comments in total on the Messageboard following yesterday’s news. An odd one that…
Me, I can’t wait for August and the first of the pre-season friendlies.
Oh, and before I forget, a big ‘thank you’ to the club for including entrance to the friendlies in the price of the season ticket – in effect, this means a reduction in the overall cost of watching Coventry next season.
The club haven’t actually made as much of this as I think they should – it’s a welcome gesture and one that certainly needs acknowledging.
So I am…
Rowland Winter has consistently (and very sensibly) talked about a three year project, at least, as far as promotion is concerned, and if that is the case I can’t wait to see the 2018/19 squad!
That said, you have to wonder whether the club now believes that in the absence of a side being relegated from the Championship this year, the 2017/18 season offers a decent first bite of the cherry, so-to-speak.
Already the squad is looking extremely strong and whilst we will be losing Darrel Dyer and Sam Harry from the regular match day 22 (although even then, Sam Harry hasn’t featured recently), we have gained a number of players who will realistically be relegating current first choice players onto the bench at the very least.
If it’s about strengthening the squad and creating competition in all areas of the team, then it seems to me that RW has been pretty successful. I still worry a little about the wide men, with Neal and Trimble looking to be the out and out flyers and Knox and Stokes also there if required. Is that sufficient given the strengthening that has taken place in other areas of the team and the style of play we clearly prefer?
However, given that the coaches have been right in most every appointment they’ve made up to now, perhaps I shouldn’t even be asking the question…
There has been a number of comments made outside of the Coventry supporters about Cov recruiting so many of the English Counties squad and whilst I can understand why that might unnerve the opposition, I don’t think there’s anything in it other than RW wants to bring in players of sufficient calibre and the best ones from our league will quite often be those who represent England at this level…common sense really.
A more interesting question is why Cov are recruiting so many players from National One, rather than the Championship?
Dacres, Oram, Preece, Grove and Brazier are all currently playing in National One and of the others only Latu Makaafi is playing regularly at a level above tier 3 rugby.
And here’s where I think Rowland Winter and the management team are playing an absolute blinder.
National One is such a tough league to get out of.
30 games a season, playing at grounds as far apart, in so many ways, as Brickfields and Crow Trees.
Simply having played Championship rugby, even over a number of seasons, isn’t enough to guarantee success in National One – but by recruiting players who have had successful spells in the Championship (as players if not as part of a winning team) and who have then gone on to perform equally well in National One, well that’s a totally different matter.
The likes of Oram, Preece, Grove and Dacres have had one season in National One at least now and understand what this league is about. They know what it takes to win at some of those difficult grounds we visit, grounds where it’s hard to motivate yourself in front of that one man who might not even have his dog with him on the day.
It seems to me a really sensible strategy – players of proven ability at Championship level and who know what to expect in National One.
Next season’s squad will have a familiar look to it, but there is enough new talent there also to make competition for places even stronger and raise the bar, as far performance on the pitch is concerned, a notch or two up from this season.
I have to say, George Oram is a fantastic addition to the squad. After the England Counties game back at the end of February I wrote this about Oram…:
The two second rows, George Oram (he of the beard) and Nile Dacres (he who caused Cov so many problems when we went down to Plymouth earlier this month), both had excellent games – secure in the line-out and very noticeable going forward. Oram, in particular, is a player who seems to relish having ball in hand.
I’ve said for a while now that he would be on my radar…
I was impressed with both.
He’s still young, at just 23, and will add more physicality to the team, but also for a big man he is surprisingly mobile around the pitch.
I have to confess now that I’d heard a whisper a few weeks back that Oram was likely to be coming to Coventry next season and I had begun to fear that the move had fallen through given most of the players coming here had already been announced. I am really relieved that we managed to secure his services – I can’t really can’t believe that there will be a club in National One from this September that will have a better front five than ours.
And then, when you look at the back row….
…well, Jack Preece is going to be a revelation when he joins us – he is that good – and if Latu Makaafi lives up to his reputation, together with the likes of Brett Daynes, Olly Povoas and possibly Freddy Tuilagi, then we have a Championship pack in the making over the next couple of seasons.
It’s odd to think that however good the Two Toms, Poole and Jubb, have been performing over the last few games, come September they are both likely to be the second choice in their respective positions, such is the calibre of George Oram and Nile Dacres. Both the current incumbents of the 4 and 5 jerseys have been immense and have been more than a match for any of the teams we’ve faced since Hartpury, save perhaps Plymouth where, ironically, it was Dacres who ran the show.
However, if Coventry are to progress then such competition for places is essential – the real test will be how well motivated Rowland Winter and the coaches can keep those players who don’t feature in the match day squads. Consistent selection has been one of the keys to Coventry’s excellent run of form of late, but will Cov be able maintain that policy with the calibre of players coming into the club in June? That’s one for the future, I guess, but nevertheless it is a potential issue given Cov’s current recruitment drive.
Oram has been coached this season by Louis Deacon – whether that was something that persuaded him to make the short trip down the A45 is unclear, but it does suggest that he is happy to work with him again which can only be a positive sign.
I have to hold my hands up and admit I know little of Dave Brazier, other than he started the season as second choice scrum half and following a lucky break (or a particularly unlucky one for first choice scrum half, Sam Brown, who fractured his leg), he has come into the side and excelled. He is a similar sort of player to Pete White in that he likes to get the ball out quickly and keep play moving. When he came on for Pete in the England Counties game against Scotland, he slotted in seamlessly and I remembered being both impressed and worried by himn- worried in the sense that here was a player we would be facing next season who looked extremely promising…
Little did I have to worry…
With Brazier’s arrival, I’m assuming that Sam Grasso must be leaving now as I can’t imagine that Brazier would join Cov in the knowledge that he could end up as third choice scrum half.
So, all-in-all, another good week as far as announcements are concerned and whilst there’s no denying that Darrel Dyer’s contribution this season has been impressive, it rather looks like the back row won’t be any the less for his absence given the present recruitment drive
And still some more announcements to come…