For details of Matt Price’s presentation in the first half of the forum, please refer to:
After a short break Rowland Winter began by giving an overview of the squad, breaking it down by position.
Cov used 40 players in total last season and have 31 in the current squad so far (with a further two on their way), so the likelihood is that some of the gold group of Academy players will be called upon during the season – this being the group of youngsters that are still in the Development Academy but have shown they have the talent and ability to challenge some of the senior squad players for a place in the match day squad.The gold group is made up of (taken from club website):
Jake Byrne (age 20, prop, 8 Cov apps)
Willie Priestley (age 20, hooker, 1 Cov app)
Cameron Gray (age 19, second row)
Kailus Hutchinson (age 19, second row,)
Sam McNulty (age 21, back row)
Tom Price (age 20 back row)
Connor Adams (age 19, scrum-half)
Isaac McNulty (age 19, centre)
James Neal (age 21, wing)
Kwaku Asiedu (age 23, wing)
Josh Palmer (age 22, wing)
Some of the key points RW raised were:
The front row that dominated opposition scrums throughout last season remains intact and has been strengthened with the acquisition of:
Harry Morley – a loose head prop with 18 appearances for Nottingham in the Championship. He’ll be Andy Brown’s understudy and is a talented player, still not the finished article but someone who will benefit greatly from Boris’ coaching.
Phil Nilsen – although the club were fortunate to only need a third hooker on a couple of occasions last season, RW felt perhaps Matt Price and Scott Tolmie weren’t always challenged enough at times. He’s brought Phil N in to do just that. He provides the mobility of Scott and the physicality of Matt and with Premiership and Championship experience, he is the ideal player to put pressure on the No 2 shirt.
Will Priestley – his attitude and general progress during the close season has been exemplary and he has really come on since his first appearance in the Loughborough game back in April;
Charley Robinson (might have misheard that!) – another hooker, one who looks much older than his 21 years. I think RW said he’s in the gold group, although his name isn’t included in the official list on the website. He was at Bedford, played against us last season (OAs?), previously a prop but has come to us as a hooker
Luc Jeannot – a tight head whom RW had tried to sign before…was at Northampton for a while which is presumably where RW came across him
Following the impressive performances of the two Tom’s in the 8 game winning run at the end of last season, Tom Poole and Tom Jubb are in pole position as far as the 4 and 5 shirts are concerned and Niles Dacres and George Oram, despite representing England Counties last season, will have to work hard to overtake them.
Oram offers the size and bulk that has been missing since Snyman left (and has more self discipline!) and Dacres is a great exponent of the lineout and has added mobility (sees himself as a 6 as well).
RW said he signed ND the evening before the Plymouth game (away) last season at a local Costa – only for Dacres to then play us off the pitch and earn the MoM award.
Interestingly, Cameron Gray, another member of the gold group, is ahead of some of the established full squad players at the moment. He played for England U20 last season and is Louis Deacon’s ‘golden child’…
Kailus Hutchinson is another very talented second row in the gold group, not short of confidence and a player RW expects to break through into the first team at some stage in the next couple of seasons.
An area where there were some concerns last year and there weren’t the options available when needed. As a result, Cov has brought in:
Latu Makaafi – a 6 or an 8 but likely to play 6 at Cov. Will run straight lines and his experience will be invaluable when we need to control a game.
Luke Narraway – a clever no 8, something we missed last season, with bags of pedigree. He’s also been brought in to work as a defence coach and to bring on the youngsters and RW is expecting him to have a significant impact on them. With Freddie or Darrel last season we sometimes lacked a spark and Luke is more a warhorse than a showboater…(I think I’ve made that phrase up…?)…
Olly Povoas is immensely talented but for much of last season he suffered injury problems – he’s nearly fixed now.
Jack Preece…the best open side in National One and would be one of the best in the Championship as well
Tom Price (Matt’s nephew) and Sam MacNulty are both in the gold squad with Sam making accelerated progress at the moment.
There’s a plus 1 to come in as well, details to be announce in a few weeks time – exciting!
At scrum half, Dave Brazier has come in from Moseley, having also represented England Counties last season and with Moseley probably not able to push on in quite the same way this season as Cov, Dave is looking forward to a new challenge…
Connor Adams is also a scrum half and a member of the gold group, but with two England Counties scrum halves ahead of him, he’s probably going to have to bide his time a little, but with the coaches preferring to always bench a 9 and 10, there might be opportunities.
The same is the case for Ben Palmer, although at 25 he is a member of the full squad and sitting behind Will Maisey and Tony Fenner. Will Maisey’s form last season puts him in pole position but Tony Fenner, injured for much of the last 6 months is now back to full fitness.
Will and Tony offer different options – Will is more creative and likes to get the backs moving more whilst Tony is able to better control a game and is stronger defensively – there will be a real battle for places between them
That said, Ben Palmer has come into training and really impressed…!
Rather like last year, the coaches have the same options as last year with the likes of Stevens, Wheatcroft, Knox still here but in addition the club has added Alex Grove and Sam Tuitupou to the mix…
Sam was offered another 1 year contract from Sale Sharks but felt that he would play longer by coming to Cov on a two-year deal, whilst also having a bit more time to pursue his business links. RW gave an insight into the type of player Sam is – at the opening session led by Nick Walshe, with 30 plus players all listening intently, only one was taking notes – Sam Tuitupou. He still wants to learn, to get better and the impact he will have is similar to that which Boris has had on the club.
And, according to RW, heaven help anyone who ruins down his channel.
He’s unlikely to play all 30 games, but 15-20 is the expectation and he’s definitely not here to see out the rest of his career.
Alex Grove is similar in many respects to Corey Hircock, upscaled. He’ll do the basics extremely well and will add another dimension to the midfield.
In addition, the second MacNulty, Isaac, will be joining Cov’s gold group in September having been playing his rugby in New Zealand. By the time he returns he could have been playing the equivalent of Championship rugby – at 19 he’s obviously at talented lad.
In addition to those retained, there will be a wing joining us at the end of the month – a Tongan who played at no 8 but is now a centre/wing – big and a very strong runner and judging by his smile, someone RW is excited about…
Kwaku Asiedu is an exciting wing – big (18 stone/6ft 3″ ish) and fast and with the ability to run though and round players. He was at Hartpury last season but was injured and although he’s in the gold group we can expect to see him make some appearances in the full match day squad.
James Neal – a talented youngster who is in the gold squad as a result of his age but again is another youngster who we can expect to break through into the first team squad at some point this season.
(Rob Knox was counted as a winger on the list but RW made the point that he will play in his best position – if he’s one of the best centres he’ll play there, if not he’ll be out wide, but he gave the impression that we’d be seeing a fair bit of him this season)…
Finally, Ben Palmer’s younger brother, Josh, is a member of the gold squad and someone who could play a part in match day squads this season – we’re sure to be seeing him in Zoo league games.
Rowland Winter then took us through the 22 staff underpinning the squad of players…a number that will be greater than at any of the other National One clubs and brought together to ensure the players have everything they need to perform at the peak of their abilities.
That number includes the likes of Tony Gulliver and Ron and Brian, the Medical and Rehab teams, and John Wilkinson,who oversees everything to do with media and communication.
In what appears to be a really sensible move, Rhys Davies will continue as 4th Official but will also referee some of the training sessions which makes perfect sense to me – it certainly seems to be making best use of your resources.
RW mentioned that JW and John Butler are working to produce an improved programme following consultation with the supporters and also adding additional information and general content to the website which RW thought supporters would approve of…
RW also mentioned that the players coming into the club were hugely impressed by the medical/rehab support available to players and thought it was as good as most Championship clubs.
whoHe also confirmed that a gym is soon to be built close to the entrance to the clubhouse at the railway end of the ground. Whilst it will be initially for the players’ use only, it will be opened to the public at some stage – but aimed very much at those serious about their fitness (must get my membership sorted, then). It won’t be all saunas and Jacuzzis…
The backroom staff include Scott Solvery (I think), a sports’ scientist, who will be Mr Gadgetman by the sound of it, bringing in the latest GPS tracking to check the distance covered by players during a training session/match and so on.
If I remember correctly (!) I think there are now two trained physios (Hannah Walker and Ashni Desai, who qualified last season) and two trainees, as well as the club doctor who will this season be at the club on a Saturday morning to offer a players’ clinic should it be needed.
In an answer to a question from the floor, RW confirmed that not all 22 of the support staff were on the payroll other than for expenses – it tended to be the i/c of each area that was salaried.
As far as the coaching side is concerned, Nick Walshe is Head Coach, looking specifically at the backs and attacking play. Luke Narraway will oversee defence, Louis Deacon the forwards and Boris the scrum. Boris is contracted by Leicester and will mainly be involved in Tuesday training night sessions.
Matt Price has become the Head of Development with Brendan Burke the Head Coach – Brendan has officially retired but will stay on with the club to work with the youngsters as well ashis own personal development as a coach with the eventual aim of assimilating both Matt and Brendan into the 1st team coaching set up.
The Zoo league will be a tough step up for the Development squad and the standard will be extremely high – some of the teams, like Richmond for instance, will be likely to play their British and Irish Cup team so it will be a massive step up in quality for the youngsters. The intention is to add to the development players a number of the first team squad not involved in the league game that week to add experience, maybe up to 10 in all. As far as the club is concerned, participation in the Zoo league is about development , not results, with the hope that as a result of the experience gained, some of the youngsters will break through into the first team squad in a couple of years time. Having home grown talent in the squad is vital…forgot to mention in yesterday’s post, the silver group is likely to include players loaned out to junior clubs…
Players will train for 6 sessions a week, 15 hours in total – as much as most Championship sides, although Coventry’s training has to fit around the community outreach work the players are involved in and the 7 or 8 players who have their own full-time jobs.
Cov has a three year deal with Massey Ferguson and it is the perfect training ground because it is so barely used – just a couple of cricket matches a week – it might well be that development games or rugby camps could be moved to MF should the BPA pitch be in need of a rest. Thursday night training will return to the BPA once the season gets under way.
RW confirmed that all Zoo league games would be double headers and whilst there was some concern amongst supporters about the impact on the pitch when adding the various football matches that would also be involved, Rowland stressed that moving the training during the week to Massey Ferguson would mean a reduction from 150 to just 40 sessions a season at the BPA…and whilst there would be football matches taking place, they are far less likely to cause wear to the pitch.
RW detailed the pre-season friendlies and stressed that Jersey would be the first time we saw something approaching the first choice team, with approximately 25 players making the trip over to the Channel Isle.
The Leicester Lions game will be 3*30 minute sessions with players from both squads involved – they would be controlled games, with 10 lineouts in the opposition half for each team being a requirement.
Nuneaton will be 2*40 minutes sessions.
The Sale game will involve 70/80% of the 1st team.
There are three away games to try and better prepare the players for the travelling needed once the season starts, an area which Cov struggled with last season and something that will also be addressed by the club training away from the BPA during the week.
A full strength squad will be chosen for the game against Rotherham and that should give supporters a pretty good indication of what the first choice side will look like at the start of the season.
RW stressed that his remit was to create a professional:
- playing squad;
- medical/strength and conditioning provision;
- coaching and management team;
- development provision;
- environment (in terms of culture)
and for all the above to be sustainable in the Championship
He felt that any of 3 or 4 teams could win National One this season, with Plymouth, Ampthill, and maybe Moseley, being our main rivals but with DMP and the London sides also being a threat, especially as we faired so poorly down there last season. He believes Cov has the best set up and the best squad in the league but realistically it might be a year too soon, with Plymouth having a 12 month head start on us.
RW offered some welcome news on the kit front, declaring that Lara would make an announcement on Friday giving details of the new kit and how and where it can be purchased (online) directly from O’Neills.
He also talked briefly about the impact of the latest RFU decision this season to allow National One clubs to field 10 dual regs and 3 loans in a match day squad. Whilst it could benefit the likes of Plymouth (partnership with Exeter), Amptill (Saracens), OAs (Saracens) and Loughborough (Leicester) he wasn’t overly concerned. The Premiership clubs have opted to increased the number of A league games anyway and it looks as if dual regs will only be available for 10 weekends and it’s his belief that our squad will be stronger than a team fielding that many Academy players.
Dual regs don’t really work in the long term although should Cov need them, Jack Willis and Freddie Tuilagi would be available.
The question about working more closely with Warwickshire RFU was raised – RW explained he had tried to build some of the bridges burned previously and he would always support his players in pursuit of a Warwickshire/England Counties cap…however, the county championship and England Counties tour extends the season to approximately 49 weeks of the year and that is a major concern. It was felt by supporters though that it would be great to hold a Warwickshire game at the BPA… something which RW accepted.
There were some brief answers to other questions but the above covers the main points – sorry it’s a bit rushed and in note form at times – the arrival of a grandchild is imminent!