One of the most interesting aspects of Thursday evening’s training session was the sheer number of Coventry players involved.
Without a proper head count it’s all guess work, but I would imagine there must have been 50 plus players out on the training ground at one stage – far exceeding anything I’ve seen involving Cov before.
It was an impressive sight.
They were split into two groups for a short time, with the Development Academy youngsters using in one area of the playing fields and the full squad training a little further up. The youngsters had started a good deal earlier than the rest of the players and finished well before 7.00, with the main squad not coming out onto the training area until 6.45, so there wasn’t a great deal of crossover. Once the DA session had finished, the gold group moved across to train with the senior squad.As Rowland Winter had explained at the Fans’ Forum earlier in the week, the DA training was led by Brendan Burke and Matt Price, and certainly whilst I was there I saw no input from the senior coaches, although Rowland Winter was keeping a watchful eye on what was taking place.
There are a number of players whose faces I am beginning to recognise at long last amongst the Development Academy, but they are mainly those who were at the Olney 7s and who form the bulk of that gold group, but equally, there are a number for whom Thursday was my first sighter. A couple I think were probably on trial, given the handshakes at the end, although this is pure supposition on my part.
As a group, they looked their age, especially when compared to the senior squad, but when they were involved in some contact work it was clear that the intensity was there, as were the skill levels, and on a hot and pretty sultry evening, by the end of the session there were some very tired looking players.
And with the team having to currently change in the portacabins, I guess there was no opportunity to shower either.
And there were plenty of shared lifts…
Once the Academy players had gone, attentions shifted to the main squad and whilst I shouldn’t be impressed by names or reputations, I was really interested to get an opportunity to take a look at Luke Narraway, given this was the first chance I’d had to see him in a Cov top.
He certainly carries himself well, appearing every inch an athlete and, considering he’s 33 according to the Cov website, he’s could be a few years younger to look at.
Quite what he, and the more senior players who have come in this season, make of the temporary facilities at Massey Ferguson, I’ve no idea…it must be something of a reality check for them.
Not that you’d think that once the session began. As you’d expect of someone of his experience, and indeed pedigree, Luke N was stuck into the contact sessions from the outset.
He was also involved in some of the defence coaching and his presence on the pitch once the season starts, particularly in those tight games that we can expect from time to time, should make a significance difference to the outcome. He is a leader, which was something we missed on the pitch before Phil Boulton took the helm around Christmas time last season.
I think it was Simon Jackson who made the point watching as we were from the sidelines – this time last season there didn’t appear to be the player contact in the early training sessions that we are now already witnessing in the early weeks of this pre-season, with some of it pretty full on.
Matt Price alluded to the boxing and wrestling last week when he spoke at the Fans’ Forum on Tuesday.
Having spoken to RW previously, the retained players have returned with fitness levels well above those demanded of them at the end of last season and maybe it’s that that has allowed the coaches to step up the amount of contact – or maybe the newness of the squad last season had something to do with it.
All the players I’ve heard speak this season thus far have alluded to the level of intensity in pre-season training, and those who were with Cov last season have suggested that it is much more evident even so early on this season – something that Matt Price mentioned at the Forum and Tom Jubb repeated at training on Thursday.
That must be heartening for the coaches and if Coventry can continue to increase the levels, whilst also developing their individual and team skills, then they should be able to hit the ground running when they take on Hull in the first league game in September,
I do feel for Tom J and Olly Povoas, both very close to a return to pre-season training and both desperate to get back into the thick of things. Tom, who is just waiting the go ahead following a head injury at the Olney 7s, was evidently frustrated, especially as he is now a couple of weeks behind the rest of the squad in his training.
Olly, too, expressed a similar desire to get back into full training.
I have to say, Olly really impressed me at the back end of last season when he put in several MoM performances, especially away from home, and was a shoe-in for me for those last few games.
At only 21, he’s a real talent and having had injuries to his knee, neck and hand last season he deserves some better luck. Although having to train on his own these last few weeks, the lad has run himself into the ground (aided by Max Hartman and co) and despite appearing to be almost on his knees towards the end each session, he just keeps going. He seems incredibly motivated. Whilst there is some really stiff competition for places in the back row this season, I don’t doubt for a minute that we’ll see Olly put in some more eye-catching performances over the course of the season.
One of the other things that has been obvious from watching Cov in training is that the forwards are physically big – huge in fact – with the players coming in beefing up the pack in no small measure. Oram and Dacres are big, very big, and certainly make up for the loss of Conquest and Snyman and will add weight to what was an already big set of forwards anyway. Makaafi is bigger than either Darrel Dyer (although not as tall?) or Sam Harry from last season and Jack Preece might not be tall, but he has that Neil Back sort of physique that makes him so destructive in the loose.
Phil Nilsen isn’t the typical modern day hooker to look at – taller and with very good mobility and we know that he will add another dimension to the forwards and the new prop, Harry Morley, looks to be very tall and has some muscle bulk to him.
Last season the pack was already sizeable; this season it will be noticeably bigger still but with that there is no loss of mobility, with the likes of Dacres, Makaafi, Preece, Nilsen and Oram all enjoying the opportunity to carry the ball. (Oram, Preece and Dacres were all over the pitch when I went to watch them playing for England Counties last season).
Going forward it should make for some entertaining rugby, especially as there are some destructive runners in there who also have good hands – some of the interchanges between the forwards look sharp even now.
The official announcement yesterday that O’Neill’s is going to supply Coventry’s kit for the next two seasons was no surprise really, but at least now we know that it will be available for purchase from 22nd onwards…it’s a move that seems to have gone down well universally amongst Coventry supporters who haven’t fared too well as far as official club merchandise over the last two seasons is concerned – thank goodness for the Supporters’ Club involvement during the second half of last season.
It might be of interest to some readers of the blog to know that the kit has proved popular with the players and coaches, but the advice we got on Thursday is that you just need to be a little careful on choice of sizes in that as far as the players’ kit is concerned it’s coming in, on average, a size smaller than with Under Armour – so a ‘L’ in a UA top would be an ‘XL’ in an O’Neill top.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the same for replica kit but it might be something worth thinking about and perhaps ‘try before you buy’ might be a good idea.
I’m gutted, as it might mean it’s the first shirt that I’ve ever bought that might be an XL – although that’s probably because I am so gutted – so-to-speak.
The other thing worth mentioning, and many thanks to Paul Smith for being the first to pick this up yesterday – none of Wasps’ fixtures seem to clash with Coventry home games this season. Whilst the ‘Wasps’ factor’ hasn’t had quite the impact that many suggested it would, it still must come as a relief to Cov, in particular, that the two sides that dominate the rugby scene in Cov aren’t playing at the same time at any stage of the forthcoming season.
That’s something else that we don’t need to worry about anymore…
A good end to a good week…
And to cap it all, I’m off to the BPA to watch the Lions game with Sue this morning – a first for her and, given the way I’ve been hyping things up at home over the last few weeks, I reckon she might make it to a few home games as well this season.