Having missed Monday’s training, it was good to get back down to Summerhill Road yesterday evening to watch Coventry continue its pre-season build-up..
Good not only to see the squad in action, but also to meet with like-minded supporters who just enjoy the moment and are happy to talk about all things Cov.
And there seems to be a genuine feeling of excitement amongst those supporters who have attended training these last few weeks. Excitement borne partly as a result of a growing expectation that Cov will be a key player in the league this season with a finish above the fourth place achieved back in April very much a possibility, and partly out of the real belief that at last Cov is a club very much on the up and whose success lies as much in the long term as it does in the short.And with each passing week the anticipation grows.
Talk amongst those attending the training sessions has moved on from the simple placing of names to faces a month ago, to what the first league side might well look like in September when the club travels to Hull to begin its league campaign. And, as you might expect at this stage of the pre-season, there is plenty of disagreement, but the overriding feeling is that Coventry has a squad that has depth across all positions and the experience that was lacking a little at times last season.
There were a few players missing yesterday, with the likes of Tony Fenner, presumably on paternity leave (and congratulations to Tony and Luzaan on the birth of their baby boy, Harley – what a great name, too!), Will Maisey and Tom Jubb to name but three. There were a couple of players unable to train, Rob Knox and Max Trimble, both seeming to have a foot injury of sorts, and I don’t think Tom Wheatcroft was involved too much either.
Once again, those supporters there yesterday were impressed by the sheer size and physicality of the squad, especially in the forwards. It would be really interesting if there are any stats available from last season to compare the average weight of the pack in the opening game last September to that of the side selected to play against Hull this season.
Narraway, Makaafi, Dacres, Oram and Morley all look bigger than those they could be replacing, with perhaps the exception of Brendon Snyman.
One of the most noticeable things about training these days is the sheer volume of noise coming from the players. It wasn’t something I was particularly aware of at training last season and maybe part of the reason is because we are pitchside and therefore closer to the players as they train at Summerhill Road than at the BPA, although I don’t think this accounts totally for the increase in noise levels. The noise is perhaps just a side effect of the increased pace and commitment of the players at this point in their training compared to a similar point last year. It appears a happy squad and the big hits were accompanied by suitable laughter from everyone other than the recipients, but never long enough for the players to lose focus.
Jon Sharp was there too, and he spent a lot of time talking to the supporters, patiently answering questions which he must have answered a dozen times before. He was happy to add his own point of view about what was being discussed as well and he is always someone who is easy to listen to…straight talking and another who won’t shy away from the difficult questions and, in that respect, he and Rowland Winter complement each other well. Having him there was something of a bonus and it was immediately obvious just what the club means to him and how excited he is about the future.
When I left at 8.10, the session was still going strong and whilst backs and forwards worked separately for the first half hour, there was once again plenty of player contact as the squad, led principally by Nick Walshe, came together to work on both attack and defence.
The main squad was bolstered by the additions from the Academy’s gold group and it is clear that they are being prepared to step up into the full squad as and when required. The two locks, Gray and Hutchinson, were particularly prominent as was Kwaku Asiedu, the young ex-Hartpury wing who looks a real handful even in training. All three look likely to be wearing the first team shirt before the season’s out with Asiedu looking most likely to be the first to do so, especially given the relative strength the club currently already enjoys at 4 and 5.
It would be remiss of me not to make some reference to the screening of the Lions’ third and final test at the BPA last Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed the occasio and, whilst I’m sure it involved a lot of additional time and effort behind the scenes to set it all up, including an early start for some I expect, it was very much appreciated and a big thank you to all involved.
I’d watched the previous two Lions ‘games elsewhere but owing to problems with a Sky box, I took the decision to venture over to Cov and view the game in the clubhouse, something that I thoroughly enjoyed and, having done so once, I would definitely consider doing so again should the club decide to host another big sporting occasion.
The morning was made even more enjoyable as my wife, Sue, caught up as she was in the pre-match media hype, decided to make one of her very infrequent visits to the ground and soak up the atmosphere as well.
124 (ish) people decided to do likewise and by the time I got there, some 15 minutes before kick off, most people were already settled into their places and enjoying the breakfast batch that was included in the £5 admission charge. Sad to say, I didn’t partake of the food as I am still part way through my diet so I can’t really comment on it, other than to say it looked and smelled great and it was a relief that the rugby was so engrossing as otherwise I might well have succumbed.Whilst my body remains a temple (of doom), Sue sadly doesn’t worship it as she did… 🙂 24 lbs down now and another 18 or so to go.
I might yet be able to walk on to the beach in a few weeks time without threat of being harpooned.
With the bar open and the atmosphere so warm and friendly, it was a great occasion, one made even more memorable of course by the intensity of the game and, indeed, the result. And, hopefully, at a time of the year when very little revenue is coming into the club, it might also have added a few extra pennies to the coffers.
I understand the two previous games weren’t quite so well attended which is understandable given the circumstances, but Saturday’s turnout does demonstrate the how the club can have a role to play in the local community outside of just match days. Many of the faces there I didn’t recognise and it might well be that some of those there weren’t even regular Cov goers – something that augers well for the coming weeks and hopefully an increase in the numbers attending the home games next season.
If Cov can brand it just right (and I fully admit I’m not sure exactly what ‘right’ is at this stage), then most ‘home’ Saturdays over the months to come could benefit greatly from having the Zoo league fixtures take place before the main event, ie Coventry’s Nat One game.
Last Saturday showed just how many people will come to the club for a bite to eat, a drink or two and the chance to watch a game of rugby at times out side of the normal 2-5.00 pm scenario.
Yes, this was the Lions bidding for a series win against the All Blacks and as such was a one-off event, but the opportunity to watch Coventry’s youngsters play competitive rugby for free before the league games over the course of this season is one that I’m sure could bring in many supporters much earlier on a Saturday than would otherwise be the case.
The cost of watching the Zoo league games will be covered by either the price of a season ticket or the normal entry for the National One game that day and, given the relative strengths of some of the opposition teams who’ll be visiting us (including Championship sides Richmond and Jersey – both probably entering their B&I Cup sides into the competition), the quality of rugby on show will be of a very decent standard.
It looks as if Coventry’s Zoo League squads will be made up of players from the Development Academy ‘Gold’ Squad and those full squad players not involved in the full match day squad…so there will be plenty of interest regarding the form of both the youngsters in the DA and those senior players who are pushing for a place in the 1st Xv.
Add here’s where the branding of these games will be important – if Cov can get it right in terms of the food and drink outlets around the ground, it might well be that three or four hundred, maybe even more, might come to the ground in time for, say, a 12.30 start and enjoy watching the Zoo League opener with a pint and a pie/pork batch, or whatever, as a build up to the main game at 3.00 pm. Cov first home game against Moseley is sure to attract a bumper crowd and if there is a Zoo league fixture taking place beforehand, then it’s an ideal opportunity to really push the marketing for the 2nd XV competition, hopefully generating sufficient numbers to potentially get a god number of supporters in early to watch game. An entertaining game would then do wonders for creating some momentum as far as support is concerned.
Hopefully, we’ll see match reports on the website and player interviews, similar to those involving full squad members last season, will ensure that the Development Academy’s profile remains high attracting even more interest. Easy in theory!
An early start probably means supporters will expect to have something to eat at the ground, given as it falls across lunch time for most supporters, but on the basis of last year (and here is my only concern) I’m not convinced that what was on offer, especially as far as the food was concerned, would be enough to pull folk in. That said, it is clear that the club are making efforts to improve the match day experience for spectators, with JS saying yesterday at training that two of the 4 portacabins recently acquired for use by the club will be used as temporary bars pitchside to alleviate the queues at the bar, something that has been a constant gripe with many supporters for a while now – another example of how the club seems to be listening and responding to the fans.
The other two portacabins will be partly used as additional changing areas when there are more than two teams playing at the Butts on a match day (for instance, when the Zoo League is up and running) as well as for use when the new gym is in operation.
However, there does need to be more food options available outside – the less supporters are having to traipse back into the clubhouse for their refreshments, the better. And if supporters are spending more money on a match day and feeling that they’re getting even better value for money in the process, then happy days.
The food looked good for the Lions game and certainly seemed to be a big factor in pulling people in.
I would expect the same might be the case this season for those interested getting involved in the early kick offs for the Zoo League games; if there’s the likelihood of some decent hot food and freely available drink, then that’s going to be a major factor in enticing the supporters into the ground early.
And, if all goes to plan, I’ll be off the diet by then…