Yesterday’s publication of the Anglo-Welsh fixtures, together with the increase in the number of A League games Premiership clubs will be involved in next season, raises some interesting questions regarding Coventry’s use of Wasps’ players, either on loan or as dual registered, over the course of the coming season.
And the reverse is equally true…
…Wasps’ involvement in three competitions next season, namely the Premiership, the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the Premiership Rugby A League Cup, might well put Wasps under pressure in terms of availability of players and the Premiership club might hope at some stage this season to dip into Coventry’s growing pool of younger, talented players should the need arise.Prior to last season and the involvement of a couple of our own players in Wasps’ A League fixtures, I have to confess I wasn’t that sure about the differences between the Anglo Welsh Cup and the A League. For anyone still unclear:
- The Anglo Welsh Cup involves the 12 Premiership clubs and the four Welsh regional sides competing in Pro12.
- The Premiership Rugby A League involves just the 12 Premierships clubs and is split into into Northern and Southern conferences, and is made up principally, but not entirely, of players from the clubs own Academy and First Team. It was in this competition last year that we loaned out Sam Harry and Ali Bone to Wasps to supplement their own group of players available.
(Just to confuse matters, there is also the British and Irish Cup which involves 20 professional or semi professional clubs from the second tier of British rugby, including and the reserves or developing teams from professional clubs. Last year it was made up of twelve clubs from the RFU Championship, four Irish provinces ‘A’ teams and Welsh regions represented by Premiership select teams.)
Rowland Winter has made it clear that whilst he does not wish at this early stage of the season to make use of dual reg players or loanees, if injuries or other unforeseens arise, he would be prepared to use them should the situation necessitate it. RW did make mention of Tom Willis (selected to represent England U18s just last week) together with another very able young scrum half, both of whom could be available at certain times of the season.
Tom is, of course, Jack Willis’ younger brother – Jack is also at Wasps and made 4 appearances for us before Christmas.
RW spoke about the use of Wasps’ Academy players at the last fans’ forum and I certainly got the impression that he believed that squad the club has put together for the start of the 2017/18 season is strong enough, and large enough, not to have to involve Wasps, or any of the local Premiership sides, in providing additional players.
However, as he said at the time, injuries can never be ruled out.
What is clear is there is a system in place to allow such an exchange, both ways, and at least two of our players last season benefitted from playing in some of Wasps’ A League fixtures – Sam Harry and Ali Bone.
And if we look at the Coventry to Wasps situation first, whilst there is still clearly a willingness on the part of the two clubs to further develop links, of which the exchanging of players was probably the most publicised last season, Coventry’s inclusion in the Zoo Sports Shield makes it increasingly less likely that players from Cov would be made available to play A League games, or at least not with any sort of regularity.
By my reckoning, there are 26 ZSS fixtures this season, so the likelihood that the kind of players that Wasps might be interested in supplementing their own squad with seems unlikely.
Although I’m getting side-tracked here, it is very encouraging to think that so many of the Coventry players who will be on the verge of a place in the full match day squad will have opportunities to play competitive rugby so regularly over the course of the season.
And even more satisfying is the fact that they will be doing so wearing Cov colours, supported by coaches who will be preparing the teams to play the same style of rugby, with similar game plans. It all makes for a far smoother transition into the full match day squad if and when the call does come. Coventry will be so much stronger for having what amounts to a second XV.
And some of those fixtures will be extremely challenging, particularly those involving the Championship clubs – Jersey, Richmond and London Scottish. The irony is that the ZSS sides those clubs put out might well be stronger than one or two of the sides from the bottom end of National One Cov might could be be facing that same weekend.
So 26 ZSS games then, all of them on a Saturday.
With Premiership A league fixtures being played generally on a Monday, there is little or no likelihood of a Coventry player being able to play on the Saturday prior to an A League game. In addition, players have two days less recovery time to prepare for a game the following Saturday on their return to Cov.
From where I am, it’s as if to be loaned out to Wasps would almost be the kiss of death, as each game might take you away from two weekends of rugby at Cov…and perhaps it’s not such a coincidence that the two youngsters who Cov loaned out to Wasps last year are no longer with us now? Sam Harry and Ali Bone.
This post has come about as a result of Paul Smith’s article in the Coventry Telegraph yesterday entitled ‘Wasps to face Leicester Tigers in Anglo-Welsh Cup draw’ (Paul Smith – Coventry Telegraph 15/08/2017). (and many thanks to Paul for sharing it with me).
Whilst much of it is relates to the announcement of Wasps’ fixtures for the Anglo-Welsh Cup, the final two paragraphs are pertinent to Coventry:
Wasps enlarged senior academy, which now contains 13 players…(which)should make them more competitive in both second-tier competitions next season.
This is of course dependent on how the squad fares with injuries and international call-ups, but at least on paper coaches Andy Titterrell and Lee Blackett seem likely to require loan assistance from Coventry and other local clubs to a lesser extent than was the case last year.
Given that the blue-and-whites will field a second XV in the Zoo League , and as a result need to fulfil a good-sized fixture list, the timing of this increased self-reliance is significant.
Paul seems to feel that even with a larger pool of senior academy players at his disposal (presumably equivalent to our own gold group of Development Squad players), there could well be occasions when Wasps will need to come knocking at Rowland Winter’s door. And if the Wasps’ coaches are successful on that front, it could impact on Cov’s ability to field their strongest Zoo Sports Shield squad on any given Saturday, as presumably having removed our first choice 20 involved in the National One fixture that day from the equation, Wasps will be looking at the next best available players…all playing in the ZSS.
So what about movement of players in the other direction – from Wasps to Coventry?
Whilst Rowland Winter has made it clear that he doesn’t expect to be overly reliant on the use of Wasps’ loanees, the increase in the number of A League fixtures over the course of a season (I think they’ve doubled?), together with the Anglo Welsh games in which the youngsters might also be involved, could scupper Cov’s chances of a loan anyway.
Again, by my rough and ready reckoning, over the course of the season if Wasps qualify for the finals of both the Anglo-Welsh Cup and the A-League play offs, then that would involve 18 weekends.
Loanees aren’t usually made available in the opening few weeks anyway and if there are international calls in the U20 age group, for instance, that is potentially another 4 or 5 weekends gone.
(Dai) Young’s Wasps are less likely to leave the nest as a result
Me, I’m in favour of a reciprocal arrangement being put in place between the two clubs to enable players to represent either Cov or Wasps at one level or another. Watching Howe, James and Willis last season was both entertaining and also something of an education, a reminder of just how talented some of these youngsters at Premiership clubs are.
However, it’s hard to see just how players like Tom Howe and Owain James could in the future be made available to play the number of games they played for Cov last season (Howe11, James 9)
Nothing has happened to suggest that either club is distancing themselves from the idea of movement of players between clubs in either direction; nothing appears to have changed over the close season on that front.
However, both clubs have greater demands on them as far as an increased number of fixtures at a level below that of their first team is concerned, with an addition to the number of games meaning that their own players will have greater demands made of them before any consideration of loans can be made.
Whilst that is a genuine disappointment for me as I really enjoyed watching the Wasps’ contingent play for Cov last season, although I fully appreciate the positions they took up in the team were as a result no longer available to Coventry players, there is a real positive to come out of all this…
…those other teams in National One, relying perhaps on their Premiership neighbours to help them out in terms of strengthening their squads during the course of the season, might well find that the door has been closed shut on that front as a result of the changes to the A league.
If that is the case and some of Cov’s rivals do find themselves short of quality some weekends, then Coventry’s current squad is both big enough and certainly strong enough to give the club a massive advantage over those other clubs that had hoped to benefit from benevolent neighbours over the course of the season.
That’s where Cov’s decision to initially fund a Development Squad last season and then expand it this year and enter it into a competitive league structure, might well reap it’s rewards even sooner than we had hoped. We’ve already seen the likes of such talented players as Cameron Gray and Kwaku Asiedu selected for the full squad – others will follow.
Most other clubs haven’t got that depth of squad to call upon…and nor had we 2 seasons ago, and how it was needed back then.
Shows what a bit of forward thinking can do.