Club talk

Proposals for more A-League games could mean the end of dual registrations. Good news for Cov…?

Lines form on my face and hands
Lines form from the ups and down
I’m in the middle without any plans
I’m a boy and I’m a man
I’m eighteen and I don’t know what I want 

I’ve got a baby’s brain and an old man’s heart
Took eighteen years to get this far
Don’t always know what I’m talking about
Feels like I’m in the middle of doubt

I’m Eighteen – Alice Cooper

Having doubled the number of A-League games from 5 to 10 this season, it now appears that the PRL (Premier Rugby Limited) is proposing to further increase the number to 22 to mirror the Premiership season.

And from as early as the 2018/19 season.

It appears matches would be played back-to-back on the same day as first team games so that the A-League in effect becomes a full-blown ‘2nd XV’ competition running through the whole of the season.

And about time, too.

Talented youngsters attached to Premiership clubs shouldn’t have to be farmed out to Championship and National One sides in order to get additional game time, especially at the cost of youngsters, perhaps not quite so talented, but who deserve just as much an opportunity to play national league rugby, especially with their local team. I’ve always felt that if Premiership clubs take these players on, then it is their responsibility to nurture them and not that of clubs outside of the top tier.

From a purely selfish point of view, such a move would vastly reduce the number of dual registered players appearing in National One. As a result, teams that currently rely on Premiership sides to provide them with additional players are more likely in the future to have to bring on their own, home grown, youngsters instead.

And that is surely no bad thing?

Yes, there is always the danger that the big boys will come a-hunting and that the best young local talent is prised away from the semi-professional clubs in order to increase premiership academies, but to a certain extent it was ever thus. But at least under the proposals for next year, senior National One squads, and presumably those in the Championship too, would be made up of players on contracts solely with just the one club instead of being bolstered by dual registration players.

Clubs struggling to put together squads strong enough, and big enough (in terms of numbers) to be competitive in National One wouldn’t be able to exist at this level and, in what would be rugby’s own version of natural selection, National One would become a truer reflection of the best teams outside of the Championship and not those potentially closest to, or having the best links with, neighbouring Premiership clubs. That might be tough for those clubs that have done so well to make it through the national pyramid structure by buddying up with one of the Premiership sides, but in the end I think it would be better for the game.

That might not sit well with many, but it is certainly a possibility. There is never going to be an even playing field for clubs in National One, but it does make it that little bit fairer – or at least fairer to those clubs like Coventry, Plymouth and probably Moseley too; clubs that have worked hard to put strong business plans into place to ensure a degree of self-sufficiency.

Coventry are spending a lot of resources, both financial and human, in developing talent within the local community, or on nurturing players like the highly promising Cameron Gray who haven’t been picked up by a Premiership or Championship side but who certainly need to be playing senior rugby at this level before too long.

At the moment, if there are clubs in Tier Three able to turn to the Premiership to bring in dual-registered players without the need to look closer to home, then Coventry Rugby Club is, in my opinion, being penalised simply for doing what is really beholden of all clubs, big or small. Cov has stated this year that it will only use dual reg players if all other avenues fail, even when the offer is there. That seems to me to be a move in the right direction and a signal to its own Academy players that if you’re good enough, then we’ll play you.

In fairness, I’ve changed my views on the use of dual reg players over the last few months, principally as a result of having watched some of the younger academy players here at Cov start to show such promise under the watchful eyes of Matt Price, Brendan Burke and Rowland Winter.

These are players who are blossoming at this level, players would have gone under the radar of Premiership sides and arguably would not have benefitted as they have from the network of coaching and support offered by Cov had they been forced to go to more junior clubs.

They are where they need to be.

Players like Joe Lane, Sam MacNulty and Jake Byrne, along with several others in the Development Academy, are local lads playing for their local team (near enough), as are Rob Knox, Will Maisey and Tom Wheatcroft in the senior squad. And maybe that’s how it should be at a semi-professional level.

So for me, the move to increase the number of A-League games to what, in effect, would be a full season’s fixture list, given the breaks that would be needed for international duties and so on, is a very positive one for the Academy players attached to Premiership clubs. And for Championship and National One clubs, it encourages them to become even more responsible for their own success.

According to an article in The Rugby Paper last weekend Leicester Tiger’s CEO, Simon Cohen, is  very much in favour of the proposals:

…we have no issue with that at all…We’ve always thought that what you effectively need is a second team scenario that provides 22 matches, played back-to-back on the same day as the Premiership matches – the current format does not provide all the answers

You want developing players to play every week, but the new 10-12 game format doesn’t do that and it also makes it harder to loan players out.

It is clear that the youngsters in our own Academy are revelling in training alongside the senior players and are clearly benefiting from tapping into their experiences, varied as they are. It seems obvious to me, therefore, that the players who come here as dual regs from Premiership clubs, youngsters who are at the very top of the talent pool in their groups, would be far better training and playing alongside the best of the best in the Premiership.

I really enjoyed watching the likes of Tom Howe, Owain James, Freddie Tuilagi and Jack (Thanks, Ben 😉 ) Willis play for us last season. It was something of an eye-opener too, especially seeing the immediate difference two such talented youngster out wide could make, both in attack and defence. Arguably, they even won us a couple of games, too. If the status quo were to remain, fine – if other clubs can benefit from such arrangements then so should we. But if these youngsters are no longer available to National clubs because of the additional A-League games next season, then so much the better.

I was, and still am, in favour of developing further links with Wasps but if the incentive is there for all teams in our league to encourage the development of locally produced players  that would seem a far better scenario than the one at present, where some National One sides might be fielding up to 10 Tier One academy players..

Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter have worked hard to bring on youngsters local to the club and I would like to think the proposals outlined above now make it more likely that we will see them in a Coventry shirt one day. However good the dual regs are, they aren’t our own and, given a preference, provided Cov’s ability to compete isn’t compromised, local works for me.

In the same article, somewhat ironically, Cohen expresses his frustration that the falling price of sterling means that Premiership clubs are struggling to compete financially with clubs in France as the cost of wages is now between 10%-20% greater post-Brexit. As he says:

Because of the cost of the current value of the pound, where we are competing with the euro in France, it will definitely increase costs as things stand…

Whilst that might in the short-term affect the ability of British clubs to compete effectively in European competitions, surely there is a flip side to this?

If Premiership clubs are unable to afford to buy in southern hemisphere players, then some of those talented youngsters, the very same ones that clubs are so concerned about because they aren’t getting the game time they need, suddenly have a quicker route into top tier rugby…a route that is currently being denied to them because there are too many overseas players in the Premiership.

And maybe that’s what the game needs in this country, some sort of limitation (enforced or otherwise) on the number of players from outside of the home nations so that our own home grown players can be developed further. Success at U18 and U20 representative levels shows just how much talent there is in the game over here so maybe Brexit, indirectly, could aid its development in ways no one could have foreseen.

It just seems strange to be saying on the one hand that you can’t get your talented youngsters enough games, whilst on the other complaining that it’s costing too much to bring in overseas players, players who are in many cases blocking possible pathways into first team rugby for the most talented players.

Maybe that’s all a bit too simplistic, but it’s a discussion to be had in the future, perhaps?

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As a measure of the excitement the recent changes at Coventry Rugby Club have generated, the success of the Supporters’ Club is arguably one of the more effective.

A little over 12 months ago the Supporter’s Club didn’t even exist, yet by the end of the season it had attracted a membership of 188 – in effect, a sixth of the average gate at home games.

By any standards, that’s a pretty impressive figure. The test now, of course, is how many of that 188  renew their membership – if say 50% decide not to, then that’s indicative of either a club that is in decline or a SC that offers little in the way of return for its members’ investment in it.

As of the end of last week, already getting on for 140 have indeed renewed, with plenty more expressing intent and only 3 members leaving, two having moved away from the area and one sadly deceased.

On top of that, a number have requested details as to how to join, so it’s more than likely that the final figure will pass the 200 mark which would be pleasing to say the least.

An occasion to celebrate, certainly, but of bigger significance for me will be the away game we’re be able to take a second coach full of Cov supporters  – now that would be some achievement.

The Supporters’ Club has done a fantastic job working alongside everyone at the club to create  the right ethos for change. Its members do a lot of work behind the scenes to support the club, as well as arranging additional opportunities to meet with players and coaches and organising travel to the away games.

I know the SC AGM is coming up (14th Sept) and I would urge anyone interested in joining the committee to get in contact with either Cliff or Quent via the official email address:

crsc1874@gmail.com

or perhaps look out for Cliff Bennett or Quent Melhuish at the ground on a match day.

I’m sure they would welcome some additional help.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The song that gave him his big break – ‘I’m Eighteen’…shame Alice Cooper was partly responsible for the development of what was to become heavy metal.

Hard to forgive that…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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