Two years ago, almost to the day, Coventry was about to embark on its 2015/16 campaign with a home game against Wharfedale.
It was a time of great optimism, with the club having finished a commendable third the season before, recruited strongly (so we were led to believe) and having had a very encouraging pre-season including the defeat of Championship side, Ealing Trailfinders..
Some obvious parallels, then, to the start of this season and the club’s opening league fixture, away, against Hull Ionians.
Back in September 2015 the blog was very much in its infancy and, like many, I was caught up in the general belief that there were really only two teams competing for the one promotion place, ourselves and Rosslyn Park.
At the Fans’ Forum a couple of weeks prior to the Wharfedale game, Phil Maynard had confirmed that Coventry would be looking to push for Championship rugby that season, and, with Scott Morgan at his side, he talked supporters through the players new to the squad, stressing that the club now had the strength in depth it needed to push on.
Many of us chose to forget the poor run-in the team had suffered in the last 10 games of the previous season, the loss of Will Hurrell to Doncaster and the injuries that were already starting to cause a few concerns, with Weightman, Thomas, Wolfenden, Le Roux and the unfortunate Adam Canning all unavailable through injury.
We believed it was a two-horse race and we went into that opening game full of confidence and, despite a lack-lustre second half performance, we won fairly easily. There was little to indicate that within another five games the season would be all but over and we would finish comfortably into the bottom half of the table.
But that was for later. On the eve of that first game back in September 2015, there was a general mood of excitement and a feeling that we had a squad good enough to win us the National One title, a feeling that is again shared by many this season.
So have we learned our lesson from our experiences of two years ago? Should we be contemplating anything other than perhaps an improvement on last season’s 4th place? Should we be allowing ourselves to think beyond the first few games?
More importantly in terms of this post, is the team we have now any better than the one two years ago on which we built so many hopes and dreams because if it isn’t, then are we in danger of suffering a similar level of disappointment yet again…?
It’s worth taking a look at the two respective Coventry match day squads side-by-side – that of Coventry in 2015 against that of Coventry in 2017/18
Coventry Sept 2015 Coventry 2017
15 Scott Hamilton James Stokes
14 Dom Lespierre Kwaku Asiedu
13 James Tincknell Alex Grove
12 Rob Knox Heath Stevens
11 Ryan Hough Rob Knox
10 Matt Jones Tony Fenner
9 Wayne Evans Pete White
1 Andy Brown Jimmy Litchfield
2 Matt Price Phil Nilsen
3 Adam Parkins Phil Boulton
4 Courtney Roberts Nile Dacres
5 Tom Poole George Oram
6 Sam Pailor Latu Makaafi
7 George Oliver Jack Preece
8 Tom Preece Luke Narraway
16 Devlin Hope Scott Tolmie
17 Terry Sigley Andy Brown
18 Alex Woodburn Brett Daynes
19 Caolan Ryan Will Maisey
20 Harrison L Everton Dave Brazier
When Sam was a child, probably around 7 or 8, he was forever asking questions, more often than not of the inane variety, but also strangely thought-provoking at the same time.
They were always impossible to answer but as a parent you kind of had to have a go. I’m sure all kids are the same…you know the sort of thing…
If a killer whale had a fight with velociraptor, which one would win?
In a game played between the two sides, which’ would win?’ is one of those Sam-like questions but for Cov supporters, a hypothetical which is just as impossible to answer…the circumstances are so totally different.
But looking at the two sides and given that no one is, for the time being, suggesting that Coventry will do anything other than make a strong showing this season, it’s hard to imagine why we got quite so carried away back in 2015. If we’re still not tipping us for promotion with the current squad this season, how come we got quite so carried away in 2015?
That’s not to disrespect the players under Phil Maynard, or the coaching at that time, it’s just that in comparison to today’s match day squad, it doesn’t look a side that would be potential National One champions…although maybe in two years the standard of National One rugby has improved considerably as well?
It was a strong squad, definitely, and should have ended up a good deal higher than the 9th place it finally achieved come the end of that season. But strong enough to gain promotion? Probably not – especially knowing what now goes on behind the scenes in terms of the coaching, fitness, rehab/physio and well-being to support the players.
That 2015 squad contained some good players, and a couple of great ones in terms of this league in the in the form of Matt Jones and Wayne Evans (at this best) and arguably Dom Lespierre, although he has still to prove himself again at this level with Old Ethamiams – but back in 2014/15 he certainly was.
There was plenty of heart there too, with players like Sam Pailor, George Oliver and Devlin Hope.
Four of that team remain at Cov and all are playing an important role still, with Matt Price showing in pre-season that he is still more than capable of wearing the no 2 shirt, even if he might be one of the more senior members of the squad now.
But there are areas of the 2015 side that just don’t stand up to scrutiny when compared to 2017 in terms of experience and ability, especially the back row and in the midfield, despite the presence of Rob Knox, although out wide would be a different story. Maybe it’s just a question of hindsight, but it just doesn’t have the look of a promotion winning side two years on.
But does the 2017?
Well a number of factors make me think that Coventry are going to remain in the hunt for that elusive top spot for a lot longer than we managed back in 2015. There’s the Rowland Winter factor for one and the complete change around in the backroom staff that appears to have revolutionised the support available to players, and helped bring about new levels of fitness and technical ability.
And there’s the two years of recruitment that have steadily built up a squad that is now recognised as being one of the strongest in our league and not far off matching the performances of mid-table Championship sides. More experienced players have been added across all positions and, whereas last season we lacked players to control a game, now we have them in depth.
And we also have a Chairman who is prepared to support the squad and whilst he is clearly anxious to get the club into the Championship sooner rather than later, there is no talk of ‘make or break’ seasons.
Instead he hands the DoR a three year contract.
Stability and confidence are great platforms for success.
So I do think this time round there are real reasons to be cautiously optimistic. But if it doesn’t happen this season, we know that there won’t be pressure to react in quite the same way as back in December of 2015/January 2016. It’s about a steady build up, rather than a sprint for the finish from the outset.
Whilst I was excited, overly so to be honest, back in September 2015 about the possibility of a promotion-chasing run, this season I’m more excited by potential this club has in the longer term, not just on the field but off it too, especially the potential of an synthetic surface in the next couple of seasons. And, of course, about the probability of Championship rugby at some point.
So I travel to Hull today full of optimism and confident that the club is moving in the right direction, without trying to overtretch itself.
Hull will be a good indication of how things are progressing…an away game against a club that finished off last season strongly will test Coventry, that’s for sure.
A win and I’ll be more than happy. A good performance as well and I can really look forward to the build up for the Moseley game next weekend.
An what an afternoon that looks like being…!
Anyway, if you’re not travelling up to Hull but want to keep up-to-date with what’s happening at the Brantingham Park in real time, other than just updates of the scores, please let me know and I’ll be happy to tweet regularly from the game.
The tweets, when combined, make a crude ‘commentary’ of sorts.
If you aren’t familiar with Twitter or don’t have an account, then on the homepage of this blog (www.coventryrfc.me) all the tweets will appear in real time on the far right of the page, towards the top end.