Fran Cotton on David Duckham – ‘he would have been a ‘megastar’ in the professional game’… 2 clubs to be promoted from National One?

David Duckham of England (with the ball) faces Andy Irvine (left) after eluding Billy Steele, both of Scotland, during their rugby union match at Twickenham in London on 17th March 1973. England beat Scotland 20-13. (Photo by Ed Lacey/Popperfoto/Getty Images)

I’m indebted to Mark Forster for sending me a clip taken from YouTube which features part of an interview between John Inverdale and Fran Cotton, conducted some time ago judging by how young J I looks.

In the excerpt, lasting a little over three minutes,  Fran Cotton talks about former Coventry, England and British Lions legend, David Duckham, in addition to which are some clips of tries he scored for the Barbarians, the Lions and England.

For those of us old enough to remember Duckham, it’s a chance to indulge in a bit of pure nostalgia and revisit one of the greats of the game

A local lad made very good.

For those who never saw him play but have heard the name, well this perhaps highlights just what great player he was.

Duckham had real charisma on the pitch. Whenever he received the ball, the crowd would be on their feet, full of anticipation and expectation. For a big man he had real pace and this, together with his ability to swerve, sidestep or just plain wrong-foot defences meant he put the fear of God into the opposition.

It’s hard to disagree with Cotton’s assertion in the clip that Duckham would have been a ‘megastar’ in the professional game, and that’s from a man who would have known him better than most, having played with him for club and country, although never for the Lions, with Duckham playing on the ’71 tour and Cotton on the ’74 and ’77 tours.


Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote a post about Duckham that centred around a wooden sculpture of David Duckham my mum had ‘commissioned’ probably 15 years after Duckham had retired from the game.

In it, I wrote of Duckham:

David Duckham by Mike Roberts.He was such an exciting player to watch, a genius with ball in hand. Every sport throws up one or two such players every generation, players whose artistry leaves you in awe.

For me, sportsmen like David Gower in cricket, Alex Higgins in snooker, George Best in football, Daley Thompson in athletics, all playing their sport around the same time as Duckham, epitomised this aura of brilliance to which I allude…

As a Coventry fan I can still remember the excitement, the buzz of anticipation whenever he received the ball. You expected him to do something different, something magical.

And he often delivered.

I suppose one could draw a comparison with Jason Robinson and the effect he had on crowds when he was in full flight.

For Coventry, no one in the modern era has had such an impact…Kurt Johnson and Leroy Mackenzie were both exciting players to watch in their heyday, Eves was charismatic on the pitch, Zinzan was well past his best but still had that aura about him. Rundle, Hurrell and Stokes are all crowd-pleasers.

Everyone has their own personal favourites, Cowman is mine, with Rossborough a close second but neither could make the hairs on the back of your neck tingle quite like Duckham could.


David Duckham…not quite a Michelangelo but still a master of his craft

I’d also included a quote from Wikipedia:

In the first half he made a run that has become part of rugby lore, that brought gasps and cheers from a Welsh crowd more accustomed to regarding him with hostility. When he broke through the All Black defence, he appeared to confuse the commentator, Cliff Morgan, who did not know whether Duckham had sidestepped or dummied. He even sent the cameraman the wrong way; his change of direction was such that the camera went to the right and Duckham disappeared out of shot to the left. After the match he was given the nickname ‘Dai’ by the Welsh fans because he played like one of their own...

In the clips there are also a couple of memorable contributions from two other former Coventry stars of the time, Geoff Evans and Peter Preece, both for England and both leading to tries for Duckham.

Having watched the video several times, I thought I’d add it to a post as it’s the sort of thing many might enjoy, a chance to return to a bygone era before leagues and professionalism and one in which Coventry very much ruled over English clubs.

Happy days.

As they are once again…


A couple of Sundays back, The Rugby Paper made mention of proposals to expand the Championship from 12 to 14 clubs, with the changes to come sooner rather than later. Whilst no mention was made in the article as to how this would be achieved, presumably to do so would mean no relegation from the Championship and two teams promoted from National One.

I should stress straight away that there has been no official word from the RFU other than a statement from a spokesperson, quoted in the same article, which included the following comment:

Expanding the Green King IPA Championship to 14 teams next season is speculation…the RFU’s priority remains delivering the five-year deal already in place with the respective clubs until June 2020

Whilst it’s certainly not a confirmation of any sorts, nor is it a denial, and with some big names backing the changes including Steve Hill, Director of Rugby at Richmond, there is growing pressure on the RFU to increase the size of the Championship to provide a much needed cash injection for many of the clubs that are currently finding it tough to make ends meet under the current setup.

Normally such reports have to be taken with a very large pinch of salt, but in this case I’m not so sure.

Rowland Winter was asked about this at training last week and far from dismissing the idea out-of-hand, he confirmed it was something that he had heard said from a number of sources and he certainly seemed to be giving the idea some credence.  He gave the impression that he knew no more than was revealed in Luke Jarmyn’s article, but given he was prepared to contemplate such a significant change, the details as we know them are worth considering for that reason alone.

One of the current gripes most often heard from clubs in the Championship is that for many of them the British & Irish Cup is, quite literally, a worthless competition. Clubs receive no funding for games before the knock out stages, so all games in the group stages have to be self-funded. Hill is understandably miffed when he says:

We don’t get any money from the RFU for the group cup games; we’ve got a trip to Connacht this season and with flights, hotels and for 35 players and staff, that’s going to cost us more than £10,000, but there is a lack of a main sponsor to provide additional funding

In addition to a lack of funding, crowds for the cup games are very much lower than the average gate for a Championship game, suggesting they are unpopular with both club and supporters, especially as most teams put out severely weakened sides, with Hill adding that some of the Welsh clubs don’t even put out a ‘second fifteen’.

Clubs cannot survive financially on just 11 home games, so the additional 2 that would result from an increase to 14 teams would be particularly welcome. He also maintained that the 30 games played in National One were too many.

And, in a further comment that is sure to alienate Cov fans from Hill’s  otherwise impeccable reasoning, he goes on to say:

If the RFU continue with a cup they should include the rest of the national leagues as teams like Darlington Mowden Park and Blackheath can cause an upset and it adds variety – we are playing Ealing and Rotherham four times this season

Oh dear.

Darlington and Blackheath? Coventry not included, or Plymouth even?

Take a look at the National One table, Mr Hill.

And be worried.

Be very Worried.

A game against Coventry might yet not be too far away and Cov fans have a very long memory.

Whilst Hill concedes the current organisation of the Championship is not quite so difficult for Richmond, retaining as it does a semi-professional status, fully professional sides cannot function on just 11 home games.

A major stumbling block to any such changes appears to be that for the expansion to 14 teams in the Championship to take place, the RFU would have to put more money on the table, as otherwise the current payment of £550,000 to each club would have to be reduced to just over £471, 000 with the addition of the two extra teams from National One.

And the clubs involved are unlikely to accept this, just as the RFU is unlikely to agree to putting more money into the pot.

Something of an impasse then.

If such a change is to take place, then it will have to happen in the next couple of months:

Current rules state that league changes need to be agreed a season in advance…the RFU need to make a decision in the next six weeks

Current contracts for the British & Irish Cup end this season.

Now, personally, I’d have no objection if such proposals were to be rushed through. I’d like to see Coventry in the Championship, preferably as winners of  National One, but if we finished second and still gained promotion, that’s fine by me.

The set up at Cov is far more geared to life in the Championship and with another team from National One promoted alongside us, then that’s another team that would probably be fighting off relegation in its first year. All the better for Cov, even if these proposals result in two teams relegated, rather than just the one.

And I’d fancy our changes of survival better than anyone else’s from our league at present given the significant changes that have taken place behind the scenes at Coventry since RW’s arrival. Ours is a club that seems to be  in a far better state financially than most of its competitors.

A couple of seasons ago, there was a proposal to ring fence the Championship, with the top two leagues in the national pyramid remaining professional and from National One downwards the game becoming community-based with salary caps and no promotion beyond Tier 3.

At the time there was some limited support. What worries me now is that perhaps this is the beginning of a similar move. Allow two of the bigger sides from National One  into Championship and then slam the door shut on the rest.

Darlington, Plymouth and Coventry would all be welcomed back – big clubs, good stadia and well supported, certainly better than some clubs in the Championship and, in Cov’s case, a lot better.

Just how seriously the RFU will take such a proposal is unclear, but given the its outcome could have far-reaching effects on Coventry and on National One as a whole, it’s well-worth keeping an eye out for further updates. Perhaps one important consideration is the fact that in order for this to go ahead, it would need the approval of National One clubs as well.


Just to finish off, a couple of clips from Twitter.

The second, Scott Tolmie’s try against Cambridge comes courtesy of Paul I.



4 thoughts on “Fran Cotton on David Duckham – ‘he would have been a ‘megastar’ in the professional game’… 2 clubs to be promoted from National One?

  1. Still chuckling about the autograph story…sort of thing I might well have done to Sam! Big as Duckham was, and hasn’t he got a lot bigger since his playing days, I’m not sure he was a doppelganger for Cotton!

  2. Thanks for posting that Clip Tim, I’ve not seen it before.
    It’s so hard to compare players from different eras but it’s safe to say that players that were counted amongst the best in the country decades ago would have adapted to the game as it is today. Duckham was, however, something special whatever era you take into account.
    Talking of Cotton and Duckham – I remember my Dad taking me to a Leicester sevens tournament back in the early seventies. I was a keen young autograph hunter back then and some members of the Cov team tried to convince me that Fran Cotton was David Duckham and vice versa. Fooled I was not…

  3. Great comment, Mark!
    Sadly, there are fewer and fewer people around who can remember those heady days to make the comparisons and even then you’re not really comparing like with like. Players are fitter, stronger and the game more physical so maybe the likes of Duckham and Fairbrother might not have fared so well? Me, I’d find it hard to put anyone from the last 20/30 or so years into the team of the early 70’s. Maybe Graham Robbins or possibly Rob Hardwick…or even Julian Horrobin at his best? Aggy, Gully and Brian Kidner would be there or thereabouts for me, and I’d definitely have Steve Thomas at 9 – I guess Huw Davies would go 10 instead of Cowman but I’d argue Cowman’s case. Much as I love the current squad, I’m too sure any would make that side, or though if it were a team selected from the last 20 years several would.
    Would love an FA cup-style competition BUT even if Premiership sides were to take it seriously, the sheer physicality would mean the potential giant killer from National 2 or even 3 could be at risk of injury against the full-time beasts of the Prem.
    Rossborough v Hodgson…Cliffie not even in the same league or close to it I’m afraid for me anyway. Great player mind, but at National One Level or poss Champ, but no more.

  4. Couple of fascinating issues there. Who would make an all-time Cov XV? Would the internationals edged out the non-capped? The modern contingent get the nod over the players from Coventry’s golden era?
    Who can honestly remember the contributions of most pre-WWII players?
    Crowd favourites or stat-winners?
    George Cole or Steve Thomas at scrum half? Duckham, Jacko, Webb, Saunders, Hall or Johnson at wing?
    What about Cliffie Hodgson, record points scorer, against Peter Rossborough, erstwhile holder of most points in a season when Cov slugged it out with the best in the business?
    It would, Tim, make an interesting debate, I’m sure. The team which carried all before them in the cups of 1973 and 1974 and which gave five players to the England team which beat the All Blacks in their backyard in ’73?
    Glory in cups, in caps, or stats? Or glory in getting the crowd on their feet?
    The nearly rans, without the luck, or those in the right place at the right time to get the final pass?
    Talking of cups, I think the thought process about the B&I Cup is right. Who cares?
    So maybe rugby, for once, needs to take a leaf out of football’s books. A European Cup and an equivalent to an FA Cup. Imagine Coventry hosting Saracens in a Jack The Giant Killer act?
    Imagine a successful cup run ala Hereford in 1972 and the resultant cash boost for the smaller clubs.
    But the RFU has to loosen control on its finances. No-one could argue it fritter away cash, but pouring money into the kids game and community is brilliant. But then the black hole opens. The lower tier clubs need support, especially if they are to bridge the gap to the top levels.
    And I know the Twickenham cash cow is important to the Home Counties set, but I’m a Midlander, Coventry born-and-bred. Rugby Union is flourishing in Exeter, Sale, Northampton, Leicester, Gloucester, Newcastle – and Coventry! – not just London.

Any thoughts:

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