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A choking fit…which positions would you strengthen in readiness for a season in the Championship?

I’m a little worried about John Wilkinson .

John is usually Captain Sensible, the voice of reason and someone who never expresses in his writing anything other than good sense and prudence, erring more often on the side of caution than confidence.

So I almost choked on my low-in-sodium, high-in-fibre bran flakes last Sunday morning when I read JW’s report of the Old Albanian game in The Rugby Paper.

All was fine to begin with. The report opened with a single sentence that summed up the nature of Cov’s win ( Cov ‘eased’ to victory as Old Albion were ‘outgunned’) and then went on to detail the key moments of the game including the scores and scorers.

The bran flakes had seldom tasted better.

But the penultimate paragraph was most un-John-like, suggesting as it did that Cov are on their way to remaining unbeaten for the entire season:

With 14 matches still to play, Coventry are now a remarkable 18 points ahead of second-placed Darlington Mowden Park and look set to make it a second successive season with the National One league champions winning every match of the campaign

Now I don’t know John at all, other than through his writings, but this does strike me as being unusually optimistic, especially with so many games still to play. If that’s the angle John’s taking, then things are even better than they look on paper. I have to say, though, that even I’m not quite so confident in my forecasts and whilst I do believe that Coventry will still be heading the table after the final round of games in April, I think the likelihood of us winning every game from now until the end of the season  is low, even after such a strong first half to the campaign.

Cov have some incredibly tough games coming up, with tomorrow’s visit to Blackheath being the first of four really tricky away fixtures. John is a far better reader of both the club and the league than most and he won’t have made that comment lightly, but I just can’t see that happening myself. We’ve been run close in three games already this season, and not necessarily against the sides we might have expected to cause us such difficulties – Old Albanian (a), Bishop’s Stortford (h) and Old Elthamians (a).

Are we likely to beat Ampthill, Plymouth Albion, Darlington and Blackheath on our travels as well as Darlington again at home in the next 12 weeks, whilst also playing a number of clubs all of which are capable of springing a surprise? I’m not convinced, although I accept that is a possibility.

A probability?

Not really.

However, despite my innate belief that things can always go belly up without the slightest warning, John will have a far better handle on the mood of the Cov camp and have the ears of the senior coaches and so his judgement is a far more reasoned than that of your average supporter of which I am very much one, albeit it one with rather too much time on my hands.

Reading John’s interview with RW on the website (‘An excellent mid-term report!‘), it’s not hard to see why he and others might well be fast-coming to the conclusion that this Cov side could remain undefeated, although there are still too many unknowns for me to be that confident.

7 away games, 7 home games yet to play.

From all that I’ve seen this season, we’re the best side in the division, but we are fallible as the performances in some of the games have shown””””.

As a straight bet, in each of those 14 games we’d be favourites, and with the exceptions of perhaps Plymouth and Darlington, by some distance. But that’s taking away the context. Teams will be very fired up when they play us, we are the scalp everyone wants…

And there is an argument to say that actually Cov need to lose a game or two at some point before the season ends just to see how the players, and indeed coaches, react to a defeat. In the ‘Mid-term’ article on the official website, RW highlighted the fact that two of the coaches, Louis Deacon and Luke Narraway, have yet to lose since their arrival at Cov and the same applies to the likes of Dacres, Nilsen, Oram, Narraway, Preece, Brazier, Grove, Tuitupou and so on. With such a fantastic start to the season, it must all seem a bit surreal for them.

I know from listening to RW at training in the past, it’s important for the coaches to see how the players react to defeat. To go unbeaten all season would be fantastic, but that not going to happen next season if we are promoted and if our first lost isn’t until the Championship, then the players won’t ever have had to regroup the following week and get back into a winning psyche. To do that against Championship opposition for the first time, no matter how experienced the squad is, well that would seem to me to be a tough thing to do.

So whilst everyone is rooting for an unbeaten season, a loss or two here and there wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Except having typed it out and then read it back, it seems just that…

…hopefully,  you’ll get the intention behind it though.

If Cov are to prepare thoroughly for the Championship, then not having to react to a loss during the entire National 2017/18 campaign wouldn’t necessarily be is ideal. That said, no one wants to see the club beaten, least of all me. Something of Catch-22 really.

However, if John Wilkinson proves to be correct in his belief that Cov do look set to go through the remainder of the season unbeaten, then any discussions as too how Cov might react to a defeat, especially against one of the chasing pack, will prove somewhat academic.

Still, of all the worries you could have as a director of rugby, it’s not the worst by any means, is it?


The first players retained for next season have now been released, with both Dacres and Stokes with us for another two seasons. In addition, Rowland Winter has stated that:


At the moment we have about 18 players signed on for next season, at least four or five more will be retained in the next month, and we are down the line with five or six more new recruits who will add to our squad and bring a different level of quality.

The games against both Jersey and Rotherham during the pre-season showed that we were competitive with the two Championship sides even then and I’d like to think we have probably become an even more effective side since then, both in attack and defence. However, as RW has highlighted, there are still areas of the squad that need strengthening.  As supporters, it’s always tempting to second-guess where the coaches might feel those areas are – what positions within the current squad are probably more vulnerable against Championship opposition?

Clearly one of the problems in attempting something like this is that we don’t know who will be departing from the BPA at the end of the season, although from what RW has said it would seem that at least 22 or 23 of the current squad will remain with us. If the squad is expected to be full-time, as presumably the coaches would want it to be, will those players who currently fit their rugby around their job be able to continue at Cov – there are half a dozen or so in that position I believe.

However, let’s imagine the squad goes up as it is,  I don’t think there will be too many significant changes, especially amongst the senior players within the squad, many of whom are on two year contracts anyway…

As Cov’s Director of Rugby, which positions within the team would you strengthen by bringing in 5 or 6 new players, all of whom would be of at least Championship quality. Six players isn’t that many in actual fact and with 10 positions to cover (prop, hooker, second row, no 8, flanker, scrum half, fly half, centre, wing and full back), some positions will remain filled by players already in the current squad.

There’s plenty to ponder…

  • do we need another full back to cover James Stokes?
  • are there 3/4 wings of Championship standard?
  • do the centres need boosting with another player who might double up as a utility back or are we unlikely to be hit by the injuries we’ve suffered in this position this season?
  • are Tony Fenner and Will Maisey going to be able to control a game so effectively the next level up?
  • ditto with White and Brazier…do we need a Tom Kessell
  • Will No 8 Luke Narraway be able to play in most of the 22 Championship games or do we need cover
  • Ditto Latu Makaafi, and will Povoas, Preece and Daynes (job permitting) be sufficient to cover for injuries
  • Are the 4 second rowers already here, together with Cameron Gray possibly promoted into the senior squad, enough – is the quality there to compete with the best that the Championship has to offer?
  • Tolmie, Nilsen and perhaps Will Priestley – yes, no, maybe?
  • Litchfield, Boulton, Titchard-jones, Higgins and perhaps Luc Jeannot – certainly depth but is it asking too much of Luc Jeannot to be playing in the Championship quite so soon. Are the others good enough, or good enough but still covered required. Remember Phil B has already made 200 appearances in the Championship for Bedford.


If you’ve decided that every area needs strengthening then as DoR you’ve got a problem. Remember 6 players to come in at the moment – so where are your priorities?

And just to see if there is any sort of consensus I’ve turned it into a poll. The usual way of recording your choices is required, just click on the circle against the chosen position – you have up to six choices and once you’re decided, just scroll down to the vote button and click on that.

Remember, based your judgement on our current squad, not the players you think will be here next season. I’ve had a go at it myself and found it just about the hardest of all the polls that have appeared in the blog so far. But that’s exactly what the coaches are having to do, so there’s no harm in trying it yourself.

I’ll publish the results probably on Sunday.

Please do give it a go. There’s no right or wrong answer and it will be interesting to see how your choices marry up to those of the coaches should Cov earn the promotion that they certainly deserve on the basis of the first 16 games of the season so far.

Many thanks in advance for taking part and also to everyone who has commented  on the blog over the last two or three days – it’s been really interesting to follow the discussions and there ‘s such a range of ideas and suggestions there that it’s clear that the supporters are a source of ideas that as yet remains untapped.

Thank you.

Up the Cov!


9 replies »

  1. I’ve opened my book of cliches – knife-edge, balancing act, et al, because we are in that territory when looking ahead.
    And there is far more to be gained looking to the future than the past, although that can inform decisions.
    Will Cov win their remaining 14? A tough ask, indeed, starting with the veritable banana skin that Blackheath has often been for the 1874 boys.
    I personally believe we can take on Darlington Mowden Park, with or without their dual-reg players and beat them comfortably.
    Plymouth is the one I’m more concerned about, not least because it’s a game almost within touching distant for me, living on the St Ives peninsula of Cornwall. And a game I hope to be at.
    But as you rightly say, teams will be vying to see who is first to put this bunch of Championship hopefuls to the sword.
    Regarding the Championship? Well, I believe that Cov currently have the personnel to survive. I’ve watched Cornish Pirates play Jersey here in Cornwall and was unimpressed to say the least. Having seen lots of Cov since I returned to the UK, playing-wise they would be okay.
    The real work would be behind the scenes, adding to the good work already put in and hopefully seeing those efforts rewarded. Recruitment would be sensible, but I also think there are guys in the Development Squad, Cameron Gray not least among them, who will /be forcing their way into the matchday team.
    With cash-rich Bristol, ambitious Ealing, Yorkshire Carnegie and the ‘old firm’ of Bedford, RIchmond, Nottingham and Cornish Pirates, it will be a question of Cov finding their feet, first.
    Consolidation, not survival, should be a goal.
    Get things right off the pitch, and the fans back to the BPA bringing in the finances, then move forward player-wise.

  2. Glad you brought that up, Tim! The first 200-odd words are mine, the last three paragraphs were added in by the RP office. With two games called off on Friday, they were clearly left with a shortage of copy and Cov’s game was chose as the ‘make fill’……except that no-one told me the wordage order had changed. I would never have dared write that (even if I might think it!) You have reminded me that I need to take it up with them..

    • Phew, John…I’ve struggled with that all week as it just didn’t seem the sort of thing you’d write! Normality restored…many thanks for coming across and putting the record straight!

  3. There have been a few games this season where the team have not performed as they would have hoped on match day. I am lead to believe that, in that huddle after the game, they have not been congratulating each other on another win but berating themselves for the way they have played. So although they haven’t lost on those days the team have treated it as such. That is then the basis for working on their improvement during the following week.

    Secondly on the question of whether it will be a full-time squad for next season, I’m not sure it will be or needs to be. Richmond have shown one type of model in the championship. They are all part-timers. Others who have a full-time outfit have shown that it is not possible to sustain financially. I’m sure Coventry want to put in a good challenge, should they be promoted to the Championship next season, but I believe there is an equal weighting given to developing the club off the field. I would think the club would like to be competitive on the field in 5 years time with a new pitch, a new stand, more hospitality, greater revenue streams and regular and growing crowds around 3-4000.

    I don’t think there is enough money generated in the championship for a player to play full time. Some of these guys have families and a championship wage alone would make life very difficult.

    Anyway that is for the future and for others to decide. For now it is Blackheath and the opportunity to put in another exciting performance worthy of this top of the table side.

    • Hi Ed – two really interesting points there, one about the post match huddle which just shows the levels the players are currently expecting of themselves and your comments re: professionalism. Iin my naivety I thought that players salaries in the Champ would be topped up by the community work they do etc etc – Cov will obs have to balance the books and the work they’re currently putting into developing the off-the-field activities will be crucial in that respect. I thought I’d heard RW mention that it would be a full-time squad but maybe I’m getting confused…maybe that’s not necessarily the same thing as fully professional.

  4. Tim, if you ever meet JW, I promise you could not meet a nicer person. Also, he is a godsend to Cov

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