Cause I still feel like a new corvette
It might take a little longer but I’ll get there
Well I don’t need your rockin’ chair
I do my rockin’ on the stage
You can’t put this possum in a cage
My body’s old but it ain’t impaired
Well I don’t need your rockin’ chair
George Jones – I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair
Earlier in the week there was a really interesting post by Tim D on the Messageboard under the thread ‘Not Counting Chickens…’ that’s had me thinking for the past couple of days, so much so that I’ve decided to have a go at responding to it via the blog.
The theme, that there are a number of players on ‘the wrong side of 30’ and would more likely be squad players than regular starters, perhaps deserved a thread of its own and it was quickly subsumed in the ‘countdown of teams that can longer catch us’ discussion which was the idea behind the original posting.
There are currently 7 players at Cov who fit into the 30 plus bracket – Latu Makaafi, Sam Tuitupou, Luke Narraway, Phil Boulton, Phil Nilsen, Alex Grove and Brett Daynes. Statbunker isn’t always the most reliable of sources of information, but I’m reasonably confident the information I’ve gleaned from it for the purposes of today’s post is reasonably accurate.
Should Coventry gain promotion this season, and that’s not yet a given by any means, two of them, Latu Makaafi and Sam Tuitupou, would be 36 by the time the new season begins and Luke Narraway would be 35. The next oldest would be Phil Nilsen who would be a relative ‘babe in arms’ at just 33.
The question is, then, would the ages of those players mentioned by Tim preclude them from being regular starters next season?
Or, do they still have the fitness levels and skill sets to make them competitive enough in the Championship for the coaches to include them with any sort of regularity in the starting XV, or indeed in the match day squad?
So here’s the starting point – the table below shows the ages of the players concerned at the time of their last appearance for Cov – Sam Tuitupou actually came off the bench against Cambridge last week but his details don’t appear to have been updated since the Blackheath game. (Nb…It might well be that the table refers to starting places rather appearances from the bench as well).
|13-Jan-2018||Sam Tuitupou||New Zealand||01-Feb-1982||35(347)|
|10-Feb-2018||Brett Daynes||South Africa||08-Aug-1987||30(187)|
At this point, it’s probably worth looking at the oldest players to appear in the Championship so far this season as that will give some indication as to whether there is any sort of precedent as regards players of a similar age to the likes of Narraway, Tuitupou and Makaafi appearing in the second tier of English. If there is, then that perhaps suggests that age, on its own, isn’t a limiting factor.
|18-Nov-2017||Paul Tupai||Bedford Blues||Samoa||16-Sep-1974||43(64)|
|10-Feb-2018||Mark Bright||Ealing Trailfinders||New Zealand||29-Sep-1978||39(135)|
|09-Sep-2017||Matthew Williams||London Scottish||England||08-Feb-1980||37(214)|
|28-Jan-2018||Rhys Oakley||Hartpury College||Wales||16-Sep-1980||37(134)|
|17-Feb-2018||Richard List||Doncaster Knights||England||01-May-1981||36(292) (15)|
|10-Feb-2018||Colin Quigley||Doncaster Knights||Scotland||14-May-1981||36(272) (14)|
|27-Jan-2018||Christopher Morgan||Cornish Pirates||England||06-Nov-1981||36(82)|
|17-Feb-2018||Soane Tonga’uiha||Bristol||Tonga||21-Jan-1982||36(27) (13)|
|17-Feb-2018||David Lemi||Bristol||Samoa||10-Feb-1982||36(7) (5)|
|17-Feb-2018||Tusi Pisi||Bristol||Samoa||18-Jun-1982||35(245) (14)|
There’s plenty of evidence there, then, to suggest that being in your mid-30’s isn’t necessarily a barrier to playing in the Championship and, indeed, 3 of the 4 top teams, Bristol, Ealing Trailfinders, and Doncaster Knights have over half the players concerned, which suggests that the players ‘of an age’ can still have a significant part to play in even the best sides in the Championship if they’re good enough – which these players clearly are.
I did a very quick check on those players from Doncaster and Ealing Trailfinders on the list, just to see how regularly they were or weren’t playing – the numbers in brackets in green in the final column indicate the number of starts this season (out of a total of 15). Other than David Lemi, it would appear they have all featured regularly.
So purely on age, it would seem that Championship rugby shouldn’t be an issue for those Coventry players mentioned earlier, provided they are fit enough to play at the next level up. Given they have all made a substantial number of appearances at Championship level or above prior to joining Cov, other than Brett Daynes, their ability as far as I am concerned is certainly not in question. And to be fair to Brett, he played a few games for Bedford before arriving at the BPA for his first spell with us.
Tim mentioned he felt that only perhaps 7 or 8 of the current squad might be regular starters – Oram, Litchfield, Dacres, possibly Jubb, Preece, White, Stevens, Maisey, Stokes and possibly Knox and Trimble given a good run of fitness, possibly Fenner and possibly Tolmie, with Luc Jeannot being there or thereabouts.
I certainly wouldn’t argue with any of those being in contention for a starting place, although whether they would be all be starters, I’m not so sure. That very much depends on the calibre of the players coming in and the positions RW is looking to strengthen but certainly you’d imagine that, without the aid of a crystal ball, they might well be pushing for a place in the match day squad of 22 (given there will be 7 on the bench in the Championship).
The only doubt for me would be Tom Jubb. I really like him both as a player and as a person, but at the moment he’s in the match day squad by default, given the injuries to Tom Poole and George Oram. If RW is looking to strengthen the second row area, then Jubby might be the one most at risk, although he looked somewhere near back to his best last Saturday and I would love to see him retain his place next season, whichever league we end up in.
He’s selected in the side for tomorrow with George on the bench, so there’s a suggestion that Tom is impressing the coaches at the moment. Tom joined us from DMP two seasons ago so I’m sure he’ll be keen to show the home side that he made the right choice by leaving them to join to us
Those that Tim mentioned, together with the 30 pluses, makes for a squad of 21ish…but I do think of those names Tim didn’t include (and if retained), then perhaps Matoto, Setu, Povoas, Brazier, Dingwall, Palmer, Brown, Poole, Titchard-Jones, Higgins and Fatiaki will also be an important part of the senior squad and feature in some senior games, some on a more regular basis than others.
There are those players, like Andy Brown and Brett Daynes, who also have work commitments outside of rugby so it might be that they decide they can’t pledge themselves to a full-time professional contract, in which case they won’t be with us next season if they decide they can’t give the club the time required of players in the Championship.
If we take a fairly arbitrary 8/9 to remain from the additional names I’ve included, then that adds up to 29/30 in total and I do recall at a training ground session a while back RW mentioning that he was probably looking to bring in an additional 7 or 8 to strengthen the squad (and I bet a few of those will be over 30). If we go on the basis of the recruitment undertaken last summer, then most will be players who will be pushing for a place in the starting XV. That would see us up to a squad of some 37/38 (would that be too many?) on top of which you could then add the gold group from the current Development Squad – the likes of Cameron Gray, Kwaku Asiedu and so on
Of the players currently over 30, if you look at the way they’ve been used this season, then I think they’d be very much in the mix for starting positions next season even if we do make it into the Championship. I have to say, I don’t think any of the players signed last year were recruited with the specific purpose of promotion this season and no more. Had this been the case I’m not altogether sure the club would have brought them in on two-year contracts, especially the way contracts in the case of senior players are drawn up – as I understand it, the second year is more expensive for clubs in this position than the first, although that’s not necessarily the case at Cov, of course.
I would hazard a guess that the coaches believe that all the over 30s already mentioned, other than perhaps Brett Daynes, will have a crucial role to play next season even if we are successful in gaining promotion. I agree with Tim in that I don’t think they’ll be starters for every game and the coaches will be more selective than this season with the likes of Latu, Sammy and Luke, but in those games where experience will count against the teams that are likely to be somewhere in the top 6 in the final reckoning, then I think we might well see them in the XV that starts.
The coaches have handled all three extremely well this season, and both Latu and Luke have played in more games than I expected (both 20/22) and even in the games where they’ve stayed on beyond 50-60 minutes, they’ve not looked off the pace at all.
It’s not too hard to imagine Latu playing the first 60 minutes for 14-16 games next season (of the 22 in total) in the Championship as first choice at 6. He’s proven at that level and although he’s had a season in the tier below, I still think he’s going to be competitive, as Luke N would be, too – provided they put the work in pre-season.
I’m sure Max Hartman and co. will be overseeing that closely.
Luke’s played in all but two of the games this season and it will be really interesting to see how Cov fare in his absence against Darlington Mowden Park tomorrow, given the impact he’s had on Coventry’s defence this season.
Which is precisely the reason why I think he’d have much to offer on the pitch as well as off it next season. In addition to his all-round play, his ability to galvanise the team defensively and marshal the players against Championship sides is bound to be needed and where better to lead than from on the pitch?
Sammy has suffered from a few niggling injuries and he might play less next year, but again he would still be a starter for me, although just in fewer games which are hand-picked for him – his experience could also be invaluable next year. It’s his ability to remain fit that would be the issue for me, nothing else – even at 36.
Phil Boulton, Phil Nilsen and Alex Grove are definitely in the mix even now. Phil N has made more starts than Scott this season and his recent form has shown us why he was in last year’s Championship dream team.
Provided another hooker doesn’t come in, I reckon both players would continue to ‘share’ first team duties depending on the opposition. I don’t think it will be the case that one is seen as first choice over the other particularly, although Phil’s physicality in the loose might well be even more valuable in the Championship.
Phil Boulton will only be 31 at the start of next season and having made 200 appearances (near enough) for Bedford in the Championship, he must be seen as a potential starter, surely.? I would imagine that they’ll be a couple more props come in over the summer, but whatever their ability and experience, it’s hard to rule Phil B out of a place in the match day squad at the very least, although I’m sure Luc Jeannot will see some game time as well.
Alex Grove has struggled somewhat with injuries this season, but he is another who would be a sure-fire member of the match day 22 for me, unless we recruit someone very special. He’ll only be 30 in September and when he’s been fit, he’s been first choice either in the centre or out on the wing and I can see his partnership with Heath Stevens being the preferred option in midfield in many games next season, again depending on who else comes in, of course. The fact that he’s played 160ish times for Worcester often gets overlooked and he’s been capped by Scotland, so he comes with some real pedigree. He’d be a hard one to leave out of a bigger match day squad.
So whilst I agree with much of what Tim D says, I do think we’ll see the senior members of the current squad having a continued impact on the pitch, despite approaching the twilight of their careers. Players learn to adapt and expend their energies more wisely and whilst they’ll almost certainly play less games than this season, there’ll be certain occasions where their experience and ability to control a game will be essential, which makes them starters for me.
I know it’s all somewhat academic at the moment and there isn’t even a guarantee of Championship rugby as of now, but the question was raised on the Messageboard and it’s one that’s always going to generate some interest.
For me, as long as you’re good enough and physically up to the challenge, then playing rugby into your middle 30s shouldn’t necessarily be a barrier even at Championship level.
Here’s hoping we get to see whether that really is the case.
Up the Cov!
There were lots of options in terms of songs that deal with age, far too many to choose in fact, so I simply went for a bit of good ol’ country ‘n western, a genre that hasn’t featured in any of the 795 posts so far!
So George Jones it is…dedicated to all the 30 somethings playing rugby for Cov…
My body’s old but it ain’t impaired
Well I don’t need your rockin’ chair
George Jones is a bit of a hero of mine – he’s done a lot of work over the years with Elvis Costello – if you’ve never seen the video of Stranger in the House, it’s well worth a look.
Not a great fan of country music for the most part, but always happy to listen to GJ.