(All over the country)
I want a direction
(All over this land)
Because this is your last chance
You can’t dismiss what is gone before
But there’s foundations for us to explore
I said –
All around the world I’ve been looking for new –
A new direction –
We want a reaction –
Inflate creation –
Looking for new!
Coventry Rugby Club have benefited from a fair bit of publicity in this week’s The Rugby Paper.
Over the summer news is often in short supply, so with Coventry featuring so prominently and all of it positive, such exposure is only going to serve the club well.
One of the items that seems to have gone under the radar this week is The Rugby Paper’s regular feature ‘Dream Team’. Each week a chosen player, always someone well-respected and regarded within the game, gets to select his dream team made up of players he has either played with or against.
This week it’s the turn of Coventry’s club captain, Phil Boulton.
To have a Cov player selected is an honour in itself and an indication of the growing interest the club is attracting these days. Phil is surely one of the most respected players to have put on a Cov jersey in recent years, leading the club to promotion back in 2018 and someone who has clearly adopted the club as his own after 200 plus appearances for Bedford, as well as spells at Rotherham and Leicester to boot.
Phil has been very much at the heart of Cov’s resurgence these past three seasons.
(Just as an aside, the afternoon I first met Rowland Winter (several weeks before he officially took office as Cov’s DoR), he was late as he’d travelled down to Bedford to sign Phil that morning and got caught in the traffic. Little did I realise at the time what a key player Phil Boulton would become).
Phil was one of the older members of the squad back then and I remember being impressed that in the prime of his rugby life he was prepared to leave a side like Bedford to join Cov, a club that was in something of a tailspin at the time. Like so many players both then and subsequently, Phil clearly bought into Rowland Winter’s vision of Coventry and in so doing he has helped shape the club’s future ever since. It soon became clear that Cov needed his leadership qualities, especially once club captains Tom Wheatcroft and Eoghan Grace’s injury problems became a real issue, as well as a nagging doubt that Tom was struggling to perform at the required level in National One at the time.
Anyway, I digress.
Given Phil’s Coventry connections, his selection of XV players was always going to be of interest. Would he find room for a Cov player or two?
Well, as it happens SIX feature in his dream team.
It’s fair to say that over the last decade or so Phil will have played amongst the great and the good.
And the less good and positively average too, I suspect.
So for the likes of Rob Knox and Tony Fenner to feature speaks volumes about just how well they are respected amongst their peers. In fact,12-15 are all Cov players past and present. Sammy T is no surprise and seems to regularly pop up in players’ selections, but less obvious choices are Alex Grove, Rob Knox and Tony Fenner, with Ben Gulliver and Boris Stankovich appearing amongst the forwards.
Knox and Fenner are particularly interesting selections. I’m not exactly sure what’s needed to create star quality in a rugby player but at National One/Championship levels Rob seems to possess it in abundance. I don’t know Rob at all, but he’s always seemed a ‘confidence’ player. When his tails up he’s virtually unstoppable and nearly always breaks that important first tackle – if he’s carrying a knock or things aren’t going his way, he can look less certain. If I were Nick Walshe, I’d carry Phil’s comments about Rob around in my pocket and in the final minutes leading up to kick off I’d remind Rob of just what his players think of him and how they believe in him.
As motivations go, you can’t get much better:
‘Mr Coventry’ just doesn’t know how good he is but those of us who play with him appreciate his brilliance. Should player higher and still has time to do so.
Tony Fenner looked made for the Championship in the few games he appeared in last season and like Rob he remains a real crowd favourite. Quiet and unassuming off the pitch he maybe, but few players put their bodies on the line as much as he does and if he can remain injury free this season, even with the influx of new players amongst the backs, he should be a key member of the 2019/20 squad. I’m not altogether convinced that he’ll be that amused to be on the end of Phil’s often caustic sense of humour though – ‘So smart that he makes others look brilliant’ -but I’m sure he’ll appreciate his inclusion into Phil’s Dream XV.
A third of the side are players who have been recruited by Rowland Winter and his coaching staff – here’s hoping the players making their Cov debuts this season are all as equally effective.
When a journalist as respected as Jon Newcombe headlines a Coventry signing in The Rugby Paper, even if unconfirmed by the Club, I think you have to sit up and take note. Newcombe been spot on in the past so there’s nothing to suggest his radar is in anyway misdirected when he announces that Cov have indeed signed Henry Purdy from Gloucester. It’s been a rumour for a while now and I imagine that Newcombe will have checked its accuracy before featuring it so prominently in the Rugby Paper this week.
What I would take issue with, though, is the tone of the headline:
‘Aspiring Coventry spurge on Purdy’
Aspiring Coventry certainly are, but I have yet to see Cov ‘splurge’ money under Winter’s directorship.
‘Splurge’ to me suggests an extravagance that is the antithesis of RW’s approach these last three years. How many player’s under Morgan and Glackin weren’t re-signed under Winter because of the inflated wages he felt they were currently on? On a limited budget he has brought in quality players who want to be part of a successful side winning titles rather than those happy to move from club to club to ensure bigger salaries.
Journeymen content to pick up inflated cheques they are not.
That apart, the RP article suggests that Coventry are continuing to build a squad that will be a force in the Championship within the next season or two. Although a little specious rather than spurious, suggesting as it does that Cov have signed 14 new players over the summer (including the likes of Voss, Flinn, Brighouse, Russell, Lewis and Owen all of whom appeared for Cov last season), the article acknowledges Cov’s ambition and highlights the ‘prized capture’ of Purdy.
Elsewhere in the paper, in an interview with Neale Harvey, Cornish Pirate’s DoR, New Zealander Chris Sterling, launches an impassioned defence of the Championship citing amongst other things just how many of the current national squad started their careers in England’s second tier. As a stand alone, it’s an interesting article in itself, but one of the questions Neale asks is about the impact that ambitious clubs like Coventry, Ealing and Pirates could have on decisions to restructure the top two leagues. Although not necessary significant as far as the article itself is concerned, it’s yet another indication of how Cov’s progress over the last couple of seasons is being viewed on a national level. And that is heartening.
Coventry appear to have recruited well and whilst I’ve not seen many of the players joining us this season, their pedigree seems impressive enough with the majority of them having had some Premiership experience. We saw just how important experience at a higher level was in Coventry’s promotion season when players like Sammy, Makaafi, Dawidiuk and co came into to bolster the squad.
This season is no different and, on paper at least, the squad looks stronger than that of last season so the obvious question to ask is whether supporters should be expecting improved performances and a better finish this year than in the 2018/19 season?
And for me, there can only be once answer…yes to both parts.
I forecast a 9th placed finish last season, so 8th was better than I’d originally hoped for, although the nature of some of the performances meant that in many respects it was more a case of what might have been rather than what actually was. It’s worth remembering that despite our appalling away form we were handily placed in 7th position just before the Christmas break and all the talk from the club was of pushing on for a top half finish come April. Sadly, performances didn’t improve quite as had been hoped and it took two hugely encouraging away displays against Doncaster and Jersey to bring some semblance of optimism as the season ended. Without those the mood now might be somewhat different.
Ask any five supporters what they think constitutes as successful 2019/20 season and as likely as not you’re get 5 different answers. Understandably so because success is as much about rebuilding the club off the pitch as on it. However, in terms of Cov’s Championship performances then, for me, we really ought to be looking for a top half finish. We’ve recruited well and given we should have done better last season if our performances after Christmas had been a little more consistent, there’s no obvious reason at the moment why we shouldn’t improve a lot on that 8th place last season.
Whilst some might argue that a similar league position this season might represent success given how difficult second seasons can often be, I’d be disappointed if the coaches or players took a similar view. They’ve invested a lot of time and effort, together with not inconsiderable sums of money, to improve the squad, whilst also strengthening the backroom support – both in the areas of physios/medical support and fitness/conditioning. Even with a squad similar to that of last year that should impact positively, but with a squad that appears stronger – well, it really ought to provide that additional value-added that so often makes all the difference.
The new surface seems to have influenced some of the recruitment, especially in the backrow where the likes of Wallace, Nayalo and Burrows will add a degree of size and mobility. Coventry look intent on developing their attacking style of rugby that was so successful in National One and have clearly brought in players who will be able to adapt to the ‘run it from anywhere’ approach that Coventry often opt for and which should be well-suited to an artificial surface.
For instance, it’s not hard to see how Senitiki Nayolo someone according to Winter who is:
physically huge but also hits hard and moves fast. He can play at No.6 or No.8 as he is very mobile and hard-working. Alongside Ryan Burrows he offers us a real point of difference in the back row which will complement our current options
might well be prominent on the kind of surface we expect to see at the BPA this season.
And Burrows too, hasn’t come for the ride and already looks to be considering silverware as a firm possibility:
It’s definitely a ride that I wanted to get on; I’ve not won anything in my rugby career, so why not do it at Coventry? There’s such a buzz around the place, the new pitch going into place, and it’s a fantastic opportunity for all of us
Much will depend on whether we can still rely on fortress BPA.
A new pitch will take some getting used to, as much for the Coventry squad as it will the opposition. Certainly, the rugby should prove entertaining and I can’t see there being too many low scoring games at home this season. All very exciting for supporters of course, but in the end it’s about Coventry continuing to develop a squad capable of pushing for promotion in two or three seasons time. Another 8th placed finish might make that a little harder which is why I’m expecting a little more of Cov this season than some…
Talking of the new surface, I’ve been indebted to Dave Duffy…better known as the driver who often toots his horn as his train passes by the ground on a Saturday afternoon.
Usually at around 2.40 pm as I recall.
He’s an avid Cov fan and he’s been kind enough to send me some of the photos he’s had taken every now and again as he passes the ground on his journey to and from Cov to Nuneaton.
I appreciate their are others readily available elsewhere but it’s quite nice to see a few of them stitched together so you can see the development in one image, so-to-speak. It’s a shame that Cov hasn’t gone along the Rosslyn Park route of time-lapsing the whole thing, although I’m sure I wouldn’t have been the only one glued to the screen for hours on end watching what was unfolding in real-time.
Probably for the best in retrospect…
The photos show how the ground is quickly changing – just how much that effects the atmosphere remains to be seen, although a couple of home wins under our belts and few will notice the difference.
Many thanks Dave…I’ll add some more as and when to get a complete overview from start to finish.
The Jam – fast and furious.
Similar to Coventry’s style of play this season I’m hoping…