Cov remain on track – looking ahead to the Premiership

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan…

…I saw the crescent
You saw the whole of the moon
The whole of the moon

The Waterboys – The Whole Of The Moon

With the Cup competition embarking on its second round of games to decide the teams going forward into the knockout stages, the Championship takes a back seat for the next three weekends.

All-in-all, it’s been a really promising start to the season for Coventry Rugby, other than perhaps that opening defeat in Jersey. A draw against Ealing away from home was the result of the season so far and already looks a contender for that of the season as a whole, whilst wins against Carnegie, Blues and Doncaster were expected, but by no means guaranteed.

The defeat against Jersey, disappointing as it was, was made even more so given the impressive performance over there in April when we came back with the 5 points and looked well worth the win. In reality, though, it is a notoriously difficult place play and but for a disallowed try in the final play of the game, we could have won the game.

And it wasn’t even a good Cov performance on the day, either; yet we still got tantalisingly close.

So, yes, a very promising start to the season.

Just 3 points off 2nd place with almost a third of the season completed is better than many might have hoped for, especially with two of Cov’s 3 toughest away trips out of the way. Cov look handily placed to improve further when the Championship restarts in December.

That first game at home against Nottingham after the break is a real ’10-pointer’, with the visitors one place below us and sharing the same number of wins. The last game before Christmas, a later kick off and with the television cameras there as well – it could be one heck of a game. One not to be missed, for sure.

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Sam’s points tracker shows just what a decent start to the 2019/20 season this has been for Coventry. 6 points up on where we were in the corresponding fixtures last season (replacing Irish with Falcons in 19/20) suggests that even with that loss to Jersey in the opening game, we are on course to exceed our points tally last season by some distance.

Given we have only had two Championship home games, our current position in the table is all the more pleasing, with 9 points from 4 away games being a significant improvement on last season (and Falcons and Trailfinders already out of the way).

Date Home/Away Vs 18/19 Points 19/20 Points
12/10/2019 Away Jersey 5 1
19/10/2019 Home Bedford Blues 5 5
27/10/2019 Away Yorkshire Carnegie 0 5
02/11/2019 Away Ealing Trailfinders 1 3
09/11/2019 Home Doncaster Knights 1 4
17/11/2019 Away Newcastle (LI 18/19) 0 0
Total 12 18

 

Values Matches 18/19 Points 19/20 Points
Home 2 6 9
Away 4 6 9
Total 6 12 18

For those reading the post who prefer a more visual comparison of the two seasons, hopefully this will make it even clearer.

week6bar.png

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There’s been some really interesting discussions on the Messageboard about the current financial gulf between the Premiership and Championship and whether the debts that almost all clubs in the Premiership seem to be accruing in the top tier of English rugby make promotion for Championship sides quite as appealing as it once was.

Many of those who commented on the board following Mark Forster’s initial thought-provoking post seemed to fall on the side of it being better to remain where we are in the Championship than risk huge debts and possible financial ruin in the Premiership. The article in The Guardian that he shared a link to suggested that Premiership clubs on average lost £3.5m each last season, a figure that is likely to rise and one that is clearly not sustainable.

Understandably given Coventry’s own not too distant past, supporters are wary of the club committing itself to a life lived well beyond its currents means.

Here we are, just finding our feet in the Championship, playing in front of crowds of around 2300 and looking to consolidate our position as a full-time, fully professional rugby club. Why jeopardise everything for the lure of the Premiership and all the attendant problems that seem to go with it?

It’s a very, very understandable point of view.

But not one I altogether share.

Whilst it seems the closer we get to the possibility of promotion from the Championship, the more many supporters doubt the sense in making that final, potentially doomed jumped into the Premiership, I find myself looking forwards, not from side to side.

Yes, I really miss National One, especially the visits to clubs like Cambridge, Plymouth, Blackheath, Hull and the like – good, honest clubs that see themselves as part of the community as much as they do part of a national league. Championship rugby is a little more soulless by comparison which is why, for me, Coventry’s own work with youngsters in the city and beyond is all the more refreshing.

But when Jon Sharp welcomed Rowland Winter to the club and laid out his vision for the future, we all bought into a journey, a journey that would first take us into the Championship and then see us become, a few years on, a side vying for the top spot and ultimately a place in the Premiership.

In order to do that, foundations were already being put in place at that time to ensure the club would become financially self-sufficient through a three phase development of the ground and a plan to broaden the use of the club’s enhanced facilities for businesses, turning the BPA into an events/conference centre as well as a national sporting venue.

The new synthetic pitch is already attracting plenty of interest from the local community and as a result presumably bringing in more income than could ever have been generated with the traditional grass surface that we had previously.  12 months ago I remember Jon Sharp saying that the club was pretty close to being financially self-sufficient even then. With this new amenity, that gap must have narrowed considerably, if not closed.

Phases 2 and 3 of the ground development have been in the pipeline for some time now and whilst the club have been very cagey about disclosing dates for the next phase to begin, I’ve heard rumour (and I hasten to say it is just that)  work at the car park end might begin as soon as March of next year.  And just to add further conjecture, the tell-tale white markings that seem to indicate what lies underneath roads or pavements prior to a build have begun to appear where construction is likely to take place.

I hasten to add this is just speculation on my part, but it would make sense and be very much in keeping with what Jon Sharp said a while back in The Rugby Paper about the ground developments being completed within the next two seasons.

Initially, the proposed alterations to the ground included some shops, a hotel and further development of the conference facilities, as well a seating/standing areas to considerably increase the ground capacity to a level that would at the very least meet with the minimum Premiership requirements. Whether this is still the case (and indeed just how far away Coventry Rugby is away from a build) remains speculation, but the fact that this is likely to happen in the foreseeable future is highly pertinent to discussions as to whether the Club could be financially sustainable in the Premiership.

If, as I imagine is the case, the new playing surface brings in enough further income to ensure we are self-sufficient in the Championship, it might well be that the further phases will have a similar impact on our ability to survive financially, should we ever make it into the Premiership. JS has said in the past that all profits from the various builds will be ploughed back into the rugby side of the club, so it’s perfectly feasible that future developments at the BPA could make us far more viable financially than other clubs in the top tier.

London Welsh – a poignant reminder of how financial mismanagement can destroy a club, irrespective of its past

In which case, the whole can we/can’t we debate is far less clear cut.

Coventry haven’t done a London Welsh and thrown good money after bad in an effort to ensure its place amongst the elite of British rugby. Cov’s approach has been far more prudent and pragmatic, developing a business model that it believes is sustainable.

And that’s why I’m more than prepared to believe  Jon Sharp and the Board will do what is right for the Club.

Since JS has taken over the helm, the club appears to be in a much healthier position off the pitch, as well as on it, although I fully acknowledge that is based on no more than what I’ve heard or read elsewhere.

If we all believe that promotion for the club, or indeed for any Championship club, is only going to lead to financial ruin, we might as well agree to ring-fencing right now and be done with it. Why not just stop the yo-yo-ing of clubs relegated from the Premiership and accept that we have found are place in English rugby. Seal off the exit above and break away totally.

Fortunately, not everyone sees it this way, and for the likes of Coventry and Ealing and all the ambitious clubs behind us, the Premiership remains the ultimate goal to strive for and with club owners like JS and Mike Gooley, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that clubs outside of the favoured 13 might one day find themselves alongside the likes of  Saracens, Exeter and Harlequins – or indeed that clubs like Leicester, Wasps or Worcester might have to play Nottingham, Ampthill and Bedford.

And that’s how I believe it should be.

At the moment, we’re are only seeing part of the picture, the crescent, and as a result our judgements are skewed somewhat. The likes of Jon Sharp, the Board, Rowland Winter, they see it in its entirety, the whole of the moon so-to-speak.

Call it naïve, but ’til I know otherwise I’m content to carry on this journey that we all embarked on three and a half years ago now. There has to be an element of trust in all this and I do genuinely believe from what I know of Jon Sharp that he has the best interests of the club at heart. He wants to build a legacy that will make the city of Coventry proud, one that is constructed on solid foundations that will last.

Up to now he has been true to his word.

If Cov fails in its attempt, it will be because the squad and/or the coaches aren’t good enough, not because the club was unable to meet its financial responsibilities.

On the Messageboard, Mark H has made the point, a valid one, that a city the size of Coventry just isn’t big enough to sustain two Premiership rugby clubs. That is a concern obviously, but as was mentioned on the Board I reckon Wasps do benefit from the fact that a decent pecentage of their supporters aren’t die-hard Wasps fans, they are die-hard Premiership rugby fans, fans who would sooner watch Coventry than Wasps in the top tier were Cov to be promoted.

Could Cov fill a 7000-10000 seater stadium week in, week out?

Yes, I think they probably could…

Personally, after all that they’ve said and done over the last three years, I can’t see Jon Sharp and the Board pulling the plug on Premiership rugby. The Premiership might very well pull the plug on Cov, but not JS. No way.

All the changes that have occurred at the BPA in recent seasons are mere stepping stones on the path to the Premiership. Whether the team can get the club there is another matter, but I’m very much of the opinion that I would like Cov to one day at least have the chance to prove itself with the very best that European rugby has to offer.

18 months ago I would have been less enthusiastic, but when you play the likes of Leinster, London Irish and Newcastle you begin to realise what you’re missing and if Jon Sharp can provide us with that chance, one which doesn’t come at a cost as it did to London Welsh, I for one would like to see us take it.

I pictured a rainbow
You held it in your hands
I had flashes
But you saw the plan…

I’ve pictured the rainbow, as we all have.

Sadly, my vision doesn’t have a pot of gold to go with it, but if Cov can ensure it is financially secure then we might yet be a step nearer the plans and the vision that we’ve talked about for what seems so long now.

 

Author: Tim

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