Preview to Coventry (a) 21.04.12


The business end

Seven months after visiting the oldest rugby club in England at the start of their odyssey in National League 1, Jersey make their final away trip to a club that was once England's most powerful.

The changing lines of the rugby map is such that Jersey, a backwater known only to those who'd come over to play tour matches, find themselves in the same league as Coventry. Not only that, but a win for the Islanders will trigger a third successive promotion, leap-frogging their illustrious hosts and climbing to the second tier of the RFU pyramid.

No wonder DoR Ben Harvey has been stressing the importance of business as usual - it's probably one of those occasions where concentrating on the bigger picture could lead to a lack of focus on the job in hand.

The target is, in theory, straightforward - any win, even a scratchy 6-5, would take Harvey's team beyond the reach of rivals Ealing and deliver the National 1 title without the need for a result against a dangerous Fylde outfit in the season's final game next week.

With the prospect of sealing the deal looming, it's little surprise that huge numbers of supporters will be making their way to Cov's Butts Park Arena home for the game, by whatever means. Planes, boats, automobiles… there was even a rumour that a member of the Jersey Wanderers squad had been seen trying to hot-wire one of the amphibious 'duck' vehicles that take tourists from St Helier to Elizabeth Castle in order to utilise it for crossing the Channel.

But the visiting party will encounter a proud club keen to finish their own season on a high. The Cov Treasurer may be looking forward to a bumper crowd and busy takings from the bar and pre-match lunches, but at 3pm the home team will be doing everything they can to deny their guests the result they crave.

News from the Jersey camp
Not really the time for wholesale changes, if you can avoid them, and it looks like there will be just two for Jersey from the team who did an efficient job on Macclesfield last week, albeit without the flourish shown at Tynedale before Easter.

Macc made life difficult for Jersey in the first half at St Peter, turning round just 10 points behind, but second-half errors were ruthlessly punished by the home team, a bonus point was achieved in the 73rd minute and eventually six tries scored in a 39-0 win.

Back to the changes - with Kingsley Lang still injured, Jethro Rawling is selected to wear number 6 ahead of Steve O'Brien, the veteran Irish flanker now finding himself as the 21st man or travelling reserve. Rawling has had few opportunities since coming on loan from Leicester Tigers in March, but will now get the chance against a team where he also spent a loan spell earlier in the season, including an appearance as substitute against Jersey at St Peter.

The other change is in the backs, with Ed Dawson recovered after illness and likely to play on the wing. Dai Bishop is set to start on the bench after a reshuffle which sees Mike Le Bourgeois coming into the centre and Ashley Maggs drop out of the squad after a wrist injury.

The regular bench forwards of recent weeks, James Gethings and a pair of Clyde-Smiths, are likely to be on duty once again alongside Bishop and scrum-half Brendan O'Brien. Unlucky to have been third in the pecking order for much of the season behind skipper Dave McCormack and Nicky Griffiths, O'Brien's chance comes after Griffiths was banned for four weeks following his red card for a 'tip-tackle' offence against Tynedale.

Any previous?
Jersey 29 Coventry 3, December 3rd 2011

A ruthless second half display in wet and windy conditions earned Jersey maximum points and a ninth successive win.

Coventry took the lead through Luke Myring's straightforward penalty, but Jersey were 10-3 up at the break following a penalty try and five points from the boot of 'Le Booj'.

Turning up the heat in the second half, Jersey sealed the game with tries by Nick Trower and Steve O'Brien around the hour mark, and added the icing of a bonus point, courtesy of a second penalty try, with three minutes left.

Cov's season to date
The season began in unconvincing fashion, with narrow wins over Cinderford, Stourbridge and Sedgley, a draw with Blaydon and a loss at Wharfedale.

Moving into October, the team began to find their form, scoring 159 points in five outings, made up of four wins and a two-point defeat by Cambridge.

November was a mixed bag, with away defeats at Blackheath (34-25) and Fylde (45-14) combined with home wins against Ealing and the Bees. The Ealing result came by 29-26 at Butts Park Arena home, with props Adam Parkins (2) and Ethan Waller claiming tries, alongside second row Sam Herrington.

Defeat in Jersey was the start of a rough patch for the Midlanders who had just one win and a draw in seven outings, but since the start of March their form has improved with just two losses, to Ealing and in-form Blackheath, in the past six games. A 39-26 win over Fylde was the highlight of this spell. Last weekend Cov scored five tries but still finished well-beaten by Ealing 55-33.

New signings this summer included Luke Myring, formerly of Northampton and Roma Olympic, a goal-kicking centre who has notched 115 points, including three tries, so far this season, and the 21-year-old Ulster wing/ full-back Mark O'Connor.

Cov's half-back pairing of Lewis Barker and Elliott Read, were ever-present during the first half of the season, but an injury against Ealing makes ex-Rugby Lions man Barker a doubt for Jersey's visit having played 27 of the 28 games thus far.

Coventry have not been a prolific try-scoring team this year - 78 tries puts them ahead of only Barking and the Bees in this respect, with seven try BPs. Top try-scorer Heath Stevens (8) is also likely to be missing this weekend after the centre was injured at Ealing.

In the pack, watch out for Ethan Waller, the teenage prop who is dual-registered with Northampton (where his brother Alex plays), the tough blindside Brett Daynes, ever-present throughout this season, and second rows Sam Herrington and the Frenchman Benji Dechartres, who rejoined in the summer after a season with Eastern Suburbs in Sydney.

In response to injuries and the need to strengthen the squad, Cov have recruited a number of new players including three overseas imports. Khrist Kopetzky, a 30-year-old half-back, is a France 7s international who has joined from French First Division side Blagnac and was formerly with top clubs Pau, Agen, Begles-Bordeaux and Tarbes Pyrenees. New Zealander James Otutaha, is a former Marist & North Harbour midfielder who has played in the UK with Brixham and also has senior RL experience in his home country. Experienced Tongan international hooker William Hafu, 28, has played for Silverdale RFC and North Harbour in New Zealand and the Penguins international side. He can also play in the centre.

Another new centre is Callum McBurnie who has joined on loan from Moseley where he had substantial Championship experience.

The coaching team at Cov is an experienced one, headed by DoR Phil Maynard, formerly with the Bees, assisted by Dave Addleton and Pete Glackin.

Coventry - a potted history
Founded in 1874, Coventry took up residence in their Coundon Road ground in 1921 and developed into one of England's leading clubs, especially during the 1950s, 60s and 70s with a stream of players capped by England, as well as a hat-trick of John Player (National) Cup titles from 1972-74.

The decline from this heyday coincided with the advent of the league system in 1987 and Coventry became a fixture at Level Two throughout the 1990s and beyond, including the move to Butts Park Arena in 2004.

In 2006, Chairman Keith Fairbrother, who had taken over the club after it went into receivership in 1998, sold the club to businessman Andrew Green, but three years later the club was placed in administration. A rescue package and the formation of a new company, Coventry Rugby Ltd, came in January 2010, but hampered by a 15-point deduction stemming from the financial woe, Cov were relegated at the end of the 2009/10 season.

This was followed by the consolidation at Level Three last season, which came amid a backdrop of determined re-establishment of a proud club on a firm financial footing and with a central role in its local community. Former England full-back Peter Rossborough played a key role in this process and held the positions of Chairman and President until businessman Jon Sharp became Chairman in February after serving on the Board for the previous year.

At a meeting last week Sharp told supporters he was ambitious to get Cov back to Level Two by 2014, and would be doubling the playing budget. A key part of this strategy is to maximise revenue from Butts Park Arena, an excellent facility, and from match-day crowds which the aim is to double from the current average figure of just over 1,000. Both that average, and the bar takings, should be boosted this weekend, when the record for this season at BPA of 1,399 seems certain to be broken, and perhaps the 1,500 which is Cov's record since moving grounds.

Famous Sons of Cov - how long have you got?
• Alan Rotherham captained England during a 12-cap career in the 1880s, but later shot himself in 1898 at the age of 36.
• Ivor Preece, 12 England and a Lions' cap in the 1940s and 50s, including six times captaining his country
• Peter Robbins, 19 caps from the late 1950s, alongside his contemporary Bert Godwin (11 appearances)
• Phil Judd won 22 caps for his country at prop in the 1960s, skippering the team five times, and toured Jersey with Coventry in 1955 when aged in his early 20s
• The hey-day was probably from the late 60s to early 70s. In 1967 five Cov players were in the England XV v New Zealand - Judd, hooker Herbert Godwin, lock John Owen, scrum-half William Gittings and wing Rodney Webb (thanks to another son of Cov, Mick Curzons, for this nugget).
* In January1973, centre Peter Preece (son of Ivor, 12 caps) and wing David Duckham (36 caps, 10 tries) both played for England against NZ, and by September that year this pair were joined in the backline by clubmates Geoff Evans (9 caps) and Peter Rossborough (7 caps, 34 points) in a historic win over the All Blacks in Auckland.

This is far from an exhaustive list, and still wouldn't be even if one mentioned other well-known names who turned out for Coventry even though their fame was largely earned elsewhere. These include Fran Cotton, Zinzan Brooke, Mike Umaga, Richard Cockerill, Andy Goode and Danny Grewcock.

Triv about Cov
• Two Coventry players, Messrs Duckham and Cotton, were in the All-time Lions XV selected by Bill McLaren
• Jersey will have two former Cov players on duty tomorrow. Centre Donovan Sanders played more than 100 games in four-and-a-half seasons at BPA after joining in late 2004, while loosehead Dai Maddocks was on the books from 2007 to 2010, including the administration crisis of late 2009
• As well as Dai and Donovan, other recent players with Jersey connections include George Dixon - top-scorer with nine tries in 2006/07 and Henno Venter, now with Sedgley Park
• Hooker Steve Brain is believed to be the most recent player to be capped by England while playing for Cov, in 1986

Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from Jersey v Coventry through the following channels:
• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, while the following afternoon the Beeb will relocate to Butts Park and do the whole of Ssturday Sportscene from the ground, including live commentary available on FM, AM and online
• Preview in Friday's JEP, and extended match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter and the 'Rolling Maul' rugby forum
• Regular updates on Channel 103 on Saturday afternoon from around 2.50pm
• Highlights on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online.

Rivals' Round-up
Fylde and Blackheath gave up their mathematical chance of the league title last weekend after an entertaining encounter in south-east London. Club were the winners, and have taken 45 points from nine games, meaning they could yet claim third with victories over the Bees and Rosslyn Park.

Fylde now entertain Jersey's sole remaining rivals for the National One title, Ealing, in a mouth-watering tie on the Blackpool coast, featuring the two highest scoring sides in the league (they have 262 between them). Ealing know they must win what looks likely to be a high-scoring game, and hope Jersey fall at Coventry, to reduce the current six-point margin to a mere one or two ahead of the final round of games, when Jersey host Fylde and Ealing have a straightforward-looking home tie against the Bees. It would be a grandstand finish to the season, but one nobody in Jersey hopes to witness.

Lots of interesting promotion and relegation issues are nearing their conclusion, including a terrific tussle in National 2 South between Richmond and Albanians, plus five clubs battling for the play-off spot in 2 North. Esher will be relegated from the Championship, unless they can get five points at London Scottish and deny their hosts a bonus point. Even then it could end up in the courts as Scottish have highlighted an apparent ambiguity in the regulations involving the tie-breaker for teams finishing level.

And finally
Some important games involving other CI teams this weekend.

Good luck Guernsey who need two points from their game against Hove to claim the league title in London 1 South and win promotion to the national leagues. Should the Sarnians fail to get the points this weekend, they are guaranteed a home play-off next weekend, and then face Jersey in the annual Siam Cup encounter on May 5th.

Jersey United Banks face a Hampshire Plate semi-final at New Milton on Saturday afternoon, while at St Peter Beeches play St Jacques from Guernsey in the MacMillan Cup Final at 12.30, followed by the Sugden Cup at 2.30 between Jersey 2nds and LQ Lydian Lions.

Hope everyone enjoys their weekend's rugby - it's a big one!

Tom Innes


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