While Wasps are basking in the success of their move to the Ricoh Arena, Jon Newcombe finds that Coventry RFC are also thriving and looking to restore their proud name
To say that rugby in Coventry has never had it so good would be doing a disservice to the halcyon period in the 1960s and 70s when the city team held sway in the English game and produced many an international.
But while junior clubs in the area continue to struggle to get teams out on a regular basis given the drop-off in playing numbers, at the professional end of the game the outlook is extremely positive – and not just at Wasps.
Despite fears to the contrary, having a successful Premiership side on their doorstep has not harmed Coventry RFC at all; indeed they are thriving.
Under the robust chairmanship of first Peter Rossborough and now Jon Sharp, the National One outfit have come back from the brink of bankruptcy and are building a sustainable future every bit as bright as their past.
Turnover in the last three years has doubled to around £1.2million through increased gate receipts – Cov regularly attract crowds better than most Championship clubs – their successful conference and banqueting operation and a community project that brings in £250,000.
“The club is financially stronger than it’s ever been, we’ve sold close to 500 season tickets for next season already,” said director of rugby Rowland Winter, below. “It is getting to the point where we are almost self-sufficient and not reliant on any one individual.”
Having nearly gone to the wall in December 2009 under the disastrous ownership of Andrew Green, Coventry are determined to learn from the lessons of the past.
With the whole Butts Park Arena site now their own following a recent land acquisition, plans are afoot to redevelop their home for the last 13 years as Coventry strive to ensure off-field and on-field success go hand in hand.
“You look at the Exeter model and they ensured that they were a sustainable outfit before they went to the next level. We are probably going to try and do both at the same time, but there’s no reason for not having that ambition,” said Sharp.
“We are looking to enhance our facilities to benefit the players, spectators and the local community as well as exploring on-site retail possibilities.”
With no Championship club dropping down into the third tier of English rugby for the new season after the demise of London Welsh, ambitious clubs like Coventry believe that next season might be their best opportunity yet of winning promotion.
As a result, two-thirds of Coventry’s squad is now full-time, with Premiership big-hitters such as former All Blacks centre Sam Tuitupou and ex-England No.8 Luke Narraway on board.
Alex Grove and Phil Nilsen are two more new additions with top-flight experience, while Latu Makaafi was a standout player for Doncaster in the Championship before he opted for a move to the Midlands.
Winter insists, though, that the club are not spending beyond their means to chase promotion. “We’re interested in bringing the right players to the club – not mercenaries, and they’re not paid what people might expect. Phil and Sam are at times of their careers where they are looking at other avenues, while Luke joins as a player-coach”.
“Phil is using his spare time to start paramedic training and Sam runs a lot of Maori training camps around Europe and has a player management agency that makes him more money than his Sale contract did. Luke intends to help with the family business in Worcester as well as overseeing a couple of bars he’s invested in.
“Gone are the days here when recruitment was not properly focused. We are interested in bringing the right people to the club, who buy into what we’re trying to achieve, not mercenaries.”
The quality extends to the coaching group too, with ex-England U20 head coach Nick Walshe supported by fellow ex-Premiership players, Louis Deacon (forwards), Boris Stankovich (scrum) and Narraway (defence).
Winter has himself signed a new three-year deal as he looks to improve on last season’s fourth-place finish in National One.
“Championship rugby is the goal. We are probably one of three to four clubs in this league along with Plymouth and Ampthill – and Moseley probably have an eye on it, too – that are aiming for promotion.
“After untangling the mess of past regimes, the club is in a better position than it has been for some time. We’ve got a great squad and the infrastructure is in place with a new gym and improved medical and physio facilities, it is now a case of doing the job.
“It is not going to be easy though, National One is a tough league,” Winter added.
“Plymouth are probably a year ahead of us because they started their rebuilding process about 18 months ago, Ampthill have got ridiculous amounts of money and half of Tonga in Bedfordshire, and Moseley will be tough to beat.
“I think Darlington Mowden Park have potential because they have retained lot of their players for once. You can never write off teams like Rosslyn Park and Esher when get their act together, while Blackheath will be improved under James Shanahan.
“For once there is no Ealing or Doncaster who’ll come down and dominate. It should make for a fascinating league.”
The article above is by courtesy & kind permission of ‘The Rugby Paper’.