Inside Out – Kwaku Asiedu

BIG, strong, fast and determined, Kwaku Asiedu tells Mark Forster how happy he is to be playing national league rugby with Cambridge, but that his eye is on a Championship debut with Coventry.

 

DSC_2824 (2) FinalWHEN Kwaku Asiedu was told he was going to play on loan for Cambridge this season he grasped the first opportunity to prove a point.

The pacy and powerful winger scored a thumping try against Coventry at Butts Park Arena to spoil his own club’s 100 per cent pre-season record.

In the blood and sands team to gain valuable playing time, Asiedu hopes he can perform well enough to warrant a start for Coventry in the Championship – his main goal.

“I was one on one, and I had to score. I knew (Coventry Director of Rugby) Rowland (Winter) was watching and I had to make a statement. I want to play for Coventry. For me it was a professional thing.”

Not that he was upset at being loaned to Cambridge, one of Winter’s old clubs.

A schoolboy convert to rugby, he played himself into the ground and picked up injuries. Then, moving to Coventry, while enjoying a taste of first team life, he found a lack of game time a frustration.

Now, he’s getting plenty of action at Grantchester Road and has hooked up with his old England Counties backs coach, Richie Williams.

“It’s nice being back with Richie,” Asiedu says. “I was happy to learn that I would be out on loan there. I like their style of play. We’re all on a learning curve but I think we will do well. The players played their heart out in the defeat to Chinnor, a game we should have won. That is good to see. This is a club that wants to be winning.”

At Cambridge he is a starter in National League One, something that was not a given at Coventry last season based on the form of Rob Knox and Max Trimble.

Asiedu is still very much part of the Coventry squad, despite turning out for Cambridge. A popular member of the dressing room he is keen to play his part in blue and white.

“My goal this season is to make my Championship debut,” he says. “I want to play first team rugby for Cov, I want to stay here, be a part of it.

I missed out on game time when I was injured. I was not developing,” he admits, but is quick to point out. “I like the atmosphere at Coventry and I like the club – a lot. It’s like a family.”

He knows his route to the Coventry starting line-up is even more difficult this term, given the summer signings of the Bulumakau brothers from Doncaster Knights and David Halaifonau from Gloucester, as well as the continued presence of Rob Knox, James Stokes and Max Trimble plus others from the development squad, including James Neal and Louis Roach.

But that hasn’t dented his ambition. In fact, kicking his heels last season as development squad games were called off, often at the last minute, Asiedu is relishing the opportunity to show his mettle – in games for Cambridge and training sessions with Coventry.

“Junior and Andy B, Rob, Max, the wingers, we are all really close friends, although we are all in competition together. It’s a healthy competition to have. I think that helps us all, drives us all to be better.

It’s a very professional set up at Coventry. When the coaches speak, everyone shuts up and listens. If you want to be at the top level, you need to act top level. We’re very lucky to have Nick (Walshe,Coventry head coach) and Deacs (Louis Deacon, forwards coach). Deacs will tell you the effect of being in certain positions. I’m learning all the time.”

Asiedu could have a completely different sporting career, having excelled as a sprinter at school.

He competed in the 100 metres event at schoolboy level against future sprint star Adam Gemili among others.

“Yeah, I raced against him. I was really skinny but fast. I was always in the top tier of the event. My genetics meant I was always going to be fast. My dad was fast, my brother was fast.”

It was that raw speed that gained the attention of rugby coaches at Chatham House Grammar School, where Asiedu was a pupil.

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“For me, rugby started at school. I was asked to play. My mum wasn’t really that keen, because of the contact. She wanted me to concentrate on athletics. It really picked up when I went into the sixth form. The school was really strong on rugby, they did a whole pre-season, which was something new for me. I really got into it.

I didn’t understand the rules back then, but they knew how to interest everyone, how to get everyone involved. I was on the wing to begin with but then they stuck me at outside centre, when I got to see the ball a lot more. That opened my eyes to rugby. It meant I had to test myself a lot more.”

At Chatham House, the rugby season ended early, in December, which left Asiedu wanting more, but unsure of his next move.

“The local club, Thanet Wanderers, didn’t have a youth team, but Canterbury did. I contacted them and they asked me to go down for training. I got selected for a game against London Irish and I never got the chance to go on. They didn’t know me enough, but the second game, against a team from Portsmouth, I scored four tries.

The Under 19s coach was the first team captain. Literally, from there I was involved in the first and second teams at Canterbury. From that December to the end of the season I played rugby whenever I could. I just wanted to play.

We got to the semi-finals of a cup competition, just getting beaten by Halifax, but it was a great time.

I went to university at Canterbury, which meant I had the chance to continue playing for the club. They were in National League Two at that time. I really wanted to be involved. I sat down and talked with my mum. She wanted me to do well and be happy.”

Rugby took over Asiedu’s life. He played for the university team, continued at Canterbury RFC, got picked for Kent and played or trained almost every day of the week.

“Looking back, I wonder how I did it,” he laughs. “I was young and energetic and just wanted to play. I tore my hamstring and the physio looked at my schedule and told me I had to stop doing so much.

That first year I played about 10 league games for Canterbury. I learned a lot. They had some really good coaches there.

In my second year at university, I chose to focus on Canterbury. I got selected for England Students, then England Counties U20s.

We played against Hartpury College and beat them. That was the year they got promoted from National League One. Then on the Wednesday I got the call, asking me if I could turn out for England Students against Wales.

Three weeks later I was playing for England Counties U20s. It led to a lot of opportunities for me. At that point, I knew I wanted to take rugby seriously. It was a really big honour for me.”

Progress came to a shuddering halt when his anterior cruciate ligament went. Still, rugby filled his thoughts.

“My England Students coach contacted me and I told him I wanted to do a Masters, but didn’t know where. He asked me if I had plans for after university, in terms of rugby. He said that Hartpury might be interested.

I went to Hartpury on a scholarship. I was really grateful for that, because I was injured. I was out for the equivalent of two or three seasons. I had complications, because I’d also broken a bone. That needed surgery.

DSC_2930 (2) FinalWhen I started playing again, my shoulder went. I was doing a lot of watching of the game, learning that way.”

To make matters worse, Asiedu also suffered a broken eye socket. For a time, it seemed his mum’s concerns were being proved right.

He refused to give up.

“It’s all about knowing your limits. After I came from the knee issues, I think I had a mental problem, I didn’t use my speed like I could. I had to work it out.”

What he did do, with a professional rugby career in mind, was to head to the gym, going from 95kg to 107kg, while improving his speed.

He points to the help of the Coventry backroom staff and the facilities the club boasts.

“Hartpury had a top end gym for rehabilitation. Now we have a quality gym at Coventry. (Strength and conditioning coach) Max (Hartman) used to joke that he never saw me in the gym, but I’m in there all the time now.

‘You have to be strong and fit to play rugby. We do stretching exercises, gearing ourselves up for the weekend. Max’s job is to make us ready for the game. It is all individual, so we know what we each have to work on. I’ve got the size and strength and I want to get faster. I just want to be playing for Coventry in the Championship.”

It could have been so different. Had injury not marred his time at Hartpury, he could be part of the Gloucester outfit now, but for a bit of serendipity.

“I’ve known (Coventry second row) George Oram for years. I played Under 18s and Under 20s with him in Kent,” he says. “I tried to recruit him for Hartpury but he said he had signed for Coventry and suggested I contact Rowland.

I found Coventry Rugby on Twitter, then Rowland. I sent him a message asking for his email. The next week I was meeting him. I must have come across him when I was playing for London and South East in the English county set-up. I was lucky he remembered me.

I knew as soon as I had the opportunity at Coventry that I had to make the most of it. I had never been to Coventry before that, but I saw the stadium and thought this was the real deal.

A guy at work used to play for Leicester Tigers and he told me about Coventry’s history. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

The club also has the best fans I’ve ever come across, the noisiest, even when we lost to Ampthill. I had to go on the Supporters’ Club coach to apologise for our performance. No-one was bickering, they were just cheerful, just happy to support the club. Even in defeat. That was so good.”

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In recent months, he’s also turned out for Tigers’ A team, one of a number of Coventry players guesting for the Welford Road outfit.

His rugby journey has led a fascinating trail. But for now, there is one destination.

And Asiedu has shown the love of rugby, of improving and determination that means few would bet against him achieving a starting spot.

Coventry Rugby Sponsorship

Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club are delighted to announce it has reached agreement with Coventry Rugby Club to extend its existing sponsorship of the Medical Team, namely Hannah Walker (Head of Medical), Hannah Foggett (Assistant Physiotherapist) and Max Hartman’s replacement, Marc Finney (Rehabilitation Coach).

In addition, agreement has also been reached for the Supporters’ Club to sponsor two young upcoming players who have both played in the First XV this season demonstrating their talent and ability at Championship level rugby, namely Luc Jeannot (Tighthead Prop) and Cameron Gray (Second Row).

Also being sponsored is Tom Parfitt, newly appointed Kit Assistant to the First XV playing squad.

Hannah-Foggett

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Hannah Walker                                                             Hannah Foggett

 

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Luc Jeannot                                                                       Cameron Gray

 

Tom-Parfitt

Tom Parfitt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fans’ Forum

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Supporters and friends of Coventry Rugby Club are cordially invited to an open forum which takes place at the Butts Park Arena on Thursday, November 8th, 2018, from 7.30pm (bar open from 7pm).

Rowland Winter, Director of Rugby will review the first block of Greene King IPA Championship games, provide a squad update and give an insight into how the club will approach the Championship Cup competition.

He will then take questions from the floor.

Some of the playing squad will also be in attendance and available to take questions.

To see all Coventry Rugby’s video content including match previews, reaction and highlights subscribe to You Tube channel Coventry Rugby 1874.

Fan’s Day Out – Zoe’s Place

Please see below which the Supporters’ Club received from Zoe’s Place regarding the Fan’s Day Out, an event we proudly supported. We will post the photographs from the event onto our Twitter Account https://twitter.com/RugbyCoventry as and when they are made available to us.

If you would still like to make a donation please contact the Supporters’ Club via E-Mail to CRSC1874@gmail.com

Fans Day Out

WELL DONE

Thank you for supporting Zoë’s Place & Coventry Rugby

Thank you to everyone who took part on Saturday, despite the lower than anticipated numbers, the atmosphere was jovial and well over £4000 was raised for Zoe’s Place – this is a fantastic result and we couldn’t be prouder of you.

We hope you enjoyed both the walk and a thrilling game of rugby, and don’t forget to post your JustGiving link one last time with a photo of you taking part on the day, people often make a final donation after they’ve seen how much effort you put in. We need to raise £1.2 million to run the hospice each year, and one hour of specialist nursing care costs £25. We wouldn’t be able to continue to support children with life threatening and life limiting illness without your support, and the money you’ve raised really does make a huge difference – thank you.

Please keep an eye on our facebook page, as we will post the photos from the day soon.

Thank you once again your support.

 

Inside Out – Rob Knox

Schools and junior clubs like Barkers’ Butts once proved a conveyor belt for Coventry Rugby in the past. Mark Forster talks to Rob Knox, the lone Cov kid in today’s first team squad, about his journey from one Butts to another.

DSC_9171 (2)SOMETIMES the gods of rugby conspire to serve up a romantic chapter in this game of ours.
Because it surely can’t be coincidence that Rob Knox marked his 100th appearance in the blue and white of Coventry on one of the biggest days in recent club history.

The popular winger led the side out in front of a record National League One crowd on the last day of the 2017/8 season, the day when Coventry would be crowned champions.

And scored a memorable try to help sign off a rare promotion year in style.

Not bad for a lad from Coundon who once had dreams of playing for the Sky Blues.

All through primary school I was football mad. I played football up until about 14 or 15,” he says. “I was part of the Coventry City academy for seven or eight years, but I got to the point where I wanted to play with my friends and they were all playing rugby.

I went along just to be with my friends.”

Today, he’s part of Coventry’s Championship team, eager to cement his place in the club’s pantheon of greats.

That he is the sole survivor of the pre-Rowland Winter era speaks volumes about his abilities, attitude and approach. He was moved from centre to the flank and has worked hard to ensure his natural footballing ability fits in with the team.

“I’m still getting started as a winger,” he says. “When Rowland came in and said for me to go on the wing, I had no idea about what it involved. I’m still learning, but it’s good that the coaches give the wingers licence to go out and get involved. I’m just happy that I’m still a part of the team.”

It is a measure of the man that he wants to be learning and improving, with nods to head coach Nick Walshe and strength and conditioning guru, Max Hartman.

But while he’s a product of the Coundon Court School production line that gave Coventry a former captain in Rob Hardwick and rugby the skills of Leon Lloyd and muscle of Jim Hamilton, he’s a pretty humble chap.

“At school I played scrum half. I pretty much played there all the way through, or at times as fly half. Then I went to Barkers’ Butts and was a 13 or 15,” he remembers. “I went from playing at Barkers’ to the Cov first team. My debut was against Cinderford in November and it was raining pretty hard. I had played for Barkers’ the week before and we were seven leagues apart.

I hadn’t taken my studs and on the coach all the guys were talking about how bad the pitch at Cinderford was. I had moulds and was worried how I’d get on with them. I scored a try in the corner and had a few nice touches. A few of my friends had come down and it was great, but I remember being so nervous.”

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Barkers’ Butts, the club of former Coventry great John Gardiner, in recent memory helped shape the rugby talents of Hardwick, Lloyd and Hamilton, as well as another Cov favourite, Danny Grewcock, and a certain World Cup winning flanker in Neil Back.

Knox says that while he learned to love rugby at the club, it was his centre partnership with Callum McBurnie at Coventry that taught him most about the game.

“In my second season at Coventry, Morgs (former head coach Scott Morgan) asked me if I had ever played 12. Callum was great, especially for me, coming from Barkers’ at that age.

I’d never been taught how to play the game at that level. I was just chucked in at the deep end. Callum taught me a lot at centre. By the end of my second season, I felt pretty comfortable playing inside of him, knowing what he would do. I had never been taught how to defend properly. I knew how to tackle, but not the positioning.

Heath Stevens (first team captain) is one of the best defensive 13’s I’ve played with. Callum was, too. It was really enjoyable playing alongside him. It helped me lots.

I probably surprised myself in my first year at the club, then I had an injury which stopped my progress. I rushed back. For about a season and a half I was struggling. I scored a few tries against Henley Hawks and thought the problem was fixed, but it went again.

It held me back.”

He worked hard to get back to fitness, put a few pounds of muscle on, improved his pace and forced his way back into the starting line-up.

“Everything’s fine now and I’m probably enjoying being on the wing more than being in the centre,” he adds.

Surviving injury and the changes that came when Winter arrived is one thing, but leading your promotion-winning side out in front of 3,758 supporters, the majority baying for a Coventry win, must have been something special.

Not forgetting that he’s a Cov kid.

“To be honest, it was in the back of my mind that it was my 100th appearance, but I think that was a day more for the club, for the fans,’ he says. ‘I didn’t want to think about it, really. That day was something the fans had looked forward to for a good few years. I wanted to be a part of that.

I remember I got the ball and I think I went round James Tincknell, who’s ex Cov. I asked him after if he had let me score it.”

Lest we forget, that last home game of the 2017/8 season was a day when Coventry wanted to bow out with a win, but there were still a few nerves around, given the slip up to Darlington Mowden Park at the Butts Park Arena the week before.

Knox is a footballer with all the skills. Balance, power, pace, footwork, an eye for a gap and good hands.

But while he insists “I’m pretty lucky, getting the breaks I did” his record speaks otherwise.

Because he enjoys rugby and wants to be part of a successful Coventry era.

Last season he and fellow winger Max Trimble both notched up 17 tries for the season, joint third in the National League One try-scoring table. That equalled a 22-year record set by Andy Smallwood, but in a vintage year, the record was well and truly smashed by full back James Stokes with 21, while bulldozing hooker Scott Tolmie bagged 19.

And Coventry were well represented in the top seven, with former Cov man Sam Baker and Stokes tied at the top, and former Cov winger Dom Lespierre tying with Tolmie in joint second place.

Knox says: “I’m trying to get faster at the moment. I like going to the gym, which helps. The coaches know what the players’ strengths are. I like the competition. Guys like Scott Tolmie, who is really quick for a big lad and carries really well, or Stokesey and Max.

I love training and being round the lads.”

The arrival of former Gloucester powerhouse David Halaifonau and the Bulumakau brothers has strengthened the competition and Knox says he’s relishing the battle for a starting berth.

When I suggest he could become one of the select few who have scored a century of tries for Coventry he admits it would be nice.

With 57 five pointers in the bank he wants plenty more. “I always enjoy going round opponents. The Championship is a lot more physical and a lot quicker in terms of the ball being in play. We’ve only just started and there’s a lot more to come.

I would love to join the 100 club. Hopefully I’m around long enough to get enough opportunities to get there.

We get given situations in training and it comes back to expressing ourselves. If it’s on, have a go. We’re encouraged to play what’s in front of us. It’s a big factor in how we were so successful last year.

Everyone wants to play.”

Coventry has been blessed with great wingers. Of the 15 players who scored 100 or more tries for the club, nine plied their trade on the flanks.

Ricky Melville scored 281, Harold Greasley 181, David Duckham 147, Peter Jackson 127, Nobby Bolton 122, Rod Webb 118, Simon Maisey 109, Paul Knee 105 and Johnny Kaye 100.

In the professional era only Kurt Johnson has come close, falling agonisingly short on 99 for Cov, although he did notch up 10 with Orrell before heading to Coundon Road.

Could Knox be the first of the Butts Park Arena players to hit three figures?

If he does, he’ll pay tribute to others ahead of his own abilities.

“Nick Walshe is great to go and talk to if I need help with something. He is so calm, he gives us the licence to play.

I’ve always been a fan of watching the Fiji Sevens team because they always look like they are enjoying themselves and how they express themselves. That’s what we are encouraged to do. It’s great.”

Knox certainly seems to enjoy himself in a Coventry shirt, on or off the pitch. He’s proving an inspiration for future generations eager to wear the blue and white.

He’s been praised for his role in the community rugby department, one of a number of players going out into schools and working with youngsters at rugby clubs in the area.

“I’m at Sherbourne Fields School with Sam McNulty,” he says. “It’s my third year there. It’s great, really rewarding. It’s one of the happiest places I go to.”

Sherbourne Fields teaches children with a range of disabilities and medical complaints and has a long-standing relationship with Coventry Rugby.

Knox, McNulty and several of the teaching staff are looking to start wheelchair rugby at the school as part of a wider project in the city.

“It is so good to get the children involved,” says Knox. “On a personal level, it’s nice to get away if I’ve not had a good game or I’ve been injured. I’m learning so much.”

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There’s that word again – learning.

Knox has long since graduated and has no regrets about following his passion for rugby.

“A couple of lads I played with at Coventry City Academy are top class footballers now, but I’m glad I chose rugby. I love playing for Coventry. That’s what I want to do.”

And score, of course.