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Away Days

Whatever team, or, sport you follow, you have to admire all things Shetland Rugby Club. Below is an extract from the Rugby Journal, which they have kindly given their permission for us to share.

SHETLAND RFC

‘We had to play Stornoway in the Western Isles.

We took a 14-hour ferry, a six-hour bus ride and then another three-hour ferry.

We lost.

It wasn’t even a tour, just another league game.

We’d left on Thursday night and got back to Shetland on Tuesday morning.’

Our plane is roughly the size of a Pringle can and, in high winds, appears to drop onto an airstrip that didn’t seem to be there a second ago.

As we approached the island, falling lower and lower from the sky and ever-closer to the ground, the wait to see a bit of land vaguely resembling tarmac was endless.

The gale force winds had already buffeted our intimate propeller plane (small enough to be able to see out of both windows without moving and perhaps, with a bit of a stretch, touch both sides) enough to make us regret the greasy sausage square we’d wolfed down at the last airport.

This is an extract from issue 2 of Rugby journal, the new print quarterly. To order your copy visit therugbyjournal.com/subscribe

Family Fun Day – Meet the Players

Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club & Coventry Rugby are delighted to announce a ‘Family Fun Day & Meet the Players’ event, to be held at BPA on Saturday July 28th. The event is an open invitation to all, giving the opportunity to meet the playing squad, coaching and management staff for the 2018 / 2019 season. Further details are given below:-

Meet the Players Flyer 2018-19

The intent is to make the event a Supporters / family fun day, with active participation for all ages in selected training drills, ensuring the safety of those participating. Alternatively, you can just watch. Also, the new playing kit for the season will be available to view at the Supporters’ Club Stand in the Jon Sharp Suite (formerly known as the Arena Bar).

The event will commence at 12.00 midday (gates open at 11.30am) and will close at 3.30pm and will include the following:-

  • Watch an open training session from Coventry Rugby Club players on the pitch, followed by:-

 

  • The opportunity for supporters to actively participate in training drills with the players:
  • Lineout
  • Kicking Drills – punt, goal, grubber, box
  • Passing Skills
  • Gladiator Gaunlet
  • Mini Coaching / Didi rugby for children (Community Rugby)
  • (Please note – details are still being finalised to ensure the safety of supporters who wish to participate)
  • BBQ hosted by the players & coaches
  • Cross Bar Challenge for Supporters
  • Find the player competition
  • New Kit Launch
  • CRSC Stand
  • Purity Brewing Stand
  • Kids Village (Bouncy Castles, etc, subject to availability)
  • Ice Cream Van
  • Bar Open
  • Raffle
  • Coaches Corner:- Open Q&A session for supporters to talk with coaches regarding tactics, strategies & coaching techniques.
  • An open invitation for all those attending to talk with the players & coaching staff in an open and relaxed environment from early afternoon through until the close of the event

Further details will be released within the next 7-10 days.

If anyone would like to donate prizes for the Raffle please E-Mail the Supporters’ Club at CRSC1874@gmail.com

Inside Out – Anthony Matoto

DSC_0166 (2)BAREFOOT with a bottle for a ball – that’s how one former Butts Park Arena favourite started out in rugby.

And it certainly held Anthony Matoto in good stead as he made a huge impact on Coventry Rugby’s promotion push.

“I loved playing for Coventry, it was an amazing experience,” he says. “To get to know the history, to be able to talk to men like Harry Walker (the Coventry stalwart who passed away, aged 103, earlier this month); and to hear about the club’s history, especially from Tony Gulliver (team manager), was amazing. There was such a lot of history. A lot of pride that made me feel special.

Rowland Winter, (Coventry’s Director of Rugby) challenged me to see if I could keep the level of success I’d been used to in Spain. The environment was so different. It was so professional.

The lads were awesome and I felt at ease. I could just play rugby. I could just sit back and focus on my job within the team. And I was learning so much from everybody.”

That ‘job’ included scoring tries, from wing and centre. He notched up 12 tries in 18 league games, and his powerful play and footballing brain quickly won him a place in the hearts of the Coventry faithful.

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“The Coventry crowd, that was the icing on the cake,” he adds. “They were great all the time. I’m a shy person. I like to get off the pitch as quickly as I can, get in and have a shower. It was different at Coventry.

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People would come up and talk to you. They wanted to say ‘hi’, tell you how you’d done, how important it was that we’d done well. It was lovely.

And to see people who had supported the club for so many years, coming out on a cold winter’s day to applaud you and will the team on. That was special.

Win or lose, people wanted to approach you and congratulate you.”

His best game was a bittersweet experience, a black day for Coventry, when they lost 61-29 at Blackheath in January, bringing the club’s unbeaten run to an untimely end.

“With rugby, parts of the games you forget. I had some good times, but probably my best game came against Blackheath. I scored a hat-trick, but we lost. I’ve never been so hyped up to win. I think it was down to the Red Bull,” he jokes. “My last try, I just picked the ball off a ruck and ran straight under the posts.

I still felt we could have won. It was one of the worst games we had and I scored a hat-trick.

Overall, I felt I played my part in getting promotion. I will forever cherish my time at Coventry.”

When we talk on Skype, despite an off-putting crackle and then time lag, Matoto is charming, modest and obviously a student of the game that led him from his native Tonga, to New Zealand, Spain and then the English Midlands.

He namechecks heroes like famous All Blacks, Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke, the latter who also pulled on the blue and white jersey of Coventry.

He talks of the incredible passion for rugby in Tonga and New Zealand, where he moved as a teenager, and his family links with the oval ball game.

Family is hugely important in Matoto’s life and a key reason for his decision to leave Coventry.

He insists there are no regrets, except a hint or two that he would have loved to remain in Cov colours and test himself at the next level, in the Championship.

“I’ve seen some of the guys coming through, and who Coventry have signed, I think the club will do well next season.”

His partner, Ariane, is expecting their first child in July and the return brings her closer to family.

She had enjoyed watching me excel and better myself at the level Coventry was competing at and saw that I confronted the challenge very well despite coming from an emerging rugby nation. But after finding out she was pregnant, I had to make the hard decision to leave Coventry to provide ourselves with the family support we needed to prepare for this little bundle of joy.

Ariane had pushed me to take this offer in the first place, and I wouldn’t have got to put on that blue and white jersey if it wasn’t for her full-on support for my rugby.

“I’m so looking forward to being a father. It is so important to me. I realise that rugby is temporary, while family is permanent. Talking with Tony Fenner and Phil Boulton, among others, helped me to understand what it is to become a father and the sacrifices you have to be willing to make for your new little family.

Family was hugely important for Matoto’s rugby education as a child growing up in Tonga. His grandfather was a Tongan international and his father played, too.

“Rugby played a big part in my childhood. My grandfather played for the national team in 1963, and you got to know all the little histories. My father played for the national sevens team.

Rugby runs in the blood. As a kid I would join my grandpa and my dad in watching big rugby matches on the telly, watch them analyse and criticise with passion.

For such a small nation, rugby is very big. I would be running in barefoot on grass, with a bottle for the ball. All us kids, we’d be running as if we were Jonah Lomu. We’d all be calling his name.”

Matoto admits that playing rugby made him feel part of ‘something special’ at school. “I started playing at high school, although I didn’t get a pair of boots until I was 15.

The language I used to communicate with my peers was my rugby.”

While much of Tonga’s focus was on the XV a side game, the advent of the World Series Sevens tournament meant that Tonga was suddenly playing on a global stage regularly.

“We were encouraged to take part in sevens before getting into the national team,” Anthony recalls.

By the time he was picked for the Tongan U18s, his family had moved to Auckland, New Zealand, which he recalls was a bit of a culture shock.

“In Tonga, everything was strict, education was first and foremost. Culturally, I guess, I wasn’t used to so many things.

I was quiet, I liked to listen and observe what was going on. I was nervous, but at my first rugby training, everyone was talking. At the age of 18 and having recently moved to New Zealand and at my first training session at Massey High School, I was nervous, everyone was talking about me, the new guy and wanted to have a go at trying to smash me. At that point I decided I was going to go all out to prove myself.

I had to go all out to prove myself as a player.”

Rugby was the common currency between the two nations and he lived across the road from one of his cousins, the bullocking All Black centre Anthony Tuitavake.

“He played for the Auckland Blues, New Zealand Sevens and the All Blacks. I watched him lots. His influence was all around.

My cousin is also best mates with Sam Tuitupou, they have played together back in NZ. Knowing Sam was also part of the Coventry set up helped convince me move, also playing alongside him in a lot of games.”

The young Matoto was a number eight by instinct. His days behind the pack were to come in Spain and then Coventry.

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“I loved running from the back of a scrum or line-out. I’m a forward at heart. We had a New Zealand coach and he suggested I could be more effective as a centre. He told me ‘no fancy stuff, just run straight’ and I did. I had more space to run in and I loved it.”

And his decision to move abroad was borne from the frustration of shattered false hopes.

“While I was playing rugby, I was studying computer science,” he says.

“It was hard balancing the two. If you gave 100 per cent to one, the other was dropping.

I travelled around the world with the sevens side. But in New Zealand there is so much competition. I wanted to move out of my comfort zone and that was when the move to Spain popped up. At the time I had just finished up with Tonga ‘A’ at a Pacific Rugby Cup tournament in Australia before I decided to take on Spain.

When I got the offer I had to ask whether it was football or rugby, because I’m no good at football.”

It was networking that got Matoto to Southern Europe and has played a major part since then. Simon Hafoka, a Tongan living in Spain, was looking for a number eight. He messaged his old coach in New Zealand, asking if there was anyone who fitted the bill as a dynamic, running number eight.

At the time I didn’t have anything in New Zealand. All I had to do was commit. And moving to Spain kept me in the Church, which pleased my mum.”

While Spanish rugby is not so well-known outside of the Sevens circuit, Matoto has enjoyed his time there, even if it did mean coming to terms with a different approach to rugby.

“It was very odd, because rugby in Spain is about 15 to 20 years behind the All Blacks. Physically, the size of the players here isn’t as big as I was used to, but I admired their passion. They just enjoyed it so much.

I had been exposed to rugby from an early age, but it’s all football in Spain.

I think I learned to enjoy the game much more without it being so competitive.

You tend to forget to focus on yourself in New Zealand. You focus on other people and not on your own game. I wanted to develop myself personally and I felt I grew as a person and a player.”

While he is without a club as of yet for next season, he is mulling over offers. The chance to play five games as a medical joker for Alcobendas Rugby Union after leaving Coventry gave him much needed exposure.

“I’m glad I got that gig, because it gave me a little bit of a chance to show what talent and skill I learned from Coventry.”

He says Spanish rugby, both domestically and nationally, is on the up despite recent controversy that meant the side missed out on qualifying for next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.

“The improvement in the Spanish game has been huge, too. The perfect example was the Olympics. Spain were one of the few countries to send both a men’s and a women’s sevens team to Rio. There has been a lot of funding. We’ve got a cup competition named the Heineken Cup and there’s a lot more interest in rugby.

We’ve summer camps. There is a lot happening. It’s exciting. And we have football fans coming to watch rugby and they’re amazed how friendly it is. We’re making people happy.”

And personally?

“I think I’m better than ever after my time at Coventry. I learned so much.”

A Tribute to Harry Walker

A tribute to Coventry Rugby legend and former England international Harry Walker has been written by Steve ‘Scribble’ Evans.

Steve joined the Coventry Evening Telegraph’s sports desk in 1979 and covered Coventry Rugby until 1987, when he was promoted to Chief Sports Writer.

In total, Steve spent 42 years in journalism before retiring from the Telegraph in 2008. During his time Steve came to know and become good friends with Harry.

Harry made his first appearance for Coventry at the age of 17, as a flanker in the second XV, and after two games there he converted to prop. He broke into the first XV at the age of 18 and played there for some 20 years.

After retiring as a player at the age of 37 in 1952, Harry went on to fill just about every major role at the Coventry Club up to President, most recently being club patron.

 

Harry 1 (2)

Harry Walker (1915 – 2018)

“Harry Walker, Harry Walker is a horse’s arse….”

The unforgettable opening line to a song chorused hundreds of times by legions of players spanning the generations across the decades.

Don’t for one minute assume that Harry took offence. Quite the contrary. He could often be seen at the front of the team coach, like Andre Previn’s grandad in the orchestra pit, waving his arms about encouraging the lads to embark on a second verse.

In the pre-professional days of play-hard, shake hands and booze-hard, Harry was a rugger bugger of the highest order. And when we sang “his” song at the Cowshed Lunch to mark his 103rd birthday at the Butts Park Arena in February, his grin was a gummy giveaway to the affection that was being showered upon him by more than 100 assembled ex-players.

Even the BBC cameraman recording the event started chuckling as the words became apparent. Suffice to say, the Dubbing Editor had never been busier back in the studio.

I was privileged, honoured, to cover Cov for the Coventry Evening Telegraph for almost a decade. And I’d dial Keresley 4842 virtually every day for team news. And the receiver would be lifted to a loud, gruff, barking response: “WALKER.”

I have a theory about the day Harry was born in 1915. I’m convinced he arrived carved in granite to a thunderclap and a bolt of lightning. The city of Coventry would never be quite the same again. The man affectionately dubbed “H” had landed! Thinking about it, there could be no more fitting nick-name than “H” – the shape of rugby posts that would ultimately shape his life and his legacy.

He never knew his father, who was killed in the First World War when Harry was a baby. He was raised clinging to his mother’s apron strings. She did a brilliant job and bequeathed to us, this club, this city, this county, this country, a son destined for rugby folklore.

One of Harry’s best mates was the old Gloucester prop ‘Digger’ Morris. They locked antlers many times in blood-and-thunder battles. He loved talking about the times they knocked seven bells out of each other but, back in the clubhouse over a pint or three, they’d be long-lost brothers, despite sharing black eyes like a pair of pubescent panda bears. Digger wrote an autobiography entitled “Never Stay Down”. I bought it, thanks to Harry’s recommendation. It gave me an insight into just what goes on in the mysterious world of the Front Row.

In hindsight, now that Harry is lost to us forever, I wish I’d collared him and suggested ghost-writing his life’s slings and arrows.

I have always put forward the theory that there is a two-inch difference between the players of the amateur and professional eras, and it has nothing to do with the size of the male appendage. Measure the distance between the heart and the wallet. Back in the day, players who came from Coventry schools like Bablake, King Henry VIII, and others, played for no monetary gain. They shared blood, sweat and beers for the pride of representing their birthplace city. T’is just my humble opinion.

Harry always led from the front, but always protected the players’ backs. Even on the Bermuda Tour of 1980. We spent a month on the island and “H” organised 50cc Puch mopeds for all of us to get about. There must have been 26 of us in that blue-shirted convoy. In alphabetical terms, it was an A-Z. I looked over my shoulder and there was “H” in position Z, the tail-gunner, chugging along at the rear. 

For me, it exploded the myth that a mother hen always leads its chicks. But he was leading us. In his own protective way. Watching our backs…a mother hen cluck-clucking while chug-chugging.

Harry loved his players. We lost one of those Bermuda touring players a few years ago. Hooker Andy Farrington succumbed to cancer at an indecently young age. The lads shouldered his casket into Holy Trinity Church, Attleborough, Nuneaton, to the strains of “He Ain’t Heavy, he’s my brother”.  In the pews, I sat with Graham Robbins and Dick Travers. We blubbered like three blubbering Blubber Whales. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Harry was outside afterwards, forlorn, head bowed. He’d lost one of his chicks.

Now we are preparing to gather at Coventry’s magnificent Holy Trinity Church on July 3 to say farewell to “H”. There’ll be tears, for sure, but don’t be surprised if, as his casket is exiting, you hear faint murmerings breaking out along the lines of Harry being an equine cavity.

Trust me, he’d expect nothing less. 

Coventry Rugby – Didi Rugby Programme

Didi Rugby

 

First Team Manager Tony Gulliver and his family are fronting a new kids programme in Coventry called didi rugby, and are welcoming rugby-based activity classes for 18 months – 6 year olds from June.

The didi rugby Coventry team are offering a FREE taster session on the 16th June at the Butts Park Arena, Butts Road, Coventry, CV1 3GE for any families who wish to bring their children along to trial a session.

The launch on the 16th June will also be an opportunity to meet players from our recently promoted Championship side, such as Club Captain Phil Boulton and Nile Dacres.

Vicky Macqueen (BEM) founder of didi rugby and ex-England rugby international said: “I am super excited to kick off didi rugby at Coventry Rugby.

“With the success they have had this year and how forward thinking the club are, Didi Rugby can’t wait to link with the Gulliver’s and Coventry Rugby to inspire more children to get active and involved in rugby in the area “

The didi rugby Coventry team fronted by Tony Gulliver, who was capped 381 times for his city, believes it is such an exciting time for rugby and the city of Coventry.

We’ve seen our very own rugby team promoted to the championship, whilst our city has been crowned city of culture 2021 and European city of sport 2019.

Coventry rugby club and didi rugby have a shared vision of introducing rugby to children at a young age. This year also sees the introduction of Coventry’s kids and Junior’s memberships.

The cost of this membership is £25 and will include the following benefits:

  • Membership card
  • Entry to all Coventry Rugby matches for the 2018/19 season which includes 3 pre-season matches, 11 league matches, and the 3 Cup matches in the regional league section
  • Branded T-Shirt
  • Complimentary entry to the “Meet the Players” pre-season event
  • Birthday Card signed by the Coventry squad
  • Christmas Card signed by the Coventry squad
  • 10% discount on children’s club merchandise items
  • 10% discount on room hire at Coventry Rugby for birthday parties
  • Discount on rugby camps with Coventry Rugby for the “Kids Club” and rugby skills section for the “Junior Club”

Please note* as a result of the introduction of these new club memberships, Coventry Rugby will be introducing a nominal match day entry price of £2 for children who are not members. This applies to children between 3 and 16 years of age.

For details of booking on the launch on the 16th June, please email Sophie.gulliver@didirugby.com to find out which session times are suitability for your children.

A Winter’s Tale

 

DSC_0818 (2)Fresh from signing a new long-term deal to keep him at Butts Park Arena until 2022, the architect of Coventry’s return to the Championship is planning to continue along winning ways.

In an exclusive interview for Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club, Director of Rugby, Rowland Winter talks about his hopes for the blue and whites in the Championship and his love affair with rugby and success.

 

 

If there was a hint of Machiavelli’s Prince in Rowland Winter’s move along the A14 to Coventry, there’s a splash of a King of Legend in there, too.

For Winter, who has penned a four-year deal to stay at Butts Park Arena, has fashioned a new era – or culture in his words – akin to the romantic Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

And all because he succumbed to the romance of rugby and Coventry Rugby in particular.

“The fans at Coventry are amazing, the majority gave me great welcome and helped to get me up to speed with their views on the club. I felt their pain, when the fans were doing their part, the club was under-performing. I wanted to make things right. It was easy to fall in love with everything about the club.”

Now he is hunting the Holy Grail of success in the Championship and to create a lasting legacy that ensures Coventry’s winning ways run from top to bottom, with a new stadium in the offing and the commercial benefits that could bring.

But when he hit ‘send’ on an E-Mail gamble to club saviour Jon Sharp, the situation at BPA was very different.

Despite a proud history to rival the very best, Coventry had suffered in the professional era and had nearly gone under several times.

Coventry was the rugby equivalent of Bridget Jones, waiting for a Mark Darcy.

Although Winter could have been mistaken for a Daniel Cleaver, at first, a love ’em and leave ’em type on his path to glory until his arrival at Butts Park Arena.

“Everytime I’ve won something at my previous clubs, I’ve left,” he admits.

He’d taken clubs to new heights and then quit for a fresh challenge at a higher level. From Northampton BBOB RFC, to Bedford Athletic to Cambridge. Trophies and titles, but no long stays. Until now.

Leading Cambridge back to National League One was his crowning glory at Grantchester Road, but by then he was already looking to the City of the Elephant and Three Spires.

“I could have stayed at Cambridge but I am not sure I could have taken the club any further, it was time for someone else, and I needed a new challenge. I wanted to be a Director of Rugby in the Championship.

‘We got the culture right at Cambridge. I was happy there. It’s a great club. But probably the worst characteristic I’ve got is impatience. When I think I can’t achieve anything more at a club I’ve been at, I need to move on. I’m best when I’m challenged, back against the wall, I thrive under pressure.”

Winter, a driven man with goals galore and strong ideas for success, considered his future options among the teams already in National League One.

“There were a few clubs that interested me, but Coventry stood out. It worked well for me geographically, I’ve got four young kids who are settled in school, and Coventry was a sleeping giant with its history, the fans and I knew it was the club that would see me as a Director of Rugby in the Championship. I emailed Jon and asked for coffee, so that I could explain how I was going to make Coventry successful again.

It was a gamble, but it was bigger gamble for Coventry and Jon was the man who took it. When I looked at Coventry my aim was to be in the Championship asap and then create a team to win that league. The main annoyance was to get out of National League One !

All of my plans for Coventry, from a playing, business and commercial point of view, were based on the idea of us being in the Championship. I knew I could get us there if I had a certain amount of leverage and control, but my real job starts now, now we’ve gone up.

Next season will be tougher than last. We are going to need a different set of skills and characteristics as a squad. Our teamwork, our culture and environment will be tested a bit more. Our retention and recruitment has focused on getting people who are good at problem solving, better at adapting out there – winners.

The squad changes over the last two years have been as much about character as about good rugby players. It’s getting the right person to fit into the progressive culture and environment we have created. The key thing for me was the player profile, getting the right age, personality, ambition, experience, and mindset. Someone who had been used to winning but still hungry to win more.

At Coventry, we don’t want anyone to be content, we want winners who succeed and then immediately move onto the next target, to have that relentless drive, we want people who are prepared to work harder and harder.

I’ve driven thousands of miles meeting players and agents. The good thing now, is that people want to play for Coventry. That wasn’t always the case. Lots of the key players and agents didn’t want anything to do with the club when I came here. That is very different now.”

There is a palpable sense that Coventry is a great fit for the ambitious Winter, still only 33, and that he is perfect for the club.

It’s more than just the rugby. He brings an energy, an infectious enthusiasm for the brand, the history and the future; the very sport itself. He’s a revolutionary with echoes of Jimmy Hill, the man who changed Coventry City from under-achieving Bantams to top-flight Sky Blues.

And Winter’s in no doubt what lies ahead for followers of the 1874 vintage.

“In some ways, what we’ve achieved so far is a bit of an irrelevance because the real work starts now. Last season was great, and we’ve built some strong foundations but nothing more. We must now kick on.

We have now got to establish ourselves in the Championship and get amongst the big boys at the top end. Once we have done that, I know we have the potential and capability as a club, to win the Championship. I know how long I expect that to take, but that depends on other factors, some of which are outside of my control.”

One of those factors is the lack of a stadium, although the club is working on projects to deliver a 12,000 seat arena over several phases. The prospect of Coventry’s successful bids to become City of Culture in 2021, a European City of Sport in 2019 and other regeneration cash pots could help bring those dreams a step forward.

RWWinter’s interests in man management and psychology allow him to spin a culture of success, on and off the pitch.

“Some of the best lessons I have learned is to know your players, to know their backgrounds and interests. Only then can you build an informed support structure for them and an environment where they will thrive, and where you can challenge them to develop. Make sure that they know, that I will work harder than them and harder for them.”

 

 

 

Very much a hands on DoR, Winter stresses: “The more hours we can get with the players, the more we can effectively influence them. I like to encourage all the players to have something else in their lives apart from rugby.

We’ve helped some of the current squad to further educate themselves, gain new qualifications, find a hobby, such as learning to play the piano or speaking Spanish. It means they have something else to talk about. In modern day rugby, lots of players leave the academies where they teach the same skills, lift the same weights and you can produce these great athletes, promising rugby players but with no hobbies and nothing much to talk about.

It was important to get players doing something else. It means they contribute at a better level to the team than they did before. They become more interesting. As the All Blacks say ‘better people make better rugby players’.”

As well as the first team and development team, plans are underway for an U18’s Academy squad next season, with an U16’s squad to follow.

Within the next four years, I would like to see a veterans team, an amateur team, a ladies team and a better pathway for younger players.

‘Nirvana for me would be to have lots of home-grown players out there, having been part of our culture over a number of seasons. The environment would be natural and the opportunities would be endless.”

Culture. It’s a term that surfaces regularly. For Winter, success is not just about winning rugby, but winning attitudes and helping change the sport, not just teams.

Culture and family, for family looms large in Winter’s life, too. From the influence of his teacher parents to his wife Domanie and their children.

His wife, or at least her family, were responsible for his move into rugby coaching in a big way.

“They were all heavily involved in Northampton BBOB. At that point it was very much a social side, a great club but I was completely naive, completely inexperienced. I had some ideas, the theory, and I volunteered to take on a coaching role. I would turn up for training sessions and the idea of warming up beforehand for most of the lads was to have a couple of cigarettes.

I was young and enthusiastic but very much in at the deep end. I had my Level 2 coaching certificate and I was coaching because it was something I enjoyed and wanted to do.

A lot of lessons I learned at Northampton BBOB I’m using now. About 90 per cent of the squad were tradesmen, they would be working hard all day so training sessions had to be about fun, it had to be an enjoyable place to come to, players had to want to buy in. I guess the main success I had there was going from a few at training to 40 or 50 guys turning up.”

Northampton BBOB moved up a league because of an RFU restructuring and in the 2008/9 season, under Winter, the first team progressed to the finals of the Alliance Cup.

“We were well beaten, but we’d got to the final. The following season we won the Lewis Shield. I guess the legacy of those years is that the club did much better. We built a gym, opened it up to the public, and they now have four teams running. It’s a good set up.”

For the romantics, had the gods of rugby not intervened, Winter could have been playing rather than coaching. He first got into rugby thanks to his father, Tom, and progressed through the County and Regional age groups at Northampton.

“My rugby introduction was mainly my dad; mum and dad were both big rugby fans, both teachers by profession. When I was six or seven dad took me round all the local rugby clubs, being a teacher he knew he wanted somewhere with a good set up.

That was at Olney Rugby Club and dad coached me there through till I was 18.

My talents were always around speed, competing nationally at Athletics mainly at 400m. I wasn’t keen on defending, tackling, or standing out on the wing in cold weather.

From quite a young age, in conversations with dad on the way to training sessions I’d try and get him to do the games and drills I liked. I would influence the sessions as much as possible and try to be his assistant coach without the title. I was keen to learn.”

When he was 15 the anterior crucial ligament (ACL) snapped in his right leg “effectively retiring me in the long term”.

It meant his playing involvement in his school’s first XV ended, not that the teenage Winter could be stopped from playing a part.

“I got involved in helping out wherever I could. I took the water bottles on. I ended up organising the rugby training sessions at lunchtime when the teacher couldn’t make it.

We won the county cup without a teacher really being involved.”

He had finished sixth form before his knee was operated on, enjoying time abroad before heading to Sheffield Hallam University to study sports science, Winter still had aspirations to play and knew Hallam had strong ties to Rotherham Titans.

But “by this time I’d snapped my left ACL and it was game over, in hindsight it’s not a bad thing as I wouldn’t have got close to the Championship as a player, so it allowed me to kick start a coaching career 12 to 15 years before most do.

At some point I was always going to go into teaching. I was ideally looking for an independent school where I could become a rugby master.

After I finished university, I went travelling again with some mates, and when I was in Bali I was running out of money and Saints were advertising for a community coach. I was interviewed by phone from my hotel room in Bali, while my mates were absolutely hammered. It was a great job to start off with, and I thought I could earn some money while I learned more about coaching and then maybe find a school.

Suddenly, while I had all the theoretical knowledge from my degree, I was picking up ideas from watching Saints train in the early days under Jim Mallinder (the coach who put a poor Northampton Saints outfit back into the Premiership, into Europe and to fresh glories before his sacking last season).

I was going out, delivering tag rugby to schools. I was coming up with ideas to make the community department more money. I volunteered for anybody who wanted a coach, I just volunteered to get experience and knowledge.

I was out four evenings a week, all day Saturdays and Sundays, long days. I loved it.

I wanted to challenge myself and move up a league or two and Bedford Athletic had been relegated from National Three to Midlands One. I contacted the guy in charge as I knew they were looking for a coach. At that stage a lot of players had gone, they had three senior players left, a really good history, but the culture and playing set up was poor.

I had no real track record, but I thought I could take some of what I had learned and put it into practice there. We developed a home-grown squad by promoting most of the colts early, and after a year or so of building we got promoted back into National Three. That home- grown team are still playing for them now, which is great.

I got the opportunity from there to work with the Midlands U20’s. Jon Phillips, the former Saints and Bedford lock, asked me to work with the backs. I had just had my left ACL reconstructed a few days before, so I coached the sessions on crutches and then had to coach the whole team at the England Counties divisional tournament because JP couldn’t make it. We ended up winning it, and lots of players progressed on to England.”

The backs in 2012 included a young Heath Stevens, Dave Brazier and James Stokes, three of Winter’s record breaking squad last term, as Coventry cantered to the National One League title.

The fates of rugby conspiring to help Coventry back into the big time?

On Winter’s watch, few would bet against it.

Winter Wonderland

“If You ask my wife, she’d tell you I was obsessed. I go to bed at 1am and get up at 6am.”

Rowland Winter’s appetite for work, and success, means he puts his heart and soul into rugby, while remaining a devoted family man. That much is evident in the way he talks about his family – they are hugely important in his life.

But he enjoys his work and devours autobiographies on and biographies by winners. He looks to other teams and other sports for winning attitudes, cultures and approaches. Anything for that winning edge.

He’s been involved in the England RFU set up, Northampton Saints, Midlands U20’s and Eastern Counties.

At the moment, he is ambitious to tackle a number of goals and targets at Coventry, which is why he’s signed a long-term deal.

While he acknowledges the Championship will be tough, his record so far is telling for a 33-year-old. Supporters will hope the best is yet to come with a return to rugby’s top table and all that can mean.

Winter, for one, is hungry for more to add to his previous successes.

Northampton BBOB – Finalists Alliance Cup 2008/9

Winners Lewis Shield 2009/10

Bedford Athletic – Finalists East Midlands Cup 2011

Champions Midlands One 2012/13

Cambridge – Champions National League Two 2015/16

Coventry – Champions National League One 2017/18

His win rate in the national leagues with Cambridge and Coventry stands at 74% overall; 70% in his two years at Cambridge and 78% in his two seasons so far at Coventry.

In the four seasons before his arrival at Butts Park Arena, Coventry’s win rate was 56.3%

And he has championed exciting, high-scoring rugby. His record in the National Leagues is 3,981 points for – an average of 33 points a game – and 2,422 points against – an average of 20.

At Coventry, the ‘points for’ record stands at 36 on average under Winter.

The article above was written on behalf of the Supporters’ Club by Supporters’ Club Member – Mark Forster.

PURITY BREWING

The following is a précis of the items which were discussed at a meeting last week with representatives of Purity Brewing:-

  • A complementary tour of the brewery has been offered. Accordingly an email has today (16th May) been sent to CRSC members.
  • Sales of Purity Gold at BPA – is subject to the dictates of Greene King who sponsor the Championship, the development of the west side where there is currently a Purity bar and there is hoped to be a hospitality outlet, and to the agreement of the terms of the Purity Brewing deal with Coventry Rugby
  •  The Supporters’ Club intends to hold another open day in the summer, (date to be confirmed) as we did last summer, where supporters can meet the players, coaches, support staff, etc. Purity Brewing have made a commitment to support the event by having their own staff present, a stand where they will provide samples of their brews, and support for the raffle by offering prize/s.
  •  They are investigating with the Supporters’ Club and with Coventry Rugby the prospects of providing an additional label on the badge on the pump handle which signifies that Purity Brewing is “supportive of” or “in association with”. It is not financially effective to brew a specific beer for sales at BPA outlets, but a label on the badge could be a significant way to show support.

The attitude of Purity Brewing, and their wish to constantly liaise with a view to providing support, is very much appreciated.