Zoe’s Place – Fans Day Out

Coventry Rugby have formed a partnership with Zoe’s Place (Baby Hospice) who are organising a 10k Charity Walk on October 13th starting and finishing at Coventry Rugby Club from 10am. The walk takes in the sights of Coventry and is open to all.

Zoe’s Place is a unique, fantastic charity who provide respite and palliative care for children and babies up to 5 years of age.

One of the Supporters’ Club Committee members, Phil Reynolds & his best friend ‘Oliver’, will be undertaking the walk to help raise money for the charity. If you would like to sponsor Phil you can do so via the following ‘Just Giving’ link below:-

Thank you, on behalf of Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club.

Coventry Rugby sign international pair


Coventry Rugby boss Rowland Winter has added Tongan back five forward Daniel Faleafa and Canadian midfielder Rob Povey to his Greene King IPA Championship squad.

In addition, the blue-and-whites have announced that full back/fly half Dan Lewis and former Northampton lock Alex Woolford have joined the club ahead of this Saturday’s visit from unbeaten London Irish (3pm kick off).

The most recent of Faleafa’s 17 caps came against Fiji in June, when he made a try-scoring contribution to his country’s 27-19 win in Suva.

The Auckland-born 29-year-old was part of New Zealand’s 2009 Junior World Championship-winning squad, where he played alongside Aaron Cruden.

He played club rugby for Auckland, Northlands and Southern Districts before spending a season in Australia with Randwick. His last four seasons have been spent in France, in the colours of Albi then Colomiers.

Povey, 21, was born in Northampton and attended Rugby School and Oxford Brookes University.

He started his senior rugby career at Bedford Athletic and, qualifying for Canada through his mother, enjoyed a meteoric rise through his country’s under-20 and A teams before winning his first full cap against Chile last year.

Although his four international appearances have been at fly-half, Povey is equally at home at full-back, where Winter seems him playing a role for Cov.

Former Bedford Blue Lewis, who is also 21, made 29 National One appearances for Cambridge on a dual-registration basis over the last two seasons. He also played in New Zealand for North Otago.

Woolford arrives in Coventry with the experience of over 50 Championship matches under his belt from spells with London Scottish and London Welsh. The 25-year-old lock began his career with Saints academy.

Winter has also confirmed that winger Tim Bitirim has been released from his contract and will concentrate on his university studies at Loughborough.

Rowland Winter said:

“Dan’s pedigree as an international rugby player speaks for itself – he’s a very exciting addition to our squad.

“He brings plenty of size, experience and physicality into our pack in a position where we’ve been hit with injuries.

“He likes to get his hands on the ball, and also has strong setpiece skills which are well-suited to the English Championship. At 29 he’s in the prime of his career, and comes highly recommended.

“I’ve known Robbie for ten years; he’s an exciting young talent who came through the Northampton system and has really developed in the last couple of years to earn his international caps.

“Dan is a player we have been aware of for a year or so – he’s a talented, creative back who did well against us for Cambridge last year. He’s since had some good development time in New Zealand and hopefully will benefit from working with Nick Walshe.

“Alex is an experienced second row who will be a useful addition to the squad given that we are currently without Nile Dacres and George Oram. His lineout skills are a real strength, and his experience in the Championship and A League will be very valuable.”


Inside Out – Phil Nilsen

DSC_4186 (2)Phil Nilsen might live up to his Asbo nickname on the pitch, but he’s enjoying a new lease of life at Coventry Rugby. He tells Mark Forster he came to the Butts Park Arena because of the club’s ambition – and he’s still a few of his own. 

He does the hard yards, the hard hits and the hard commute.

And Phil Nilsen wouldn’t have it any other way.

The move to Coventry Rugby Club came at the right time and helped rejuvenate the 33-year-old hooker, fearsome on the pitch, friendly off it.

“I left Yorkshire Carnegie at the end of my testimonial,” he says. “I left on my own terms. I felt the club had lost its ambition.

I’d been there many years, through name changes, promotions, relegations, different coaches, new owners.

It was a really difficult decision for me, but coming to Coventry was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I had other offers from Championship sides, Premiership options, but I wanted to be at an ambitious club.”

Dropping down from the Championship to National League One had the potential to backfire, but Nilsen never had any doubts.

“When I met Rowland Winter (Coventry’s Director of Rugby) we agreed the contract there and then. He had the ambition for Coventry. I definitely think I’m rejuvenated as a player, I started to enjoy the game again, started to enjoy my life again.

It’s a good feeling.”

Remaining in Leeds, where wife April is a doctor and his three ‘Vikings’ are in school, Phil has a gruelling commute several days a week.

“The commute doesn’t really bother me. Leeds is a big city and I would spend more than an hour driving to train on the other side of the city when I played there.

I’m probably at home more than when I was at Leeds.”

‘Daddy daycare’ is one of the times he looks forward to, when April is at work.

He praises the compact training sessions at Coventry with helping his appetite for rugby and spending more time with the family. “You get in, get everything done, weights, reviews, units and you’re not hanging around doing nothing.”

Nilsen does a lot of his weight training at home, evidence of the dedication to the cause, which helped Coventry win a long-awaited promotion last season.

That was a highlight for the Sale-born hooker, bouncing back to English rugby’s second tier and embracing the values Coventry Rugby embodies.

“I played against Coventry many years ago. They had a reputation then as having a hard, nasty pack. As far as the history goes, that’s something that Rowland filled me in on.

To be part of that history is amazing. The old school lads are still there to shake our hands. That is special. And we have Gully (Tony Gulliver, first team manager, who played 381 times for the blue and whites) to talk to.

I’ve played in the Championship and the Premiership, this club is well supported. From my experience, more success will bring more supporters in. We want more success.

It’s fantastic to hear the Coventry roar. The people, the supporters are great, the noise they make is great. It really helps. To have that connection with the fans is something special.”

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With his thumping tackles and appetite for the ruck and roll, Nilsen has quickly become a fan favourite.

I wasn‘t able to be at the Championship opener against Jersey at Butts Park Arena, but I heard the thwack on the radio as Nilsen put in a ferocious tackle or two.

I was at the Mennaye Stadium when a battered and bruised Nilsen, stung by the disappointment of defeat, still had the decency to shake hands with supporters and thanked them for travelling down to cheer on the team.

Nilsen is less a student of the game than a professor. He understands the mental edge needed to succeeded, but also looks at ways to improve, be the best and to beat the opposition.

He prides himself on his fitness: “They might be younger but not fitter. I’m getting older, but I think it comes down to mentality. I have a job to do and I need to do it and do it well to continue doing it.

I do my weights at home. It just suits me better. I’m not always as heavy or big as other players, so my ability at the set piece is fundamental. The way I play the game, I have to be very good set piece-wise to even get a place in the team.

If you want a pack with edge, you need to find players that bring it. It’s something that players have in them. It’s the one thing you can’t teach.

But there’s no point having that edge if you’re not good technically. The Championship is very different to National League One. You’ll get teams who will look to win a penalty, kick to touch, maul, drive, trying to win the penalty and go again. When winter comes it will be more a case of that. We have to be able to deal with it.

We have a dangerous backline and I think we are trying to evolve both styles. The environment at Coventry makes a huge difference, being able to flick that switch, from having a laugh and chat to going full tilt, banging your head against the wall.

I’ve been around environments that haven’t been positive. It’s easy to fall into a negative rut. That’s not the case at Coventry.”

Nilsen says forwards coach Louis Deacon, a former England international, has helped the pack thrive, both collectively and individually.

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“The environment at Coventry was perfect, exactly what I needed. The attention to detail is fantastic. Louis Deacon understands what the players need, the systems, being able to adapt a system around a player.”

There is a healthy rivalry with Scott Tolmie, with both enjoying starting berths in the number two shirt last season. The recruitment of Darren Dawidiuk over the summer from London Irish and with several terms at Gloucester on his CV, means competition is harder than ever.

“Scott is a great bloke. And now we’ve got Dukes as well. We are all different players. It’s good to have players in a position that play different styles. And being a replacement isn’t bad, because you need that bench to win the game.

Scott works hard, always doing his extras. For me as a player, you always need that competition.

For me, 30 minutes of a game is a big period. You can completely change the game in that time, positively or negatively. The game is tougher now and I understand the need to rotate players, keep the squad fresh.

But I always want to be starting. I’m very open and honest with the club that I always want to start. I’ll always do my best, whether I start or I’m on the bench.

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I’m naturally fit and I like to get involved, be in the thick of it. People think about tries; it might be when a winger scores in the corner, but it might be someone who cleared out a ruck to win that ball that provided the platform, made the difference.

Knowing I’ve played my part in a try, that’s a really good feeling.”

A bad feeling is defeat, but Nilsen insists the reverse against Cornish Pirates had its positives. “I think we’ve shown already that we’re better than some people thought. The Pirates game was a big disappointment, but looking back, I think we got some of our game right, but we gave points away, left points out there. The focus for us as a team is to do what we do well on the pitch.

I’ve been a hooker for 13 or 14 years now. I’ve seen a lot of changes, the scrum laws have changed. I play my game as an extra back rower. In the set piece my basic job is throwing at the lineout and hooking at the scrum.

There is less impact in the engage now, you have to strike for the ball. There is a lot more pressure in the scrum as a result. It’s about building pressure. It’s a big tactical battle, the scrum. For a second in the scrum, you lose the hooker, then it’s about getting all 16 feet on the floor. There are the angles you push at and for me, it’s being able to have the mental toughness, the determination to succeed and knowing what to do.”

Nilsen has continued to move forward during his career. In more ways than one. He got involved in rugby when a friend’s dad took him to a training session at Trafford RFC when he was 10 years old.

“I played a lot of sport when I was a kid. Rugby just seemed right for me.

I started off at full-back, then outside centre, then number eight. At school I played number eight and the centre. Two or three of us were the best runners, so the ball didn’t get passed much, but it was about winning.

I moved to hooker when I was about 20. Stuart Lancaster (then coach of what was Leeds Tykes) moved me. I was too small to be a Premiership six or eight, and I wasn’t quick enough to be a seven. So he tried me at hooker.”

Nilsen has tremendous respect for Lancaster who was fired as England coach after a dismal 2015 World Cup campaign, when the hosts went out in the group stages.

“Lanny scouted me, he started the academy at Leeds. He provided a platform for us to learn and become better. He was a hands-on coach who would have one to one sessions with us, to give us feedback.

He’s different to Rowland, who is very good at organising people, very good at managing. It was unfair how Lanny got treated.

I also know Sam Burgess (the rugby league convert also blamed for England’s faltering campaign) from being Up North,” he says. “He did his best and you could see he really wanted to be involved. It wasn’t right, how the media handled it.”

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Nilsen doesn’t hold back, on the field or off it, but he’s hugely positive.

He credits wife April ‘his best friend’ with being a ‘massive support’.

“She was hugely supportive when I left Leeds. It was a difficult decision for everybody. She backed me. She’s the one who helps me get things sorted. Her main strength is organising the tribe and telling me to man up on a daily basis. She’s amazing.”


International Rugby – Coventry vs Canada

Coventry Rugby will host the full Canada senior squad on Monday, November 5 as the Cannucks prepare for their round of World Cup qualifying games against Kenya, Germany and Hong Kong later that month in Marseilles.

“Canada’s coach, Kingsley Jones said they needed a preparation game while we were speaking on another matter, and we jumped at the chance of playing them,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter.

“The game falls on a weekend off from the league and will prepare us for the Championship Cup, so it’s an ideal situation.

It’s quite an honour to host a national team and we hope it will be a great occasion for our supporters.”

A number of Canadian internationals have played for Coventry, notably John Cannon, Nik Witkowski and James Pritchard.

It will be the first time that Cov have played a national side since Georgia came to Coundon Road in the late 1990s.


Inside Out – Eric Richardson

DSC_0687 (2)ERIC Richardson’s role preparing the pitch at Butts Park Arena is a true labour of love.

Mostly labour.

And sometimes love is in short supply.

But don’t be fooled. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s certainly a challenge. There are frustrations. For me it’s about trying to make the pitches look good, not necessarily for the players, but the supporters, the people paying to be here,” he says.

His is arguably one of the hardest tasks in Coventry sporting life. The BPA pitch gets a lot of use, with Coventry United football games, Coventry Bears rugby league fixtures, and concerts, as well as Coventry Rugby matches and training sessions.

While that is brilliant news for Coventry Rugby, it comes at a cost, particularly to a man who wants the pitch to look its best for every occasion.

Responsibility for the rectangle of green is just one of the hats Eric wears at BPA, but his role is just as important and demanding of the same precision as a lineout, mismove in the centres or weighted kick for the wingers. His part in the match day experience cannot be underestimated.

Just think of the damage a bunch of grunt and groan forwards can do with their studs come scrum time, almost two tonne of muscle pushing forward, back and sideways.

Then there is the weather, which isn’t always kind.

“I’ve been here at 6am on a match day channelling water from the pitch. We had one of the worst winters last season and I was out there at times, in my wellies, minutes before kick-off. There were probably three games where the referee told me that if I could get certain areas of the pitch clear of water, the fixture would go ahead.

We didn’t want to cancel any game.

I had 30 kids from King Henry VIII School one Saturday morning, helping clear the ground. That was good, showing what a family-friendly, community club we still are.

But it’s been touch and go. I’ve only had four games cancelled and that was because the ground was frozen and there’s nothing you can do about that.”

Heavy rainfall can be a big problem, but a lack of rain is another challenge, given the absence of a water connection pitch-side for a sprinkler system to encourage the grass to grow.

And with just one hand lawnmower and a tractor at his disposal the odds are more often against him than with him.

But Eric is refreshingly stoic about the challenges and he and his six ‘invaluable’ volunteers, who divide into two working parties of three throughout the week, pull off their magic tricks to ensure the show goes on.

“We couldn’t do it without them. There are so many people volunteering their time to help this club. It’s special.”

There has been much talk about a 4G artificial pitch being laid at BPA to avoid many of the existing problems, but Eric insists it will mean more work, not less. Especially if usage goes up.

DSC_0691 (2)“If I put my groundsman’s hat on, and my supporter’s hat on, I would love to see them still play on grass. But with my commercial hat, it would be open for use 365 days a year. It’s something many, many clubs are going towards. We played at Cardiff a couple of seasons ago, their pitch is artificial and it’s really good.

It will be better for the club, but all those who think it will mean less work possibly don’t understand what’s involved. Look at the Ricoh pitch, that’s a hybrid and has been re-laid several times. They have irrigation, under soil heating and it’s not easy to look after. Saracens have just re-laid their pitch again. You don’t just lay it and leave it alone.

In fact, there’s far more work involved in looking after an artificial pitch.”

For the moment, Eric and his team of volunteers are desperately trying to breathe life back into the turf after the heatwave. “It’s looking quite dire. In this weather, the grass has died. I’ve put eight tonnes of sand on it, 15 bags of seed and fertiliser, although the pigeons have had more feed than the grass,” he laughs.

It’s been so hot that the outline of the old athletics track and jumps have become visible once more.

With the new 4G pitch in the offing, it would not be economical to relay the current turf, but it will stand up to the rigours of Championship rugby this coming season. Eric wouldn’t have it any other way.

“You do get great satisfaction at times. Rowland Winter [Coventry’s Director of Rugby] came up to me and thanked me for the work I put in. That was really nice. But on a really hard week in the middle of the season, when you’ve cut the grass, it’s all marked and looking nice, I will be up in the stand and think I’ve done a good job, that all the hard work has paid off.”

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The very nature of rugby, whether league or union, means pitches can get ripped up and scarred, giving the added test of getting it ready within days, sometimes hours, for a football match.

Concerts throw in another curveball for Eric’s goal of pitch perfect.

“The guys came in to lay out the stage for the Steps concert and it took about three days. For the first time ever, the four rugby posts would not come out of the ground,” reveals Eric. “When you consider I’ve been taking them out for the football regularly, it should have been easy but they wouldn’t budge.

We literally had to cut the posts down to allow for the stage and I had to work out how to reinstate the posts. Then I had to walk around picking up all the metal bolts that had been missed after they’d gone.”

It’s not just the pitch. When we talk, Eric has been repainting the 4,000 steps in the main stand. He’s also Mr Maintenance for the offices and rooms at BPA.

Despite the trials and tribulations, Eric insists he loves the role.

Yet it’s far from the only job he does for his beloved Coventry Rugby. At home games he is chief steward, ensuring everyone’s safety as well as making sure everything is clean and tidy afterwards.

He’s also a head chef, preparing meals during the week for anywhere between two to 200 people.

And mostly – when he gets the chance – he’s a diehard supporter.

“It’s a bit like being Mr Benn, the old children’s TV character. I walk out of one door and come out from another with a different hat on,” he laughs. “It can be a logistical nightmare.”

A native of the North East, whose family uprooted to Coventry when he was 12, Eric was a regular at Coundon Road as a fan before finding himself ‘pottering around doing odd jobs’ in the late 1990s – a time of big upheaval in the club’s fortunes.

The club almost folded three years into the professional era, but Keith Fairbrother, the former prop who was among a glut of blue and white internationals in the late 1960s and early 1970s stepped in.

Just about the time Eric’s time in the catering industry was coming to a conclusion.

And it was Fairbrother who afforded Eric two memorable moments – one of which must have seemed like the impossible.

“I’m a qualified chef,” he says. “I went to Keresley Newland School and then to Henley College to learn the trade. I went out to Germany then came back to work in hotels. I was head chef at Jaguar and then Peugeot.

By 1986 I had become somewhat disillusioned and so became a sales manager for a bakery ingredients firm in Cheshire, doing 70,000 miles a year. I was able to still look after the rugby supporting side of me on a Saturday.

I first got involved in the club when Gerry Sugrue was in charge. Then Keith came in. I’d stopped enjoying the job and had sent in my resignation. That was enough for me to be summoned to a meeting in Runcorn the next morning. They didn’t want me to go, but driving back down the M6 it felt like a cloud had lifted.

Until I realised I had a family to support.”

His journey home took him, inevitably, to Coundon Road where he worked on an ad hoc basis helping keep the old field of dreams in order.

“Keith offered me a full-time job. I was already cutting the pitch at Coundon Road, although it was predominantly weeds. Especially by the old scoreboard. When it was cut it would look like grass. It worked.

Keith found out that I was a chef, so I’d be responsible for putting together a buffet for him on his Twickenham outings. I ended up being the maintenance guy, looking after everything.

One day he drove me down to The Butts and said this was where Coventry Rugby would be playing.”

What is now Butts Park Arena was back then a disused velodrome with athletics pitch inside the oval. Overgrown, unkempt, surrounded by trees – a sadly neglected bomb site of a facility that few would have been so foolhardy to tackle.

Let alone to have the vision of a future stadium.

“I saw the rubble,” recalls Eric. “I accepted it could be transformed. Coundon Road could not be developed. To go forward as a club we had to move from Coundon Road.

I was taking out lumps of concrete out of the velodrome with a pickaxe. We had trees, tree stumps, rubble and everything else.”

It is clear, despite the pragmatic argument in favour of the BPA, Eric has a fondness for Coundon Road. He was at the famous victory against an all-star Newcastle team in the 1990s, but a memory of miserable evening in 2001 still lingers above all others.

“There was this bloke, all on his own, in the middle of the pitch in the drizzling rain. It was Zinzan Brooke. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe how Keith had pulled that off. Here was one of the best forwards to have played international rugby and he was at Coventry, at Coundon Road.”

Whilst the former All Black was unable to help Coventry step back up into the top level of club rugby, he and Eric enjoyed many chats and Eric would sometimes drive him around.

“I’ve so many memories, so many good memories, but meeting Zinzan Brooke is right up there. Along with the Newcastle win. Then there was the move to the BPA. The first game we played on it and the pitch looked great.”

The last Coventry Rugby game at BPA, on April 28, was memorable for most supporters, with a record crowd for National League One being broken, Coventry signing off as champions with a win and then the presentations of the trophies. It was celebration time for players, coaches, backroom staff and supporters alike.

Except Eric had other worries.

DSC_0694 (2)“On match day I run the car parking, get the players out, walk through the building checking out for the fire regulations, checking on the catering – it can be a logistical nightmare. That day [with 3,758 supporters coming through the turnstiles] while the game was going on I was working out how I could clean up the stadium from top to bottom ready for the rugby league match the following day. My brother, who everyone knows as Geordie, and I were out here at 7am in the morning working to clean it all up.”

A labour of love indeed.

The Two Johns

The Supporters’ Club are delighted to announce an evening with John Butler & Wilkinson who will talk about their life and times following all things Coventry Rugby. The two former sports journalists will talk openly and candidly about the memorable moments, both good & bad, and reveal the real stories behind the headlines. Full details are given below:-

Two Johns Flyer