AN ever present for Coventry this season, summer signing James Stokes is loving life at the Butts Park Arena.
The 24-year-old full-backâs attacking flair has been an instant hit with the fans, and his jinking run from what seemed an impossible position in his own 22 was the catalyst for the winning penalty in last weekâs last-gasp 34-33 victory over Plymouth Albion.
Part of the clubâs community team going into local schools, Stokes has certainly settled in well into his new surroundings, but admits that the decision to move to Cov was a tough one after a promotion-winning season with Cambridge which led to a place on the England Counties tour to Canada.
âIt was a massive decision to leave Cambridge,â said Stokes, who credits the Volac Park club with rekindling his passion for the game after two seasons at Nottingham.
âI started playing at Nottingham High School when I was 14 and or 15 â I was quite late to the game, I was a footballer until I got introduced to rugby and I fell in love with it.
âI gave up football pretty quickly, I wasnât really happy with the off-field side of it. My first club was Paviors, then I joined Southwell where some of my schoolmates were playing, and from there I went to Mansfield which was my first senior team. We managed to get promoted into National Three in my first season there which was really good.
âI was in Nottinghamâs Academy and progressed through their system, playing quite a lot of British & Irish Cup games. They had quite a few internationals and it was good to learn off them.
âIâve got some regrets that I didnât progress as I wanted to there, but it gave me a stepping stone to Cambridge which was a bit of a drop down but made me fall back in love with rugby.
âIâd lost it a little bit, but I knew Rowland Winter from playing for Midlands Under-20s and he managed to get me into England Counties Under-20s as well.
âI was given a life by Cambridge, they got me a job, a lot of which was down to Rowland and the old boys and people behind the scenes you donât really know about but who did so much for me, so it was a massive decision to leave.
âBut Iâm really glad I made the move. It was the new challenge that Coventry presented, the facilities, and Iâd heard huge things about the supporters as well so that was also a massive draw.â
After working under Winter at Cambridge, where he was leading points scorer last season, Stokes knew what style of rugby to expect at Coventry.
âIâm a full-back, the more running we can do, the better, and thatâs how Rowland likes to play – none of this âup your jumperâ kind of rugby.
âSome of what we are doing is not new to me, but Rowland has also brought in a lot of things we didnât have at Cambridge. The amount of time you could commit wasnât there, we were a sort of Tuesday and Thursday squad, and a lot of the analysis we do here off the field in terms of our well-being and things like that, we didnât have at Cambridge.
âI left my full-time job, it was another thing I wasnât too sure about, but it has allowed me to train full time and put in extra hours which hopefully is going to improve my game.
âIâm loving it here and hopefully itâs showing on the pitch. I believe that if youâre enjoying your rugby it kind of reflects in your performances. Iâll just keep working hard,
âThe support here is unbelievable, week in and week out. Iâve not really experienced anything like it, itâs definitely an interesting experience and I love playing at home. You can definitely hear them on the pitch.â
Stokes says that touring with England Counties was âprobably the best two weeks of my life.â
âI had an amazing experience out there. We did Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, it was a pretty special trip and Iâm glad I took some pictures to remember it all.
âI just want to play to the best standard I can. I donât set or chase targets, I donât think thereâs a lot you can do to influence someoneâs decision to pick you up.
âAll you can do is play rugby and play well, so if Iâm doing those and just happen to go up through the leagues, that will be great.
âBut Iâm happy just to keep playing rugby and enjoying myself, thatâs fine as well and all I really want to do.â
One date written large in his diary is November 19.
âWe play Cambridge here on that day which is also my birthday, so itâs a massive day for me.
âI really canât lose that one!â