AMBITIOUS Old Elthamians pay their first-ever visit to Butts Park Arena on Saturday in a position of some strength in sixth place in their debut National League One season.
Founded in 1911, OEs are an example of a club rising rapidly through the league ranks. As recently as the 2011/12 season they were still playing their rugby in London Division One North, finally reaching National League One following their promotion at the end of last season from National Two South, their fifth rise in the last eight seasons.
Those Coventry followers who made the journey to Kent for our first meeting in November will already know there are major plans for a major multi-million pounds development of College Meadow, at Eltham School.
In common with many other clubs who have risen through the divisions, Old Elthamians currently run many sides at numerous levels. They field four senior teams, two women’s, under-18s down to under-13s, and a mini section from under-12s down to under-6s.
Gavin Lach has been director of rugby for a number of seasons. Since the beginning of this season, with several coaches already in place, the experienced Mike Friday has also joined as academy director, in addition to continuing his role of head coach to the USA national sevens team. Heading up the women’s section is the former England captain, Catherine Spencer.
OEs home game against Ampthill last weekend was postponed because of the icy conditions. Prior to today, they lie sixth in the division with 13 wins from 23, plus an excellent away draw at Plymouth Albion. Five wins have been notched up on their travels at Fylde, Cambridge, Old Albanian, Loughborough Students and, most recently, Rosslyn Park (36-29). The same number of defeats away from home have occurred at Darlington Mowden Park, Ampthill, Hull Ionians, Bishop’s Stortford and Caldy.
A high percentage of last season’s successful squad who won the play-off to achieve promotion remain at College Meadow. Amongst them, a former Cov favourite in winger Dom Lespierre who has continued his try-scoring feats, currently being third in the division’s top scorers with 15. Another with a previous Coventry link is fly-half Joe Carlisle, recruited from London Welsh and currently heading his club’s points list with just over 120.
The history of fixtures between our two clubs is, of course, very brief with just the one match earlier in the season when Old Elthamians made Cov go the full distance before coming out on top 20-16. There is every reason to believe our visitors will be very much up for the challenge again this weekend.