by John Butler
A significant factor that Coventry have had to take on board this season in their unbeaten 10-match opening has been the need to adapt to a number of new opponents and the challenges they have presented.
Old Elthamians become the latest new opponents for Cov this Saturday, following their promotion via the play-offs at the end of last season.
Their base is now at College Meadow in South East London. The origins of the club, which like many other Old Boys clubs went open in 1972, are traced back to 1911 when the original club was formed by a group of former pupils from Eltham College.
The initial period saw them play in Blackheath. After the Second World War the Old Boys purchased some land in Chislehurst, which one gathers was the club’s home until pretty recently.
OEs list as their most famous former players Andrew Sheridan, the former England World Cup prop, and Ben Ransom who went on to higher levels and to play at full-back for Saracens.
Cov’s hosts on Saturday have achieved some five promotions in the past eight seasons, several of them under their present director of rugby, Gavin Lach. Currently seventh in National League One with five wins from their 10 games, they clearly do pose a significant threat, particularly on their own, very open ground.
Three of the wins have come at College Meadow, against Loughborough Students, Caldy – by two points – and most recently, Rosslyn Park in their last home game. The two away wins were chalked up at Fylde and, narrowly, at Cambridge. Last Saturday, OEs suffered a 33-7 reverse at Ampthill.
Two of the home squad have very definite connections with Cov and both are expected to be the starting line-up. Right wing Dom Lespierre became a very popular figure during his two seasons at Butts Park, his electric finishing seeing him touch down 25 tries in 45 appearances between 2014-16. Dom has continued his scoring exploits this season and is currently on 11 tries as the division’s top scorer, one ahead of our own James Stokes.
The second is fly-half Joe Carlisle, recruited during the close season, who has had spells at both Worcester Warriors and London Welsh. Many Cov supporters will remember Joe from his seven appearances for Cov whilst on loan from Worcester in season 2009/10. A length of the field try away at Bristol is fondly remembered.
Overall, there is a lot of experience in the home squad, some 34 being retained from their promotion-winning season under captain and back row forward, Hamish Barton. Significantly, there were relatively few players brought in and only a similarly small number left.
No doubt about it, Cov will know they face a significant challenge as they look to maintain their magnificent, record-breaking start. Saturday’s hard-fought win against Caldy, which yours truly was very sorry to miss having been ill, displayed all the signs again as to how tough the squads task is and it certainly will only become even more demanding over the next few weeks.
The win over Caldy was the tenth on the bounce this season, and adding to that the eight wins from the end of last season, the club league record winning run now stands at a glorious 18.
Significantly as well, the Caldy result also meant that the squad equalled the record set three seasons ago of remaining unbeaten in 18 matches as well.
Hence, a possible ‘double 19’ record is on the cards on Saturday!
Many wise heads in the camp know that a lot of rugby has to be played before that can be achieved.
Once again, with the Supporters Club at the helm, a large number of Cov supporters are expected to travel down to support the team and once more considerably boost an opponent’s home gate.
Kick-off time is 2pm, there being no floodlights on Old Elthamians’ ground.