Having represented his country, played in some of the world’s great rugby stadiums and lined up alongside and against any number of modern greats, Coventry Rugby’s Matt Kvesic has seen plenty in his 13-year professional career.
After moving across the West Midlands in the summer following Worcester Warriors’ demise and a brief Italian sojourn with Zebre Parma, the 31-year-old is currently tasting English rugby’s second tier for the first time.
And six months into his new life, it is fair to say that the former Exeter and Gloucester flanker oozes positivity about the whole experience and especially his adopted club in the three spires city.
“I really love what a close-knit, family feel there is to Coventry,” he says. “Everyone at the club works hard and we’re all in it together.
“Cov is a proper rugby club with very deep roots in the city. I love that there’s guys who turn up and volunteer round the stadium and it’s great to sit down and have lunch or a cup of coffee with them.
“I have genuinely been blown away by the supporters. Our home support is great but I have been gobsmacked by the following we get when we play away.
“We travel two or three hours for some games and when we get there it feels like we have more supporters than the home team. For people to make that efforts, spend the money and take a day out of their week to come and watch us is brilliant and them being there really does help.
“I couldn’t believe it when I first experienced it – the way they travel to support us in coachloads is just incredible – we’re on a par with or better than plenty of Premiership clubs. We haven’t repaid them with the best of away performances so far this year but hopefully there’s better to come.”
For any who doubt the value of the Championship to English rugby and support the RFU’s refusal to return the clubs’ central funding to or beyond pre-Covid levels, a brief conversation with a man who played over 200 Premiership games would be enlightening.
“What I have quickly realised is that Cov might not have a stadium like Kingsholm or a big fancy gym but those material things are the only real difference between us and the Premiership clubs,” Kvesic says.
“For instance, our conditioning programmes are really good, everything we do in the gym is really well put together and how we review games and prepare is exactly the same as I experienced at Premiership clubs. No stone is left unturned, it is a very professional environment.
“It’s led from the top by (chief executive) Nick Johnston then our coaches (Alex Rea, James Scaysbrook and Gordon Ross) set the standards for us. We’re lucky to have such a professional coaching group who are all reasonably experienced but also still young.”
Kvesic and his former Worcester and Exeter teammate Will Chudley are clearly the senior pros at the Butts Park Arena, but he flinches when asked if he is a role model for some of the tyros in Cov’s youthful squad.
“I’m by no means the world’s best player or the finished article but if what I do every day in training or some of the bits in my game help some of the younger lads or give them something to think about then hopefully I’m doing my job,” he uncomfortably replies.
“I’ve done a few bits here and there with Tom Ball – a young, locally-developed guy who has some really good breakdown skills – and with James Scaysbrook also there hopefully we can help him along his journey.
“We’re blessed with talented young lads – and lots of them – but sometimes doing that sort of thing does make me feel old!”
After strutting his stuff for more than a decade at the likes of Welford Road, Franklin’s Gardens and the Stoop Kvesic could perhaps be forgiven for finding some of the Championship’s outposts a little less than inspiring.
But for a man whose middle name should be ‘Grounded’ rather than ‘Boris’ nothing could be further from the truth.
“It’s been different to the time I spent playing in the Premiership where I was used to playing the same ten or twelve clubs every year and seeing similar faces,” he says.
“Going into the Championship for the first time has meant turning out against new opponents on some different grounds and I’ve really enjoyed the experience.
“Rugby is rugby; the same pitch dimensions and the same laws, but for a first-timer in the Championship like me seeing some different clubs has been eye-opening at times.
“Taking Ampthill as an example, the pitch was perfect, but the walk through the woods from the clubhouse to the pitch is unlike anything I have experienced before although I actually found it really enjoyable as it is so unusual.”
Turning to matters on the pitch, Kvesic acknowledges that a three-from-six start in the league is worse than his new club hoped for.
However, the delayed start to the league season means Cov will only have only played a third of their league games by the end of December, and he sees plenty of grounds for optimism.
“We’ve had a few ups and downs so far,” he says. “We showed up well against some of the Premiership teams in the cup but we’ve had a bit of a bumpy start to the league season since then.
“We’ve had some good results and a couple of disappointing ones but it does feel like we’re building nicely and we have a talented young squad. While there’s lots to work on we’ve also played some good rugby and it doesn’t feel like we’re too far off.”
Tickets for Coventry’s next Championship home game against Nottingham on Boxing Day are available from: https://www.coventryrugby.co.uk/tickets/matchday-tickets/