by John Butler
SATURDAY sees the Coventry squad travel away for the final time in this tremendous season as they seek what would be a 12th league double with victory Ampthill’s rural surroundings.
Ampthill & District, to give them their full title, is a challenging place to visit, be it as a player or spectator. Whilst there is a pitch very close to their clubhouse, it is considered not to be up to size by senior National League standards.
Consequently, the playing area used for senior rugby is situated through a wooded area; challenging in itself, but even more so if conditions just happen to be on the muddy or wet side.
For Cov this will be a third visit to Dillingham Park, both the previous two having ended up as defeats. Conversely, Ampthill have themselves not won at Butts Park Arena with Cov fans surely remembering the 63-14 hammering handed out back in December.
Director of rugby at Ampthill is Mark Lavery, who has under him an experienced team of coaches. Former Welsh international Paul Turner is head coach, recently quoted as believing his squad had experienced an inconsistent season. Two current players hold coaching positions. Scrum-half Kevin Barrett is a specialist coach and back row forward Maama Molitika an assistant coach.
Ampthill’s playing record shows 16 wins – ten of them at home – four draws and seven defeats. Two of those seven have been at Dillingham Park, Cambridge winning there back in October whilst in the second v third clash last weekend, Darlington Mowden Park edged matters by two points, a duo of penalty tries, one each way, being awarded by referee Veryan Boscawen in the final moments.
There are quite a number of Coventry links in the Ampthill squad. Playing largely on the wing, James Pritchard has past 160 points for the season and Sam Baker on the other wing has 18 tries, leaving him in second place in the division’s scorers to Cov’s James Stokes.
Other links include lock Ben Gulliver, not in the side recently and son of our team manager Tony, and Peter Weightman, playing recently in the centre but more known at Butts Park as a winger.
Alex Woolford is named in the squad but has not played recently. The lock forward previously had a brief spell at Cov whilst at Northampton Academy.
In the try stakes, influential back row forward Joe Bercis, an ex-Kenilworth School pupil previously with Moseley and in his second spell at Ampthill, has claimed 12, leaving him second behind Baker.
Ampthill proudly confirm they are a fully functioning community club, running many sides at senior and junior levels, whilst aspiring to become the ‘’most professional community rugby club in the country’’.
Support-wise on match days, Cov’s hosts only average 313 per home game this season with a highest recorded figure of 424. Will again the travelling Coventry support swell the home figure to a new season’s high?
The new champions certainly have in their sights the possibility of 29 wins come the end of the season. Saturday, though, will be tough.
Ampthill, although with second place now probably out of reach, are still seeking their highest-ever finish in National One and will surely be still smarting from the extent of the earlier defeat at Butts Park.
The Development squad, fresh from a big home win over Cinderford United, also make the journey to Bedfordshire. Their earlier fixture with Ampthill 2nd was cancelled.
Kick-off at Dillingham Park is 3pm with, as always, the Supporters’ Club arranging coach travel for fans not wishing to drive down themselves.