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by John Butler

COVENTRY Rugby welcome new league opponents in Bishop’s Stortford to Butts Park Arena on Saturday, although it will not be the first time that the two clubs have met.

There have in fact been two previous meetings, one at first-team level in April of the 1993-94 season and the other three years later between the second XVs.

Fixture secretary at the time, I was eternally grateful to my Bishop’s Stortford counterpart back in 1994. It was in the days when fixture pools were in much greater use than today and after a cup defeat, Cov had the prospect of a blank Saturday

Following just one phone call, however, agreement was reached to play at Coundon Road with Cov duly winning the game 89-5. Despite the scoreline, I recall that everyone at Cov was delighted that our opponents had not only agreed to take on the fixture, but also to travel up to the Midlands.

Another thing to come out of the game concerned one of the Bishop’s Stortford players, and we do hope their present members will forgive us for mentioning it.

Featuring in the defeat at Coundon Road was Simon Smith, the Bishop’s Stortford No.8 on the day. So impressed were the Coventry coaches with his performance that the following season, 1994/95, Simon played 12 games in a Coventry jersey and another 25 the following campaign, scoring a total of seven tries.

Three years later, in the 1996/97 season, Cov Extra’s this time travelled south for what again was a pool fixture and won 71-35.

Formed in 1920, our Hertfordshire visitors moved to their present location in 1928.

At the advent of league rugby, Bishop’s Stortford won promotion at the end of the first season in 1987 to London North 2 Division. They were promoted to London One, level 5, in 2003, ultimately reaching National Two South in 2013. They were crowned champions of the division at the end of last season after beating Exmouth away on the very last day.

They run some five senior sides as well as colts, a thriving youth and mini section, and a ladies team, so in terms of numbers alone, the club is a big one.

They name their most famous former player as England and British Lions No.8, Ben Clarke.

In their first season at this level, Bishop’s Stortford have won three and lost two of their opening five matches. Both defeats have come at home, against Plymouth Albion and then Ampthill last Saturday by 41-22. Caldy were defeated in Hertfordshire, whilst the other two successes have come on the road at co-newcomers Old Elthamians and Rosslyn Park, results which have left them seventh in the table.

Head coach at Bishop’s Stortford is Andy Long, who has a large nucleus of last season’s promotion-winning side in his squad. Newcomers include fly-half George Cullen who currently tops the club’s points list with 45. Prop William Roberts is currently the leading try scorer.