ON track, but with ground to make up and a lot of work still to do.
That’s director of rugby Rowland Winter’s assessment of where Coventry are after a season which saw them finish fourth in National League One, scoring a club record number of tries, but was one of ups and downs.
“Taking into account our targets and aims for the season, we are pretty much where we wanted to be,” said Winter who is completing his first 12 months in the role.
“We took a few backward steps at times, which we’ve had to get over, but without those hurdles I don’t think we’d be as strong as we are now. We are better prepared going forward than we would have been if we hadn’t had those problems.
“We’re a more resilient and more robust group because of some of the setbacks we’ve had in terms of our away form and some coaching changes.
“At the beginning it was about implementing a professional rugby structure, on and off the pitch, which involved a lot of things and brought the problem of settling everyone in – the players, coaches, management, performance and medical staff.
“We had understandable periods where that created more problems for us, which we got through, and as we became more settled, the performances became better and the results are a bi-product of that improvement.
“We’ve fine-tuned our structure as we’ve gone along, and we’re now in a position that’s on target in terms of where I want us to be within the two, three, four-year plan.
”Supporters only see the product of what we are doing on the Saturdays, but when you know the work that’s been put in during the week you are far more assured about where you’re going. We’ve had some poor results, but we’ve always been able to take stock, understand what is happening, and I’ve always been reassured that we are going in the right direction.”
Cov finished the with eight consecutive wins, but Winter stresses that the run has to be viewed in context with the season as a whole.
“Our eight-game winning run adds confidence, but the season is longer than that and before the last 13 games we’d lost as many as we’d won, so it has distorted things,” said Winter.
“On aggregate scores over the two games between us we have been beaten by Hartpury, Plymouth, Ampthill, Moseley, Blackheath, Esher and Rosslyn Park, so we’ve got ground to catch up.
“We’re probably a year or so behind a lot of those sides. Moseley still have a lot of Championship experience in their squad, Plymouth did their rebuild the season before and they’ve kicked on to finish second, and Ampthill have been in the top three for the last couple of years.
“We’ve come from ninth position to fourth, but we’ve got no divine right to be above where we’re at just because the club is one of the most historic clubs in the country.
“We’ve got to earn what we get and we’ve got to do a lot of hard work to get into that top three.”
Added Winter: “We’ve had some memorable results and some great performances.
“The results that stick out are the ones where you snatch things at the last minute or the home Moseley game with the big crowd, the OAs performance when everything clicked and went our way.
“But I think overall the season has lived up to what I expected it to be, so that’s probably the high point for me.
“We’ve actually done a good job, we’re in a good position, and we’ve got a great platform now to try to attack that top three, so we’re pretty happy.”
With recruitment for next season almost complete, Winter is confident that the club will have the right blend of youth and experience to move forward.
“We’ve brought in experienced players, but I think it’s been about replacing the people we thought we would have along the way.
“We’ve gone through the majority of the season without Brendan Burke, James Pritchard, Boris Stankovich and Brendon Snyman who were going to be the experienced spine of our squad on the field. and with captains in Eoghan Grace and Tom Wheatcroft.
“With Eoghan injured, the only surviving player from those has been Tom who is arguably the most inexperienced in terms of leadership anyway.
“So looking forward to next season it’s about recognising that Boris and Brendan won’t play and also replacing the experience we’ve lost with Pritchard and Snyman, and ideally adding quality players and experience to other areas.
“I’ve been happy with all of the players this last season, we’ve retained a lot so that shows the faith I have in them.
“There are obvious candidates for individual plaudits, people like Will Maisey who played in all 30 matches – he’s been an outstanding performer and I think there’s a lot more to come from him.
“Phil Boulton’s leadership has developed as the season went on and we’ve now got a very good leader in him which he wasn’t in a position to offer at the start of the season.
“The development players who have come in and been blooded have filled gaps and taken their opportunities – I don’t think you can ever plan on that, so there’s been plenty of good things to see.”
Marks out of 10 for the overall season?
“Six – our line-out needs improving, our defence needs improving and our away form needs improving.
“We’ve got a lot of hard work to do, and we’d be naive if we thought we were any further ahead than where we are.”