Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Sunday's Coming - Coventry

If you think Rugby League in Coventry is a new idea - think again. A Northern Union club played in the city between 1909 and 1913  - and they played their games at the Butts, the site of the Coventry Bears’ current ground.

Sometimes this stuff just writes itself...
They folded after the 1912/13 season due to poor on-field performances and low gate receipts. In their three seasons, they’d played 96 games, but won just 12. In their final season they finished rock-bottom of the Northern Union with only a draw to their name having shipped just shy of 900 points.

While their history was short, they did produce one England international - J Tomes who won his one cap against Wales in 1910.

Fast Forward to 2015 and you have to feel a bit sorry for Coventry Bears. Having spent 17 years building towards league status, their first month as a pro club required them to play Oldham - at Whitebank - THREE times. It’s enough to make anyone wonder if it had been worth the effort.

But those three lookalike defeats aside, The Bears have kicked off their life in the Big(ish) League in pretty good style. Indeed, they have the ability to score points - particularly at home.

In their first game they whacked Oxford 32-10, then flogged hapless Hemel by 52-16 - but came apart a little last week in an error-strewn 42-10 defeat at York, after which coach Tom Tsang was disappointed: "I'm very disappointed right now,” he said: “ More so with the performance rather than the result. Our discipline was terrible today and we compounded that with some sloppy unforced errors. Inside the first 15 minutes we had given away 3 penalties and 4 errors which handed York field position on a plate and they were clinical and slick enough to punish us.”

Sounds eerily familiar to Hornets fans after last week’s pig-ugly shit-fight with Newcastle. Indeed, with both sides coming to this one on the back of error-strewn defeats, the one that keeps its composure and completes its sets better will gain the upper hand.

All teeth and claws - Old Bears/New Bears.
The Bears were founded by university students in 1998 and quickly became a bastion of Midlands Rugby League.  Here at TLCRF80mins, we’ve seen an awful lot of Coventry Bears over the last decade as they’ve built their club through the Summer Conference, National League 3 and, more recently, in NCL Division 3. Other than the observation that they always try and play high-tempo, direct football we can say that they’ve always had great logos.

Coventry are coached by Tom Tsang, who’s taken a somewhat unusual route to the dugout at Butts Park. Originally head of rugby operations for Opta Stats he became a regoinal development officer and education officer for the RFL before becoming head RL coach at  Loughborough University. He took up the reins at Coventry in 2011 and has overseen their transition into the pro-league. Our guess would be he’s a thinker, not a shouter.

On the field, Tsang has appointed an impressive general. Club captain is Brisbane-born loose forward Simon Phillips who brings a real pedigree of Queensland Cup  - and NRL - experience. The 30-year-old has played for North Queensland Cowboys in the NRL as making 200 Queensland Cup appearances for Wynnum Seagulls. Most recently he played at Norths Devils, Brisbane - which is where Ryan Millard is playing this season!

After the York defeat, Philips was disappointed too: “It was a disappointing performance today and one we can learn from. Too many mistakes against a quality team will always lead to the wrong result. I’ve said it before but you learn more from a loss than a win, so today we learnt and next week is another game and hopefully a better result.” Clearly, we rather hope it’ll be a similar result.

Miss too many tackles and Bears Coach
Tom Tsang will cut your nuts off.
Despite the disappointments, Tsang feels that Coventry can’t feel too sorry for themselves: “We can't feel sorry for ourselves,” he said, “we have a tough looking couple of weeks now with Rochdale at home followed by Keighley away. We need to get back on the horse immediately and I am expecting a positive reaction. We have the talent in the team to compete with these northern teams, its just a case of settling into the contest early on in games." Blimey! Who brings a horse to a Rugby League game?

As we’ve said previously, a return to completion and consistency will be key to avoiding this very real banana skin. A cynic might sugest that table-topping Oldham haven’t played anyone of substance yet in this tight division, and away wins of any kind - particulalrly against the ’southern’ teams  - are essential for teams to maintain pressure in the leading pack.

If Northern Union fans in 1909 could get down to Coventry, you have no excuse. So stick three mates in the car and go get behind Tol and the lads.

Getting there:
The Bears play at Butts Park Arena, Butts Road, Coventry CV1 3GE

According to Google Directions, the drive takes 2hours 40minutes.

South on the M6 onto the M6 Toll
Merge onto M42. At junction 6, take the A45 exit
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto the A45 ramp to A452/Coventry/Leamington/Middle Bickenhill/Meriden
Keep right and merge onto Coventry Rd/A45
Continue to follow A45 for 7.2 miles
Turn left onto Broad Ln
At the roundabout, take the 1st exit onto B4101
Turn right onto Earlsdon Ave
Turn left onto Broomfield Rd
Slight left onto Albany Rd
Turn left onto Butts Rd/B4101
Ground on your right