|Full name||Coventry Rugby Football Club|
|Location||Coventry, West Midlands, England|
|Ground(s)||Butts Park Arena (Capacity: 4,000 (3,000 seated))|
Coventry Rugby Football Club is a professional rugby union club based in Coventry, England. The club enjoyed great success during the 1960s and 70s, with many players representing their countries. Coventry's home ground is the Butts Park Arena, which opened in 2004. Between 1921 and 2004, the club played at Coundon Road. The club plays in the RFU Championship (the second tier of the English rugby union system) following their promotion from the 2017–18 National League 1.
In 1874 a group, including members of Stoke Cricket Club, took part in what could be described as the first organised game of rugby football played in Coventry. Played against Allesley Park College in Allesley, it took the form of one half conducted according to rugby rules and the other according to association rules.
The first headquarters were established at Old Bull Fields and in the formative years Coventry remained pretty well unbeaten. When the ground became enclosed, it became known as the Butts with the first match played there against Stourbridge in 1880. By the late 1890s, involvement began in the Midland Counties Cup which was won a total of five times. The first club captain was Harry Ratliff, who later emigrated to the United States. By now players were winning representative honours, William Judkins becoming the club's first British Lion in 1899 during the tour to Australia – overall, ten Coventry players have over the years worn the famous red jersey.
Ben Tuke & H G Wells were the club's first internationals, both representing Ireland in 1894.
W L Oldham became the first of the club's great forwards of the 20th century to represent England. Early in the century the Butts was lost when the professional Northern Union game took brief hold in the city.
By the end of the First World War, the Butts had been taken over by a local firm and a temporary home was found at the Coventry & North Warwickshire Cricket Ground at Binley Road before Coundon Road was purchased in 1921 and developed as the club's headquarters which was to last for over 80 years. What was considered to be the first golden era of Coventry rugby came in the mid-1920s when losses were infrequent. That brilliance continued and carried over with Coventry producing six England internationals as well as playing a full part in the early Warwickshire successes in the County Championship. Regular representative matches by now were being staged at Coundon Road, at the same time playing successes for the club were continuing built upon local talent including many schools internationals.
The years of the Second World War brought more disruption, but from a playing point of view despite the inevitable difficulties, it became one of the most remarkable periods in the club's history. Many players remained locally for essential war work because of the importance of the city as a key engineering centre, and consequently a record 72 games were won in succession, with a number of players becoming Victory Internationals. All that ensured that when hostilities finished the club was immediately into its stride again as success continued. The early 1950s saw something of a dip in fortune, but it was not to last too long as the club continued to produce many international players, not only for England but also Scotland and Wales. In 1958 the Midlands won their first-ever match against a touring side, some two-thirds of the team which defeated Australia coming from the Coventry club. This was also the time when again Coventry players totally dominated the County side, which saw Warwickshire win the title seven times in eight seasons.
The early 1960s saw the club's players continue to win international honours, indeed by the early 1970s at one time thirteen players from the club were representing England. The RFU Club Knock Competition, later to be known as the John Player Cup, was won in consecutive seasons 1972–73 and 1973–74, the second of which coincided with the centenary celebrations. Merit tables were then beginning to come on the scene, the early years seeing the club at the top end of both the England & Wales versions. The 1980s, however, saw a dip in playing fortune and when league rugby was first introduced in 1987 the club spent just one season in what is now known as the Premiership.
The next ten years or so became something of a struggle before the 1996–97 season which would be Coventry's most successful of the modern era, coming within touching distance of the Premiership. Along the way they beat a Newcastle Falcons side featuring fifteen internationals by 19 – 18 at Coundon Road. They would eventually finish third to the well-funded Newcastle and champions Richmond but lost a promotion play-off to London Irish despite taking a narrow first leg advantage to Sunbury. Remarkably considering their second-tier status, both Danny Grewcock and Rob Hardwick were capped by England in this era. It was however to be at severe cost for in a little over twelve months serious financial difficulties hit the club before a rescue package was put together in time for the 1999–2000 season.
By now, however, Coundon Road was in need of considerable investment and after some eighty-four years the decision was made to move away and back full circle to the club's beginnings. The Butts Park Arena saw its first game in September 2004, but again financial difficulties were to bite and it took the considerable efforts of members, supporters, former players and local companies to rescue the situation during the summer of 2008. Even then, during the 2009–10 season it took the combined efforts of the Advisory Board to keep the club afloat before the first Board Of Directors was formed. Relegation predictably followed from the Championship, with the club regrouping in National League 1 for the 2010–11 season with the club going part-time again. Steady progress has followed under the guidance of the Board, the desired aim being to climb back up the leagues but not at any cost financially.
The traditional local rivals are Moseley, with whom Cov enjoyed a regular and popular Boxing Day fixture. It was long considered one of English rugby's premier derbies. After decades in the top echelons of the game, both sides competed in the inaugural season of top- tier league rugby when it was instituted in 1987, but have since spent time bouncing between the first, second and third tiers (primarily the latter two). Recently a pre- season friendly has been arranged when the teams are not in the same division. Cardiff and London Welsh were regular visitors to Coundon Road, promoting strong rivalries, with David Duckham scoring the most impressive try of his career against London Welsh in a match in 1973.
Prior to League Rugby, clubs were ranked in Merit Tables, the most prominent for English clubs being the Sunday Telegraph Merit Tables. Coventry were crowned 'winners' 3 times between 1964 and 1987 (70, 73 and 83), making them the joint 2nd most successful English team of the period, alongside Bristol and Leicester Tigers and behind London Welsh.
In 1987 the RFU implemented a National League system. Below is a list summarising Coventry's final league positions:
|Club||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Points for||Points against||Diff||Try bonus||Losing bonus||Points|
|Green background Championship winners |
Updated: 2 April 2022
Source: "The Championship". England Rugby.
For player movements before or during the 2022–23 season, see List of 2022–23 RFU Championship transfers § Coventry.
The Coventry squad for the 2022–23 season.[a]
Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.
The Coventry Development squad is:
Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.
In conjunction with Moulton College, the club jointly runs the Coventry Rugby Academy. It "...provides an educational and player pathway for talented rugby players to progress to the Coventry Rugby Club 1st team and development team squads".
In 1998, Keith Fairbrother, a former player for the club, became chairman. Fairbrother took over the club after it had gone into receivership that year (a role he would hold for eight years). In April 2004, Coventry played its final game at Coundon Road, its home for eighty-three years.
On 23 August 2006, Andrew Green became the new owner and chairman of the club when he bought the controlling company (Butts Park Ventures (Coventry) Ltd) from Keith Fairbrother. Green was a former player and chief executive of Reading.
Apoua Stewart, the Samoan international full back, was suspended for two years on 1 November 2006 after testing positive for the banned stimulant ephedrine. In doing so, he became the first Coventry player to fail a drug test. Stewart gave a positive sample after the game against Earth Titans at the Butts Park Arena on 9 September 2006. He admitted the offence when he appeared before a Rugby Football Union disciplinary panel at the Filton Holiday Inn Hotel in Bristol.
On 15 November 2006, the coach Mike Umaga, older brother of Tana Umaga, was also suspended following unspecified allegations. He resigned a fortnight later on 27 November 2006. Murray Henderson was appointed.
The following season, after a series of poor results, Coventry announced that Henderson would be moved within the club from 17 December 2007. Phil Maynard took over coaching responsibilities.
On 1 December 2009, it was reported that club owner Andrew Green had put the club into voluntary liquidation. It was later reported that this attempt had failed and that the club would instead go into administration. On 8 January 2010 it was announced that the club had come out of administration with the formation of a new company Coventry Rugby Ltd with investment from businessman Jon Bowles.
The 2010–11 season saw the return of Phil Maynard, and although the club were relegated to National League 1, the management saw him as the man to start the new era at Coventry Rugby Club. A whole new squad was formed, alongside new coaching staff for the 2010–2011 with the aim of avoiding consecutive relegation's.
Although it was announced that the 2011–12 budget would be lower than that of the previous season, the starting squad for 2011–12 appeared to contain more players vying for first XV team football. Mid- Season, Peter Rossborough stepped aside for Jon Sharpe to become Club Chairman
The 2012–13 season ended with Coventry in 9th place in National League 1. Following this, for the start of the 2013–14 season, ex Welsh International 2nd row Scott Morgan become Head Coach, while retaining a playing role.
The following season, on 29 March 2014, Cliffie Hodgson broke the club's all time point scoring record, beating Steve Gough's record which had stood since the 1998–99 season. A 4th-placed finish was Coventry's most competitive season since being relegated into National League One. Inconsistent away form prevented them from truly challenging for promotion.
During the 2014–2015 season, on 24 January 2015, Coventry beat their previous wartime record for consecutive victories with a 32 – 22 home win over Cinderford. The winning run of sixteen games ended with a 28 – 28 draw away at Richmond on 31 January 2015. The unbeaten run continued for another fortnight eventually reaching 18 games. It put the team in a position to challenge the league's only full-time professional side Ealing, who they'd beaten on the run, for the top spot before results tailed off. Coventry finished 3rd.
Following the improvement of the previous campaign and an ambitious recruitment policy over the summer, there was optimism for a serious promotion push in 2015–2016. A crushing 50-point pre-season victory against famous old foes Cardiff and bonus point wins in the opening two league fixtures reinforced ambitions. However, a series of disappointing and unexpected results, poor form and injuries saw Cov drop into the bottom half of the table where they remained. In early 2016 it was announced Rowland Winter would become the club's full- time Director of Rugby for the 2016–17 season. In February 2016 Cliffie Hodgson became the first Coventry player to exceed 1,000 points in league rugby.
New Director of Rugby Rowland Winter made wholesale changes to the club's culture, playing and backroom staff prior to the 2016–2017 season. A starting XV of entirely new players turned out in the opening league fixture, a 54 – 14 win versus Loughborough. Narrow defeats and poor away form hampered progress before steady improvement in the second half of the season, the highlight of an 8-game winning streak to finish the season being a 26- 23 home derby win over Moseley in front 2,712 supporters. Coventry finished Winter's first season in 4th place.
Ahead of his second campaign Winter retained the core of the squad adding quality and experience including the All Black centre Sam Tuitupou from Sale Sharks, Phil Nilsen from Leeds, England International Luke Narraway from London Irish, Tonga's Latu Makaafi from Doncaster, Jack Preece, Scotland's Alex Grove, Dave Brazier and George Oram (all from local rivals Moseley) and Nile Dacres from fellow promotion chasers Plymouth Albion. In September it was announced club legend (record league points scorer and player to record most league wins as captain) Cliffie Hodgson was being released to join Broadstreet as a Player Coach. On 21 October, Coventry beat Loughborough to record 8 consecutive wins at the start of the new season. In doing so, they equalled the 16-game run of the 2014–15 season. A week later the run was extended to 17 with a win against Cambridge that saw Cov come within 2 minutes of keeping a 3rd consecutive clean sheet. A win away at Moseley on 23 December completed a perfect first half of the season, 15 victories in 15 matches.
On 17 March 2018, Coventry beat Caldy 55–12 to clinch the league title and win promotion to The Championship, all with 5 games still left to play.
Marquee pre- season friendly victories over local rivals, old and new, preceded Cov's return to The Championship. Traditional rivals, Moseley were beaten 62- 14 whilst a Wasps XV were despatched 55- 14.
A winning return to the second tier was achieved a week later with a 20- 15 victory over Jersey Reds at The Butts Park Arena, a monumental effort considering 2 yellow cards saw Coventry reduced to 13 at one stage.
That opening day win was followed up by another win next time out at home against Bedford Blues, and then giving eventual title-winners London Irish a massive scare in front of a fervent Butts Park Arena crowd. The home form was key to Coventry establishing themselves back in the Championship at the first time of asking, and while there were agonising late defeats to Nottingham and Bedford - a thriller that saw the teams share over 100 points between them - the season finished on a high with away wins against Doncaster and Jersey and an eight-place finish.
Sam Tuitupou and Phil Nilsen both retired at the end of the season, but the squad has been bolstered with the addition of a number of experienced players, namely Joe Buckle (hooker, Yorkshire Carnegie), Ryan Burrows (back row, Newcastle), Gareth Denman (prop, Gloucester), Andy Forsyth (centre, Yorkshire Carnegie), Rory Jennings (fly half, London Scottish), Senitiki Nayolo (back row, Edinburgh) and Stan South (second row, Harlequins), with former England centre Anthony Allen joining from Leicester Tigers as defence coach.
Coventry was one of the premier rugby clubs in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s and many of its players were capped during that time for England. Some notable ex-Coventry players are:
The following players have played for their country while playing for Coventry. Unless otherwise noted, all played for England.
This information was originally taken from display boards inside the clubhouse on 15 October 2006.