Second guessing how a season, in any sport, might pan out before it has even begun is a futile pastime, and whilst common sense says we won’t really have a true picture of how the league will unfold until getting on for Christmas, most supporters offer a prediction or two. So here are mine.
I’m ever the optimist.
With Ealing promoted, of the sides remaining from last season Rosslyn Park should be our main opposition and although it’s not clear to what changes they’ve made to their squad, Ed Milne will certainly add to an already decent pack. Plymouth struggled on and off the pitch last year and having lost a big percentage of their players over the close season. However well they’ve recruited, they will take time to bed in; consolidation rather than promotion might be their aim for 2015/16. Fylde and Hartpury will also win far more than they lose, but realistically, I can’t see any teams outside of Coventry and RP fighting it out in April, with perhaps Richmond, although they always seem to flatter to deceive. Of the newly promoted sides, I think Ampthill will be strong and appear to have have recruited in depth and might cause a few surprises especially with their links to Saracens.
I would have been even more confident about Coventry’s chances had Hurrell stayed and Rundle not had such a serious injury. Both were key players last year and so much depended on their contributions, with Dan being an out-and-out match winner, something we’ve not had at Coventry for a long time and Will breaking through defences to create the space for Dan to use his pace. Dom did very well when he came in at the start of the season and hopefully will remain free from injury. However, as good a finisher as he is, I’m not sure he will create the gaps or beat his man in quite the same way as Hurrell and Rundle did during the second half of the season. I’m probably being a little unfair on him and I’m more than happy to be proved wrong.
I’m assuming that either James Tinknell or Peter Weightman or Ryan Hough will be on the wing whilst Rundle recovers from his broken leg/dislocated ankle…but I don’t know enough about them to make any appropriate comments. With no obvious change at half backs ( I thought Jones controlled games much better towards the end of last season and Evans got my vote for player of the year), l don’t think Ryan and Canning will see much action at fly half although it’s great to have so much strength in depth.
For me, using Cliffie to his strengths, without disrupting the make-up of the back line, is one of the key problems the selectors have to face in the next few weeks. I’m not sure where he will play if, as they should, Knox and MacBurnie are the first choice pairing at centre and Hamilton gets the nod at 15. Jones is a solid kicker, both out-of-hand and in dead ball situations, but Cliffie racks up the points with his kicking and scores tries as well…it will be interesting to see how it all pans out. I’m assuming Cliffie’s shoulder is on the mend now and I’m not sure whether an announcement about the captaincy has been made officially. If it is to be Cliffie, then presumably he’ll be on the team sheet ever week…? I really respect the contributions Cliffie has made to the club on and off the pitch over the last couple of seasons and I hope he’s able to play a really important role again this year.
I’m not going to try and anticipate the make-up of the pack given the number of new recruits in all areas of the scrum and my ignorance of the strengths and weakness of individual players. The intricacies of the front row remain a mystery to me and there are those far more qualified than me to make judgements. However, the No 8 position remains a real concern for me. A fully fit and focused Jacques Le Roux would be a real bonus and go a huge way to making up for the loss of Ed Milne. Sam Pailor was immense at times last year and I do think we could have the best back row in the league (again?) this year, provided we remain injury free. I’ve already alluded to my excitement at seeing Devlin Hope rampaging across the park this season; I do think he’ll quickly become a crowd favourite, especially as he’s so instantly recognisable.
If we play the open, running rugby that saw us score our highest ever number of league points last year and resist the temptation to kick the ball away aimlessly into the opposition’s half which enables teams to run the ball back at us and so frustrates the Cov crowd, we should do well particularly as defensively against the better sides we were so strong. The fact that we have retained so many of the squad again this year, many of whom will be in their third season here, can only be a positive. There was a real feeling of unity last season and players seemed more prepared to give their all for the team. That could make a great difference when games are times tight and give us that extra edge over our rivals.
If the crowds continue to grow as they did last season and the players can put together a good run from the outset, teams won’t relish a trip to fortress BPA. Sometimes, I don’t think we realise the impact we can have on the opposition.
This could just be our season.
As I said at the start, ever the optimist.