The initial shock at the manner of Coventry’s defeat has subsided now. The reality that Coventry aren’t performing at a level above that of a middle of the table National 1 side at best has hit home. It’s now time to stop briefly and admire the free-flowing ‘champagne’ rugby produced by a Fylde team that was a class above anything we could offer and then move on.
In the cool light of day, we have to be honest and say we were beaten by the better team. Would they be able to reproduce that performance every time we played them? Perhaps not, especially if we showed a little more ability to control the game ourselves and prevent Fylde from running the ball back at us from any position on the park. Our error count was far too high again, resulting in turnover ball in positions that we had worked hard to achieve – handling errors and technical fouls ended several promising encounters into the Fylde half. Having built up a solid platform on which to attack the Fylde line following several phases of possession, we repeatedly found ourselves defending our own line as a result of just one or two phases from Fylde, such was the pace they play at. When we made a break, too often the player with the ball was isolated and possession was turned over or we were penalised for holding on.
I really don’t think there was a massive gulf at all in terms of ability between the two sides, but in terms of the two teams’ approaches to the game, there was an ocean of difference.
In the Daily Telegraph yesterday, Zinzan Brooke, the former Coventry favourite who also had a few New Zealand caps too, looked at comparisons between the northern and southern hemisphere teams. The conclusions he reaches are eerily redolent of what might be going awry with Coventry this season and might also explain the main difference ourselves and are visitors from Lancashire.
He suggests there is no lack of talent within northern hemisphere sides, something most Coventry supporters, however frustrated they are with what they are witnessing on the pitch at the moment, would probably agree is true about their own squad. However, he goes on to say:
‘The difference is the licence they are given to express those talents…There is far too much focus on sticking to systems rather than playing what is in front of you.’
I think that fairly succinctly sums up what Fylde were able to do on Saturday so effectively. They trusted in their innate flair and creativity. The forwards, quicker to the breakdown than us, were able to spoil our ball and their handling skills were such that they off-loaded quickly to enable the ball to get to the speedsters who then enjoyed acres of space in which to tear holes in the beleaguered Coventry defence. Players of the ability of Brennand, Rawlings, Briers et al are at their most dangerous when given such freedom. It was a sobering lesson in ‘playing what is in front of you’…Their players, the key decision makers in team, possess a speed of thought which frightens the opposition and the constant taking of tap penalties, even in their own 22, puts their opponents constantly on the back-foot. It’s what did for Wayne Evans when he ‘earned’ himself the first of his two yellow cards. Unable to stop the ball from being spread wide at pace, he impeded the scrum-half (I think) who’d just out-thought him. An instinctive reaction but one that Wayne should have been able to avoid given his experience.
The Fylde forwards do the basics really efficiently. They play to the game plan and the scrum, lineout and maul are all effective, but they also carry the ball well and 15 man rugby Fylde have become so renowned for, means the forwards are just as important in attack as the backs. They provide the quick off-loads to create space and it is very hard to defend against when it is executed so effectively as it was on Saturday.
On muddy, sap draining pitches in the middle of winter it might be a little harder to produce, but if Fylde can consistently play at the levels we saw on Saturday, few teams in our league will be able to live with them.
What happened, happened. We move on to Rosslyn Park and a chance to begin the recovery at home in front of what should be another decent crowd. A lot of interest will be focused on the team that Scott Morgan selects on Thursday or Friday and how he reacts to Saturday’s defeat that he has said was:
…one of the all-time lows in my time here….Regardless of where we are and everything we have done, by any standards that was just completely unacceptable for the people of Coventry, for the club, for all concerned.
However, the real statements of intent won’t come in the form of quotes in the press; too often they become hollow soundbites. The team selected on Saturday and the manner in which that team plays against Rosslyn Park will be the real indication of the lessons learned. Will the team respond in the way we’d expect them to and give a performance full of pride and passion?
I’m sure they will.
There’s much debate about who should be dropped and who should come in. For me, the team that is picked is the best one available to Scott Morgan, otherwise he wouldn’t pick it, so talk of a new fly half or a change in the second row, whilst interesting, is academic. Scott’s in a really difficult situation; show faith in the team and he will be vilified next weekend if the performance doesn’t improve. Bow to pressure and bring in a number of ‘new’ faces and run the risk of selecting a team that hasn’t played together and will need time to settle – against a Rosslyn Park side who beat Ampthill last weekend. Who’d be a head coach, eh?
Personally, I just want to see the players respond positively on the pitch to whatever Morgan and the rest of the coaches have been instilling in them during the week. I’m sure they’ll be changes, but how many…well I doubt even the coaches know at the moment. As a spectator, I’d love to see the team given a little more license to express itself both individually and collectively, but as a coach I’m not sure Scott Morgan would be quite so enthusiastic.
Whatever the decisions made this week, this remains a talented squad, with plenty of strength in depth. Those talents have yet to be used, collectively, to their fullest potential this season in a competitive situation.
That happens on Saturday.