The break in the league fixtures must offer a welcome respite to Coventry RFC, in particular Scott Morgan and the rest of the coaching team. Two weeks in which to work with the squad to address the key areas that are preventing Coventry from performing at the levels they were consistently reaching in the pre-season friendlies and the opening two games. Just what those areas are is open to discussion.
For those supporters who have watched Coventry regularly over the last three months, the simple fact is that Coventry haven’t been the same since the injury to Rob Knox. It would be totally wrong to attribute Coventry’s decline in fortunes squarely on Rob’s absence, but the fact remains that there is no one presently in the back division at the club who seems able to penetrate a defence in the same way he can.
That’s not to take anything away from the present set of backs who have all shown glimpses of what they are capable of, but in the last three or four games Coventry haven’t posed much of a threat in the three-quarters, unless in broken play when at times Caolan Ryan in particular, and Lespierre, Tincknell, Smith and Weightman have all made good yards. But it’s all too infrequent.
John Wilkinson’s article this week in the Coventry Evening Telegraph (CET – Chance for Coventry RFC to regroup…) is revealing for a number of reasons. Now John is a wordsmith, someone for whom I have the highest respect, so when he uses the word ‘concedes’ in describing Scott Morgan’s acceptance that the present injury crisis in the backs and changes in personnel:
have highlighted issues outside the forwards
you know he does so for a reason.
To concede something is to admit something after having first denied it, or in Scott’s case, resisted saying it previously. To me, this is the first time in public that the club has acknowledged the backs brought in to cover Will Hurrell’s departure and Dan’s injury haven’t been able to replicate the success they provided last year. And that’s no criticism of the current back division at all, it’s just an acceptance that what we had last year was special.
And it also goes some way to explain why in the last couple of games there has been no width at all to our play. Indeed, against Park, if the ball passed beyond the fly-have, it never got further than the centres who ran hard and straight…into a proverbial brick wall and with no opportunity to off-load. Play was predictable and eminently defendable. There was no one creating any angles of attack, no decoy runners and no opportunity for Dom and James to find a bit of space to run into. They both had to live off scraps and it was depressing to watch.
It needs a rethink; Scott Hamilton and Pete Glackin have to come up with a system of play that will enable the backs to effectively use the ball they get because at the moment it just isn’t happening.
Many times this season, Coventry has put together several phases of play and retained possession well (discounting the last game where the weather made the ball very slippy and both sides struggled to keep hold of it). Unfortunately, with no real penetration, play has tended to go across the pitch laterally with little territorial advantage gained before the inevitable knock on or turnover. It just doesn’t make sense.
The backs we have are a talented bunch, but the system they are being asked to follow just doesn’t seem to allow them to play to their strengths, or at least that’s how it appears to me, but I totally accept that I’m no expert.
Whilst last week was, I hope, our nadir in many respects and it’s now a question of onwards and upwards, I do think there were some encouraging signs in the scrum. The new prop, Tiploma Kivalu, together with Price and Parkins destroyed a strong Park front 3 and our scrum looked as good as it has all season whilst they remained on the pitch, although worryingly all the good work was undone when they were replaced in the second half. There was some concern elsewhere about the Tongan’s fitness, or lack thereof, but I have to say I hadn’t noticed a problem.
The lineout remains a huge concern and it would seem that by bringing in two new hookers and another second row, the coaches are sending out a message to everyone concerned; if you don’t get it right then we’ll bring in others who will. My immediate reaction to that was that it seemed like good, decisive leadership, but now on reflection I’m not quite so sure.
Bringing 5 or 6 new players in over one week is all very well, but it’s going to create some unrest, inevitably. I was the first to applaud Coventry’s recruitment drive in the close season – the much vaunted policy of having two quality players for each position on the pitch. But it might well come back to bite us, if it hasn’t already.
Now take the second row, for instance…available to play 4 and 5 are Tom Poole, Courtney Roberts, Ben Thomas, Martin Wolfenden and Scott Morgan with Tom Hicks recruited last week. Now I happen to rate Tom, who looked very impressive in his last spell with us. However, is he going to be better than Poole, Roberts, Thomas (all of whom are fit) and Wolfenden who is now back playing with Broadstreet following a lengthy injury? I’m not so sure. Tom and Courtney’s absence was a real surprise for me last Saturday, especially as I understand both were fit and available for selection and they’d paired up extremely well when they played together earlier on in the season. Devlin Hope’s exclusion was another complete mystery.
It’s decisions like that, when not explained, that lead to speculation. Why not clarify what the thinking behind their exclusion was exactly?
The other problem the club could have as a result of the pre-season recruitment is this. Presuming both players (and sometimes there’s more than two) competing for the same position are of a similar standard and if the belief is that Cov have put together a side capable of winning promotion, then there are going to be at the very least 15+ players all of whom should be playing National 1 rugby but who aren’t selected on match days. They are either going to be sitting on the bench for long periods of the season or having to play their rugby in junior leagues to ensure they remain match fit.
And that could make for some very frustrated players who were ambitious enough to come here because they felt they could have the opportunity for Championship rugby in 12 months time but who are actually having to play Tier 4 rugby because they can’t get a starting place in the present side. I know I’d struggle in that situation. I also appreciate it’s about biding your time and being prepared to keep on doing what you do best.
Just how you keep everyone happy is a difficult one…the coaches’ man-management skills will be sorely tested.
I know there are many who want to draw a complete veil on the events of last week and cite Jon Sharp’s email that Jean Harrison kindly put on the Messageboard as evidence that there aren’t any major problems in the Cov camp. However, this isn’t the messageboard and one of the benefits of having your own blog is you can write what you really believe – provided it’s not libellous.
So I will say this…
…we live in a different world now to that of only a few years ago…Facebook, Twitter and all the other forms of social media ensure that what used to be left behind on training grounds and in the dressing room in clubs all across the land is now out there for everyone to read about. It’s not enough sometimes to say that there isn’t a problem or, if there is one, it’s nowhere near the levels of discontent that’s being speculated because supporters know when that’s not the case.
And before someone jumps down my throat, I’m not saying this is specifically a Coventry issue.
Sh!t happens, of course it does…and with all that testosterone flying around, well it’s a given…big players, big egos. So it would be refreshing on occasions to be a bit more candid. ‘It shows the desire to put things right’, ‘players are desperate to turn things round’, ‘they’re frustrated by results’, ‘disappointed at not being selected’, ‘angry at coaches telling it as it is in the media’, whatever the reason coaches, directors of rugby, chairmen and Uncle Tom Cobley should be honest about it. No names, no details required. I’ve always believed that to be the right way to go about things – I tried to do that as a teacher, as a senior leader and as a parent.
It might not always win your friends, but it does earn you respect. And people will put up with so much more if they respect you.
That’s the end of it now…I’m done.
Quite often I like to finish a blog on a musical note and this one is no exception. Again it’s a classic, but of a different kind to the ones I usually include.
Below is a video clip of Will Hurrell and his team-mate Bradley Lloyd Field singing along to the Rodney Carrington song, ‘Dear Penis’…if you have seen it before, then apologies, but for those of you who haven’t, well you’ll see a side of Will you might not have seen before.
There are several versions doing the rounds on YouTube, but I have to say, this is the best yet. I do have Will’s permission to use it…he’s loving it at Doncaster but was at pains to point out how much he misses Cov.