Nine games gone.
A third of the season, give or take…
…and just 7 points off the relegation places and a worrying 14 points off a top three spot. And the significance of that isn’t something we’re now likely to forget:
we need changes to up the performance level and get us back in the top 3 of the table
(Coventry RFC e-Letter to members – 4th November 2015)
In effect, three wins (two with bonus points) behind the team in third place, Hartpury College. Not an insurmountable gap, but one that is going to take some doing.
So just how poor a start to the season has this been?
Given that both the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons started with two defeats in the opening four games, I thought I’d compare them after nine.
2014/15 P W D L F A Diff BP Pts Adj
Coventry 9 7 0 2 283 204 79 5 33 0
2015/16 P W D L F A Diff BP Pts Adj
Coventry 9 4 0 5 206 217 -11 4 20 0
It’s doesn’t make pleasant viewing, does it?
In 2014/15 from games 5-9 Coventry won all 5 fixtures and in the corresponding games this season we’ve contrived to lose 4 of the 5. In 2014, we were in an encouraging 4th place (still not hitting the target set for this season, despite such a promising start) whereas we are presently 9th.
Last season we averaged a healthy 31 points per game, with Lespierre scoring regularly prior to having his jaw broken in the Blaydon game in January. Rundle was struggling to get a game such was the form of the two wingers, with Hurrell breaking huge holes in opposition defences to create the off-loads that we miss so much this season.
In comparison, Coventry have only managed an average 24 points a game this season, but in the last seven games (taking away the two 40+ wins in the opening two games) this has dropped to an average of just over 18 points a game. This is a damning statistic, especially when the defensive records during this opening 9 games of the two seasons are almost identical – an average of 24 points conceded this season against 23 last season.
A lot has been made, quite rightly, of our inability to defend, especially against teams that run at us, like Fylde and Esher. However, given that we have only conceded 13 more points this season over the nine games, or a little over 1 point per game, there’s an argument to say the biggest worry is our lack of penetration in attack. I haven’t got any information with regard to the number of tries scored over the equivalent period last season, but I would hazard a guess that it’s rather more than the 26 we’ve score so far this year, averaging less than 3 a game.
But the most staggering statistic of all, so much so that I had to check and recheck it, is that once you remove the 13 tries we scored in our opening two games, half our total for the season so far, we have only scored 13 in the remaining 7. An average of less than 2 tries a game is a huge worry for me. Henley Hawks have scored the least number of tries in the league at 17, but have a better average than us in their last 7 games.
Never mind getting back into the top 3…that’s the kind of form that will draw us into a battle to stay out of the bottom 3. I was a bit sceptical about bringing in the Uruguayan fullback Gaston Mieres, but he is clearly an attack-minded player as the video Kimbo put onto the Messageboard demonstrates. Perhaps he can get the backs running at the angles needed to create spaces that the lateral movement we’re seeing at the moment just isn’t able to do.
With Knoxy back to something approaching full fitness after his enforced lay-off and with Tincknell, Smith, MacBurnie and Hutchinson as options for the no 12/13 shirt, perhaps it could be a really good signing. Although whether a month on trial is going to be enough to convince him to stay, let alone Coventry to take him on, is anyone’s guess. Who knows what he was thinking after the final whistle at Esher on Saturday. Wales, Australia, England, Fiji…. and then Blaydon. Probably not quite such an attractive prospect for Gaston..?
Another thing worth looking at is how the two Coventry line-ups have changed in the 12 months between the two Round 9 National 1 fixtures.
Coventry v Esher 2014 (won 33-31) Esher v Coventry 2015 (lost 46-5)
2nd Nov 7th Nov
15 Hodgson (inj) Hamilton
14 Lespierre Lespierre
13 MacBurnie (inj) Hutchinson
12 Knox Knox
11 Hurrell Baker
1o Jones (inj) Ryan
9 Evans (inj) Lee-Everton
1 Brown Kivalu
2 Price Farnworth (Price)
3 Thorne Parkins (Brown)
4 Poole Poole
5 Morgan (inj) Wright
6 Turner (inj) Le Roux
7 Oliver Woodburn
8 Joseph Carpo
(Red – indicates players still with Coventry this season).
Surprisingly, all but two of the team that played against Esher a year ago are still with the club, although the extent of the injury crisis becomes clear when 6 of the 13 would have been unavailable to play last weekend. There’s far more wrong with Coventry than just back luck with all the injuries that have jinxed us so far this season, but it is clearly a factor in the run of poor performances since the Loughborough game. It prevents any form of consistency over selection and must impact on tactics, given the individual strengths of the players missing through injury.
That doesn’t negate any of the criticism that has been directed towards the apparent problems over on-field game-plans, or the lack thereof, that have been a constant source of discussion amongst supporters on the Messageboard and elsewhere. But it does explain help to explain the difficulties Scott Morgan has in selecting his teams.
Players are coming in and out of the side with alarming regularity… the latest injury is to Adam Parkins, a player whom I rate very highly. He looked to have sustained a pretty serious injury to his ankle at the weekend. He’s not one to show pain, but he was clearly in huge discomfort when he was helped off the pitch and was unable to put any weight on the injured ankle at all. Perhaps that means an opportunity opens for Chad Thorne, who was at Molesey Road on Saturday. There’s been no news from the club to explain his absence from the team at all which is a little strange given he played a huge part in Coventry’s successes last season.
Leaving injuries aside, it seems pretty obvious that we are in our worst run for several years, probably since the 2011-12 season when we finished 13th and at one point it looked as if the impossible could happen and we’d be facing relegation into National 2. Phil Maynard was the Head Coach then and he knows as well as anyone what is needed when the wheels start to drop off, as they appear to be at the moment.
So here’s a conundrum for the club. Should Phil be asked to get even more involved in playing affairs given his experience in similar situations with Coventry, Worcester, Birmingham and Solihull and Stourbridge?
In yesterday’s post I maintained that Scott Morgan should have complete autonomy over playing affairs, especially selection and I stand by that.
But as Coventry’s situation becomes more and more of a concern, will Jon Sharpe look to Maynard’s vast experience of bottom-of-the-table dog-fights over the years. Could the one person who seems to bear the brunt of much of the supporters’ frustrations at the moment yet be the saviour of the club this season? Jon Sharp obviously has huge respect for him. It’s certainly a possibility.
It’s not hard to see why confidence is so low within the squad at the moment. There are some very talented players who came here with the dream of Championship rugby. Yet in just ten weeks the team has been decimated by injures, is producing a string of poor performances that are dropping the club ever further down the National 1 table and is seemingly unable to stem the tide of mediocrity. Or so it might appear.
But this isn’t a mediocre squad. Far from it. True, it’s in a poor run, but it is a side capable of beating any other team in this league. There just needs to be one spark of brilliance, one incident that gets the crowd on Saturday roaring its support, one moment of luck even, with an interception or a pass that’s forward that’s not spotted. Whatever it may be, it will be a turning point. Things will suddenly click, confidence will soar and suddenly the self-belief will return, for that is all that is missing. We have a talented squad and talent is permanent, even if form is temporary.
All the coaching manuals ever written won’t have any effect when there’s self-doubt. Cov supporters are a resilient breed, we’ve had to be over the years. And they also have know that players are committed to the cause, and they desperately want something to cheer about on the pitch. But there’s not a lot to shout about at the moment, hence the frustrations on the Messageboard (and on here at times – sorry!).
We are due a win and it will come on Saturday. Blaydon will be confident after Saturday’s fine win against Fylde, but I expect Coventry to be fired up for this one. A home crowd looking to cheer on an improved Coventry performance and a home team wanting to prove a point, or five.
Should be a cracker.
Hide not your talents, they for use were made,
What’s a sundial in the shade?