I guess if you attended the game on Saturday, as a Coventry fan you’ll still be on something of a natural high.
Having lost more matches than we ‘d won this season and on a run of three consecutive defeats, a win was what was needed first and foremost. The fact that the second half was as convincing a 40 minutes that Coventry have put together since Wharfedale, was an added bonus.
And didn’t the players enjoy it! They were clearly delighted with the performance and the overwhelming sense of relief on the whistle was evidence enough of what the victory meant to the team. And on Saturday they were just that, a team. They worked their socks off for each other and got the little bit of luck they deserved when Blaydon squandered some early chances to take the lead by deciding to opt for kicks to the corner, naïvely believing they could steamroller Cov into submission.
No chance of that, though. Cov’s defence was immense…few tackles were missed and, more often than not, someone else was there at the breakdown to support.
Paul Ingleston, a far more more astute observer than me, was quick to comment on the exaggerated movement of the tackler when staying on his feet:
…with more evidence of over the ball reaching, almost sign-posting the attempt to get the ball to the referee…
It is something that players on the international stage do all the time, but I hadn’t really thought about it at our level until Paul’s comment. By doing so, you make sure the referee knows that a) you’re on your feet and b) that the tackled player has to release the ball asap, otherwise they would be guilty of holding on. Perhaps just an example of how ‘professional’ the game is getting even at our level.
Whilst it is right that everyone – coaches, players and supporters – should enjoy the moment, it is important to remember that in terms of the whole season and Coventry efforts to rebuild what has so far been a hugely disappointing start to the campaign, yesterday was just a moment. One game, that’s all.
The coaches and players have laid the foundations for future successes, but the significance of the result can only be judged by Christmas at the earliest. Another four or five wins and the Blaydon result will clearly have been a turning point, a few more losses and it’s back to the drawing board. Early days to be talking about a revival in our fortunes yet, but it was hugely promising and judging by the response of the players, this is a team that likes playing together. It augers well.
And that brings me on to the main point of this post. Having selected this team and having seen the performance it produced, certainly in the second half, it seems to me that the coaches have to stick by it. The training session on Tuesday should be an easy one for them this week – the 20 players selected will still be buzzing with excitement, those that didn’t get into the match day squad will be wanting to prove a point.
This is another example of the need to stick to a winning team, even if it might be that there are others ready to come back from injury and pushing at the door. Based on Saturday’s second half performance, there aren’t many positions next Saturday that you’d consider as being vulnerable to change. In the backs, maybe Hutchinson (replaced by Tincknell of MacBurnie) and Weightman (replaced by Rundle when fit). But both Hutchinson and especially Weightman did well enough on Saturday to deserve their place on the coach to Cinderford. Why disrupt a side that played so well as a team? It doesn’t make sense to me and hopefully won’t to the coaches, either.
In the forwards, Chad Thorne and Andy Browne performed so well against Blaydon that even a fit Adam Parkins might find it difficult to get a starting place. Kivalu came on in the last 15-20 minutes with no apparent drop in Coventry’s dominance in the scrum. With Terry Sigley, Ricky Stout and Joe Foreman playing at Broadstreet*, it seems Scott Morgan will be selecting from these 4 for the time being. Price seems to have the nod at hooker at the moment, with Hope there to come on in the second half, although Hope is due a start shortly. Along with Tom Poole in the second row, Ben Thomas now has the No 5 shirt and should retain it in my opinion. Danny Wright was excluded from the team on Thursday and will probably have to wait his chance now, given how well Ben played.
And it would take a brave person, or perhaps a foolish one, to split up the back row of Oliver, Pailor and Le Roux. Despite some strength in depth here, with Malatika, Carpo, and Woodburn all fine players in their own right, what makes Saturday’s combination so strong is their understanding of the way they play together as a unit and the great respect they appear to have for each other.
But is yesterday’s win about something else, too? Is it about a group of players who finished 3rd last season, in the course of which enjoyed an unbeaten run of some 18 games, maybe feeling left out in the cold as new recruits, players who were said to be of the same standard or better, were heralded into the club. The corps d’esprit that was evident last season was quickly lost when changes to the team were made regularly and sometimes for less than obvious reasons. It takes time for a team to gel, and no side up to now has been together long enough for that to happen.
So when the first time that the ‘Class of 2014’ were reunited on the pitch, subconsciously perhaps, the shackles were released and the players quickly got back into the feel of how it was when they were winning games on a regular basis last season. Confidence grew and the players began to express themselves on the pitch because they knew one another and understood each other’s game.
Okay, it’s probably nonsense, but there might just be something in it. Of the team that started on Saturday, it’s worth remembering that only four weren’t playing last season for Coventry (Mieres, Hutchinson, Weightman and Thomas) and one of those was because Dan Rundle is injured and one because of internal sanctions.
Coincidence? Perhaps, but it was the pack, containing 7 out of 8 players who were with us last season, that got the momentum shifting against Blaydon. It was their willingness to do the graft, resolutely defending the Blaydon onslaught in the opening 10 minutes and then creating the beginnings of some territorial advantage through the likes of Le Roux and Pailor. Confidence flowed across the team, Jones and Evans tackled everything and then started to give the ball some width.
Over-simplistic, yes. But sometimes we make the game too complicated. We need some stability now. We have a set of 20 players who have proved they can perform at a level that we haven’t seen for the most of the season so far. I’d like to see some consistency now…there’s the foundations of a strong side here and with Dan Rundle to hopefully return some time after Christmas, things are looking a little brighter. Hodgson will probably be out for some time now, but with Mieres in the side maybe he would struggle for a place in the starting side anyway. With only Jones as a recognised kicker, Ryan’s versatility makes him an important part of the squad, although Hutchinson has taken practice kicks during warm ups so perhaps he could deputise when selected. With the exception of Wolfenden and Canning, the rest of the squad have all had some 1st team experience this season and are known quantities, so provided they are getting game time elsewhere, they could come into the side as and when.
You pick to form and Saturday’s side are the team in form. You don’t change it until you have to. Lose next week – no changes other than if absolutely necessary. The same the week after. Give them three or four games together and if it’s not working then, make the changes, but not wholesale ones as we’ve seen prior to last week.
Anyway, that’s what I’d do…a Dummies approach to team selection. A question of:
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose
As predicted, Plymouth Albion’s attendance was the highest of the week, but at only 18 more, Coventry still have the highest average attendance at 1120, against Plymouth’s 1072. With Plymouth losing and Cov winning, that gap is likely to increase in two weeks time, especially if we manage to beat Cinderford on our travels next week. Two London derbies at Esher and Richmond weren’t able to come close to Coventry’s gate which just shows the potential at Coventry, given our poor results and yesterday’s opponents coming from the wrong end of the table.
Coventry v Blaydon – 1047
Esher v Rosslyn Park – 715
Plymouth v DMP – 1065
Richmond v Blackheath – 879
And imagine a local derby v Moseley!
*Foreman and Stout were both yellow carded yesterday as Broadstreet lost 15-10 to Otley