In yesterday’s post I suggested that unless a series of very unlikely events happened, the remainder of this season is going to be more about making a statement of intent in readiness for the next than it is about promotion.
I appreciate this is the kind of utterance that will frustrate some supporters and I can quite see why. In all honesty, it frustrates the hell out of me, but with well over a third of the season gone it’s probably time for a reality check.
Finishing 4th and 3rd in the last two seasons and with a number of players brought in to strengthen the squad, expectations back in September were as high as I can remember them being for a long, long time – probably going as far back as 1995/96 when Coventry spent a year in what was then National 3 with Derek Eves at the helm.
5 losses in the first 9 games though must have put an end to any reasonable hopes of promotion this season? And I’m not altogether sure that is as bad as it sounds.
The table doesn’t lie and if we look at it this week we find Coventry sitting in 7th position, near enough in mid-table, 10 points off 3rd, 13th off 2nd and 14th off 1st. With just 19 games left (thanks Phil), or 95 points, Coventry are going to have to go on lengthy unbeaten run and rely on the likes of Hartpury, Richmond and Blackheath losing a number of games as well as failing to pick up bonus points in those that they do win – and at the moment that just doesn’t look like happening.
Compare Hartpury’s present record with that of Coventry’s. Hartpury must have excelled even their own targets that they’d set themselves at the start of the season. They’ve certainly excelled Coventry’s. Those that were at the Supporters’ Meeting in August will remember Tom Little’s run down of the National 1 clubs prior to the start of the league season and his forecast of where each team might be expected to finish. He had Hartpury down at 7th (coincidentally where we are at the moment) and I don’t think anyone expressed a contrary opinion at the time. But their record is impressive thus far (Coventry’s stats are in red as a comparison):
P W D L F A Diff B Pts
11(6) 9(5) 0(0) 0(0) 369(282) 152(230) +217(+52) 8(6) 44(30)
Now compare these with the two teams, Ealing Trailfinders and Doncaster Knights, promoted in the last two seasons:
Ealing Trailfinders (2014/15)
P W D L F A Diff B Pts
11 11 0 0 410 177 +233 8 52
Doncaster Knights (2013/14)
P W D L F A Diff B Pts
11 9 0 2 355 151 +204 9 45
The most striking thing here is that Hartpury have a record for the season so far that is very much in line with that of Doncaster Knights, the 2014 champions. One less point, a bonus point in fact, but more points scored and a superior points difference as well. What this seems to indicate is that on their current form, Hartpury College isn’t a team that looks like it’s going to struggle to the extent it will need to in order to present Coventry with the opportunity to catch up and overtake them in just 17 games. Ealing’s record is exception and better than any teams after 11 games in the last 5 years.
Admittedly, stranger things have happened, but it is a huge ask of Coventry to make up the difference. But it’s an even bigger one of the rugby gods to summon up some sort of divine intervention that seems needed for Hartpury, and the teams close to them, to be sucked into a ‘perfect storm’ of events to enable Coventry win the league this season. It’s certainly not in Coventry’s hands at the moment.
All we can hope for is that Coventry do what is asked of them and win as many of the remaining matches as they can. 17 wins (out of the 17 remaining!) still wouldn’t guarantee Championship rugby next season; far from it.
So there’s the reality.
Players and coaches will have done the maths – I’m sure team talks will be about winning games and waiting for others to slip up; that is all Cov can do. In the meantime, the coaches can also be looking at the squad and in the coming weeks deciding on who is and who isn’t performing. Players need to make their mark in order to renew contracts or impress other clubs if they feel they’ll have to move on come the end of the season, so there is still a huge amount to play for even if results elsewhere don’t go their way. And of course, if nothing else, there’s the team’s pride at stake. And that counts for a great deal…
One of the downsides of a potential promotion would be that I imagine some of the players whom we have come to know well over the last two or three seasons wouldn’t necessarily move with Cov into the Championship. Some have jobs and are semi-professional out of choice; playing rugby full-time would mean giving up those jobs which isn’t always possible.
Some just might not feel they want the step up, others might not be wanted by the club. Whatever the reasons, Cov would be a very different club to the one it is at the moment. Professionalism in rugby, whilst no longer the dirty word it used to be, still creates divides. Whatever its faults, Coventry is an extremely friendly and community-based club – very ‘family’ orientated. And as Mick Carter commented yesterday, costs incurred by spectators might increase to the extent that it would become just too expensive for some of the most loyal supporters to continue to watch on a regular basis.
I want to see Coventry in the Championship, of course I do. Who doesn’t want to have a shot at downing the likes of Bristol, Yorkshire Carnegie, Bedford and, of course, Moseley on a weekly basis? But for the first couple of seasons as likely as not it would be about containment, avoiding relegation rather than pushing for promotion. Lose more than you win and sometimes lose big…it would be a long hard slog, that’s all I’m saying.
I know I’d certainly miss aspects of this league were we to go up. And when we do (because we will), we just have to enter the next tier of rugby with our eyes wide open. Pretty near the top of my bucket list is travelling to watch Coventry at an away game in the British and Irish Cup – Leinster or Munster would be good. But only with a team that is ready to give the Championship a real go.
Finally, back to the current season and more specifically to the current team. The two wins have been a huge fillip for the supporters, but they have also shown just how good the morale of the side actually is. This is best summed up for me by a tweet sent Tom Poole (whose permission I have to reproduce it here, before anyone asks!)
It appeals to me on several fronts, not least of which is because at last we see the ‘Cov dog’ officially return, something that I’d alluded to in a previous post, ‘Every dog has its day”, back in late September following a comment by Paul Ingleston.
I have no idea what the likes of Gaston Mieres or Devlin Hope, or even Matt Jones and Wayne Evans would make of this, but to those of us who remember the ‘Cov dog’ of old (always personified for me by the Thomas’, Paul and Steve) it typifies what playing for Coventry should be about.
I described ‘the Cov dog’ previously as:
that unquantifiable force that some players have, the willingness to put everything on the line, a desire to play not just for yourself or even your team mates, but also for the Club and the supporters, for the badge on your shirt and the honour it brings.
and that is what we’re beginning to see from this present team. There’s a commitment and determination, a self-belief within the team that has been lacking up to now. We saw it against Blaydon and clearly its something that was evident at Cinderford. And boy will it be needed when we come up against teams like Blackheath and Darlington.
Players like Tom, George Oliver, Chad Thorne, Matt Price, Sam Pailor, JLR and Andy Brown, the players who do the hard graft day in, day out, they have ‘the dog’. They’re not the ones who necessarily make the headlines by kicking the goals or scoring the tries, but they are the ones who consistently put their bodies on the line for their team mates and for the spectators. They appreciate the support they get from the crowd (Tom more than most) and show it time and time again by what they do on the pitch.
That’s why I believe Will Hurrell was so popular – he never failed to give anything less than 100% and always put his body on the line, running at and often through the opposition. ‘The dog’ is something that is often more about the forwards than it is the backs, but Will seemed to play more as a forward on occasions. Dan Rundle, too, showed it in abundance last season when he played regularly after Christmas – he’d never give up the chase and saved numerous situations by tracking back when no one else could have. One of the reasons I admire Devlin is that he has ‘the dog’ in him, at times a cross between a terrier in attack and a Rottweiler in defence.
‘The dog’ is what will see Cov through in the tightest of games. It’s about believing you can overcome the odds, even when you’re staring down a barrel. It’s about showing the opposition that however hard they come at you, you’ll come back at them harder.
In short, it’s about wearing the Cov shirt with pride.
So good on Tom Poole and good on the team for beginning to make the supporters believe again after a torrid few weeks. The coaches must take some credit too (Aggers knows about the ‘Cov dog’ as much as anyone)…
The remainder of the season has to be about Cov using the last two games as a springboard to push on up the table and fight for every point and hope the teams around them feel the pressure…
…and in the meantime we can console ourselves with the thought that the grass isn’t necessarily always greener on the other side.