John Wilkinson’s article in yesterday’s Coventry Telegraph is interesting for two very different reasons.
The final remark from Scott Morgan, almost a throw away comment, refers to the possibility that London Welsh might switch to the Guinness Pro-League 12 Celtic Competition which includes teams from Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Italy.
A move of this nature could mean that two places become available in the Championship, rather than just the one, with an extra promotion place correspondingly available in National 1. With that in mind, Scott is absolutely right in stressing the need for Coventry to ‘be in the hunt’ just in case the this were to happen, unlikely as it is.
And before we get too carried away, a quick Google search shows that as long ago as 2006, London Welsh were expressing an interest in joining the Celtic League, suggesting they play then as the ‘fifth Welsh region’.
Further, an article published in the Evening Standard as recently as May of this year suggests that London Scottish have also expressed a similar interest along with Welsh, whilst also stressing that there are considerable hurdles to be overcome before it could happen. Two teams leaving the Championship might mean it’s restructuring, but it could also result in at least one extra promotion spot in National 1. And that would make the rest of the season very interesting indeed.
The fact that 6 months on from the publishing of the above article the Head Coach of Coventry RFC is making reference to its subject matter is in itself significant. Does this mean that things have moved on since May….? Maybe or maybe not, but the fact that Welsh’s desire to switch is still being referred to suggests that it’s certainly no less of a possibility than it was then…
It’s all wild speculation, I know, and it’s unwise to get too carried away by it all. But if there is even the slightest possibility, then Coventry have to be ready for it, so it’s even more important to continue the run to ensure that we are at least in there with a shout should there be further developments.
The second area of interest was Scott Morgan’s comment that one of the key reasons for the improvements over the last three weeks is having the players available to select:
We’ve got a tight group of blokes, we know that because we saw it last season, and these boys will put it on the line for each other, and the club, every week. *
There’s no need to read anything into Scott’s comments here. He trusts the team to give everything for the club as those that played last season did then.
Whilst not wanting to go back over previous ground, this confirms the comments made by several supporters on the Messageboard suggesting that an important factor in Coventry’s recent return to winning ways is the fact that so many of the present team have been here for two or more seasons and have built up a respect for, and belief in, one another to the extent that they will ‘put it on the line’ for the team.
I’m pleased Scott’s said that publicly as the players will take great heart from hearing that said outside of the changing rooms and training sessions. They deserve a vote of confidence from the Head Coach. It needed saying. This, together with Phil Maynard’s comment last week that there are others, like James Tincknell, who are still very much in the selectors’ minds must make for a healthy and happy club, where all feel valued.
Prior to reading the article in yesterday’s Coventry Telegraph, I was going to pose the question as to whether the selectors might look to make a change or two following what was a less than convincing second half display against Henley on Saturday.
Leaving aside any possible injuries, would a change to the team sheet on Saturday make such a reversal in fortunes between the two halves of the Henley game less likely, or would there be a risk of changes to the team unsettling the players, resulting in another possible loss of confidence?
Scott Morgan’s comments in the paper have gone part way to answering the question. However, it’s worth just exploring where any change might occur.
It would seem very unfair to hold the backs in any way responsible for the relatively poor second half performance. Yes, they were far less prominent than they had been in the first half but that was pretty much entirely down to the fact that they saw so little of the ball compared to the first 40 minutes. They have begun to realise the potential they showed in the pre-season games. With Rob Knox beginning to refind the form that made him irrepressible last season and, alongside him, backs who are growing in confidence with each game, the signs are promising. If the forwards can put together 80 minutes of domination of the kind we’ve seen at times in the last three games, I honestly the backs could considerable problems for any team in the league.
James Tincknell was mentioned as being one of the players being considered for a recall following injury, but Rory Hutchinson has done little wrong and is exerting more influence on the game with every week.
So no change there.
In the forwards, again there’s little wrong with a pack that has been so dominant in each of Coventry’s last three games, something that Scott Morgan is quick to acknowledge:
the forwards are going well – running their direct lines, winning the gain line.
I’m sure that he’ll be very frustrated that both Ben Thomas and Chad Thorne appeared to lose a little self-control early in in the second half on Saturday, and he could make a statement by leaving out one or both to make the point that such indiscretions won’t be tolerated, but I rather imagine the players are well aware of the effects of being sidelined for 10 minutes had on the course of the game, without the need for any club sanctions. You’d certainly hope so anyway.
So even before Scott spoke about the extent to which Coventry are reaping the rewards of consistency in selection, I decided that were I in Scott’s boots I wouldn’t change the team for the game this weekend unless players were carrying knocks or I felt they needed a week off because they’re in danger of losing fitness as a result of being overplayed. (Come on, this just Football Manager for grown ups who follow rugby…surely all supporters do this sort of thing? Don’t they…?)
In short, the last three weeks can be summed up by ‘No change is all change…’
I’ve referred on many occasions during the course of this blog to the Supporters’ Meeting held back in August. It was extremely informative and well attended and whilst only lasting a little over an hour, it covered a range of important areas to do with playing affairs, finance and club improvements, whilst also offering the opportunity to supporters to ask questions of Jon Sharp, Phil Maynard and Scott Morgan. Cliffie Hodgson also spoke briefly as the erstwhile club captain.
In the past there have been mid-season Forums run on a similar format, certainly there was in December 2013, although I’m not sure if this was the case last season.
Given so much has happened since August, both good and not so good, I wonder if the club are intending to do something similar this season? I appreciate given the criticism the Board have faced at times over a lack of communication, Jon Sharp might be reluctant to put himself in front of supporters, some of whom might ask awkward questions.
However, an awkward question is very different to somebody being awkward and I don’t think for a minute the latter would be an issue. Such a meeting would actually take away the main argument of the club not listening, so that wouldn’t be an issue other than for the Chairman to explain how the club is responding to concerns.
The club could even ask for questions from members only and in advance of the meeting if they felt uncomfortable with the possibility of rogue questions being asked. A precedent for this was set under Keith Fairbrother’s tenancy when we were asked to submit questions via the messageboard – sadly, Keith promptly refused to answer half of them because we’d used our Messageboard names, rather than our real ones!
A meeting just before Christmas, when supporters are generally in a pretty good mood, with the added incentive of a free pint (or equivalent!) and a mince pie would lighten the occasion and be a pretty good way showing a bit of festive good will.
Just a thought…
In this week’s The Rugby Paper there’s an article on Richmond in which Richard Hill talks about how he would relish a crack at the Championship if Richmond can maintain the levels of performance over the remainder of the season.
And, whilst he does try and dampen down the possibility of promotion by stressing that they have three difficult games to come before the Christmas break, he quickly returns to the subject, mentioning how, if the opportunity were to come their way, Richmond would take it, seemingly with no hesitation. Interesting, too, that Hill should single out ex-Coventry centre Ronnie Maclean for praise, suggesting he’s added steel to the midfield since joining them from Ealing during the close season.
Now Richmond are in a far healthier position than Coventry and can afford to be a little more confident, but I much prefer Scott Morgan’s ‘let’s review the situation at Christmas’ approach than Hill’s open declaration of intent. Were we in that situation, then maybe we’d be doing the same thing, but sometimes it’s better to play it low key…
A final thought on this…with most of the first round of games played so far this season in National 1, who are the favourites to go up at this stage?
Without the likes of an Ealing, Doncaster or Jersey running away with the tile, it really does seem to be there for the taking. Teams like Coventry, Esher and Rosslyn Park certainly aren’t out of it yet, but Hartpury, Richmond and Blackheath do hold the advantage.
But you wouldn’t make any one of those sides clear favourites, which I guess is the point Scott is making…it’s very much a question of wait and see.
In some respects, having a clear favourite, or favourites as in Ealing and RP last year (in all honesty, we were always playing catch up from February onwards) for promotion, takes away a lot of the pressure on the other clubs.
This season though, depending on the matches running up to the festive break, there could be 4-5 teams realistically still in the mix…
… and that makes for a really intriguing second half to the season.
* And just to make it clear, the sub clause ‘we know that because we saw it last year’ by definition can only refer to the main clause ‘ We’ve got a tight group of blokes’. We’ve is present tense, so the sub clause is conditional on the main clause…in essence, we saw how tight a group they were last year so we know how tight the same group are this year. ‘These’ is a further reference to the players from last season who will continue to ‘put it on the line’ this season
…lol…sorry, couldn’t resist it.
I should know better. And I promise I shall never mention it again, here or on The Other Place.