The omens weren’t good from the outset.
Other than on a Sunday, I always write a post once my wife has gone to bed. Now, normally that would be of little relevance to anyone reading this and not something I’ve been inclined to mention previously, but in this instance it is pertinent to today’s entry.
Because it became evident late on Friday evening that the coach taking the players up to Darlington was stuck in traffic following what was a serious accident and that there were some lengthy delays as a result. I don’t think any one realised quite how lengthy they would become.
When I called it a day at around 1.30 am, the players’ coach was about 30 minutes away from its destination, but at a complete standstill. When I woke on Saturday morning, the last ‘tweet’ suggested the players had just got to their rooms – and it was 4.30 am. No complaints mind you and the final comment was one of concern for the those involved in the accident, not the late arrival of the coach.
I’ve never been one to make excuses, but a 4.30 am arrival isn’t the best way to prepare for such an important game as the one against Darlington.
So what of the game itself…?
In truth, even though we led 21-17 with 20 minutes to go, I never felt that it was going to go our way. There was no lack of effort on the part of the team, and we put some decent passages of play together, especially in the opening 10 minutes of the second half when we quickly overturned a 9 point deficit going into half time.
No, it was more about our tendency to fall foul of a referee whose decisions seemed inconsistent to say the least and Darlington’s ability to capitalise on the advantage the referee gave them.
I’ve never had cause up to make comment on the performance of a referee before, but he did influence the outcome of this game, of that there can be no question.
I don’t know enough about the technical aspects of the game, the things that go on in the scrum and the lineout, and in rucks and mauls – the things that we can’t see from the stand – to know whether he was right in the decisions he made. But he didn’t appear consistent and the Coventry players certainly didn’t seem to know how to play him at all.
To be fair to the referee, he spoke to both captains on more than one occasion but the penalty count seemed very high indeed, with Coventry appearing to be most at fault and by some distance.
It might well be that Mr Hudson was entirely correct in his judgments.
It might be.
But that wasn’t the consensus of opinion amongst those in the stand.
There were players within the 15 out there on the pitch yesterday, as well as amongst the coaches on the sidelines, who should have the experience to work out a plan to placate the referee…to make sure they stopped doing whatever it was that was causing them to incur his wrath. If he was inconsistent, then he was consistently inconsistent and we should have been able to adapt our game a little better than we did.
And Darlington, well they had two real advantages. In Gary Law they had someone who could kick the ball from hand long, long distances, deep into Coventry territory from any penalty awarded in our half or even stretching in to theirs.
And in their pack, they had a set of forwards that had honed the lineout and subsequent drive to something approaching an art. Every time the referee awarded a penalty, you knew exactly what Darlington would attempt to do…kick, throw, jump, drive, score…and they did it so well.
Yes, there was one occasion in the second half when Coventry somehow repelled the rolling maul, pushing them back when it seemed that Darlington had crossed the Coventry line and then somehow turning the ball over. But at no point did the 4 point lead with 20 minutes to go feel enough…Darlington were just too big a threat when they got into our 22.
And of course, it isn’t possible to comment on the game without making reference to the three yellow cards Coventry amassed.
Darlington received none.
By my reckoning, that’s 18 yellows so far this season, in 13 games. And if, as it’s generally stated, you concede on average 7 points per card, well…
For the second game running, we enabled the opposition to play against 13 players for an 8 or nine minute period. You just can’t expect to win games, let alone be a serious candidate for promotion, on that sort of record.
I think all three cards were for technical infringements, coming after several warnings from the referee. Whilst Pailor, Thorne and Oliver were the recipients of the yellows, the forwards have to take responsibility for them, given that each one was just the culmination of a series of offences.
The forwards need to understand what it is that they are doing that is so wrong because at the moment it is costing the team games and with that any chance of a top 3 spot, either by Christmas or at any point, this season should it continue as it is.
I don’t know how these things work, but a couple of sessions with a top referee, analysing tapes and speaking to key players wouldn’t go amiss. All professions need some CPD…money well spent, I would imagine. Although, this might well be happening anyway…but we never get to hear of things like that (I need to reign myself back in at this point…).
There’s no point in blaming individuals, but it is something that now needs addressing by the club with some alacrity. Referees must look at the stats just as players and coaches do and whilst I’m not suggesting for a moment that Coventry are being targeted, referees will be fully aware of our disciplinary record prior to taking on a Coventry game.
Does the fact that we have the worst disciplinary record in National 1 influence referees when they take charge of a game involving Cov?
It shouldn’t, but it might do, if only because subconsciously referees are looking for Cov to infringe. One thing for sure…our record isn’t going to help us.
During the games there were moments when we put some pretty decent phases of play together, and going forward with ball in hand we looked as if we could do some damage to the Darlington defences. At half time, even though we were 9 points down, I did tweet that the game was eminently winnable from there, but that didn’t allow for the referee and our inability to stop infringing.
The scrum looked strong for the first 60 minutes, although when Thorne left and Kivalu came on, it didn’t seem quite so solid. The backs looked sharp without ever appearing to be able to hit the angles that were so desperately needed to break the Darlington line. There was width, but a lack of real pace to capitalise on it…Dan’s return can’t come soon enough for me.
Another disappointment was the fact that we returned to the aerial bombardment of a few weeks ago. We did seem to kick deep into Darlington territory on many occasions, often too deep for the chasers to be able to exert any pressure on the catcher, and this allowed Darlington to either kick or run the ball back, often with a better return than on the initial Coventry kick.
At one point, a seasoned supporter sitting next to me said something to the affect that this wouldn’t have gone down too well at the Butts. And he was absolutely right. One or two of the more vociferous in the home crowd might well have voiced their concerns in no uncertain terms.
If there’s a clear benefit to be had by kicking the ball long, for instance by giving them the ball but then pressing them in their own 22 to make the mistakes, well fair enough. But that didn’t happen yesterday.
I like to see Jones dink the ball over the approaching rush defence to allow either the winder or centres to run onto it in open space…more than happy to see that – Matt’s very skilled in that respect and Dan and Will created a fair few tries as a result last season.
But not the long ball…please.
Darlington looked a decent side, to be fair. They certainly looked to have more about them than Wharfedale, Blaydon, Henley and Cinderford and I’m sure they won’t be in one of the relegation places come April. Their backs looked sharp at times, especially running from deep and their forwards did the basics well. Not so much the scrum, but they certainly got under Coventry’s skin a little playing to their strengths, especially the rolling maul to which we had no answer.
It is out Achilles heel at the moment. Teams seem to have sussed us out. It must be really hard to defend against, especially once it starts to roll, but the outcome of a kick to our 5m from a penalty is all too predictable.
It was always going to be a tough test and it’s one in which we were found wanting. However, Coventry is a work in progress at the moment and will continue to be for a while yet. I hope there’s no knee jerk reaction to this result, changing the spine of the team isn’t going to help as we’ve seen before.
Keep this group of players together, look to see how the three or four at ‘Street are performing and that should be your core of players for the season now, other than those who are still out injured. There are some talented players there, especially with Hodgson, Rundle, Roberts, Preece, Parkins, Canning and Wolfenden all likely to contribute at various points over the remainder of the season.
But not all at once…
Yesterday’s performance wasn’t anywhere near as poor as that against Esher, or Richmond, but it was a reminder of just how far off we are from being a top National 1 side, however strong we think we are . It was also a reminder that we still haven’t overcome some of the problems that have beset us this season…discipline, lack of a cohesive Plan B, a tendency to kick away possession, at times a lack of attacking options.
A yesterdays’ today.
And just to complete the misery, the journey back for some of us was painfully slow.
I met another Coventry supporter, Ian, on the station at Darlington. His earlier train had been cancelled and he’d had to come back on a later one. We spent a happy 4 hours, give or take, chatting away on a train which according to the National Railways website had also been cancelled. Bizarre.
It certainly was painfully slow….
Whilst I got home at a decent enough time, Ian’s journey back to Warwick was going to be a difficult one and if he didn’t make the dash to Moor Street for the connection… well, it could have been a long walk home.
Hope you got managed to get that train, Ian.
A disappointing end to a disappointing day.
Now to check trains time to Ampthill…