The Winter for our discontent…?
With little else to play for over the remainder of the season other than to ensure some sort of mid-table respectability, it is inevitable that thoughts are already turning to next season and the potential impact that Rowland Winter will have on both the team and managerial structure, two areas that have seen considerably revisions over the last 12 months but ones which have yet to yield the anticipated benefits resulting from these changes.
Before too long doubtless I’ll be joining in the speculation as to who will stay, who will go and where the greatest innovations need to be made in order for Coventry to fulfil it’s goal of attaining a club (not just a squad) capable of making a sustained bid for promotion into the Championship.
And that’s an important distinction to make – any side chasing promotion must have both the players and the systems in place to support such a goal.
The one cannot function effectively without the other.
A strong squad without a strong set of coaches is not going to reach it’s potential and vice versa. And where you prioritise isn’t straightforward…
For instance, I get the feeling that there was a belief this time last year that the coaching set up was certainly good enough to achieve Championship status in the 2015/16 season but the team wasn’t and needed strengthening in key areas. Players were duly signed and optimism abounded in August. Everything was set in place for a shot at the league title.
12 months down the line, however, and it is clear that this is no longer the view and with the recent acquisitions of both Paul Hardcourt and Rowland Winter, Jon Sharp has shown his determination to look at the managerial set up to ensure that next season isn’t another case of the tail wagging the donkey, so-to-speak.
It seems that the Chairman has opted to develop the coaching structure first and then look at recruiting players once the infrastructures are in place to maximise the potential impact of the impending influx of new players.
This decision has been made in order to prepare for the next phase in Coventry Rugby’s development and is taken in the context of the need to create a full time coaching (and eventually playing) structure that is locally on hand to create all the infrastructures needed to progress to the next level and, most importantly, to succeed within it
Whilst it’s always going to be a bit of a chicken and egg scenario, it would seem to me to be the best way of tackling the current difficulties Coventry are encountering. To target new players before next season’s coaches are confirmed would be a concern as I’m sure the new Director of Rugby will bring his own ‘shopping list’ with him (including amongst the players, perhaps, one Brett Daynes?).
What I hope, almost above all else, is that Winter brings to Coventry an understanding of the importance of the consanguinity between the club and its supporters. I don’t think Coventry have ever really understood how symbiotic and interdependent this relationship is.
This has been evident from September and October onwards when supporters began to ask legitimate questions regarding the selection of the players, the game plans being utilised and the club’s reluctance to comment on a run of results that seemed to have left the players, and certainly the supporters, downbeat and confused.
Players became aware of the mood of the supporters not just through reading the messageboard but also in the clubhouse after matches and through comments on social media.
And whatever anyone might say to the contrary, I firmly believe players are affected by such concerns and whilst, by and large, few criticisms have been levelled at individual players, it must create additional doubts and uncertainties As a result, at times this season players have shown their frustrations through Twitter and other forms of social media. And understandably so.
And it must impact on performance.
It’s all very well holding a Fans’ Forum in August when there is a mood of optimism running through everyone connected with the club, whether they be players, managers or supporters. It’s only going to be positive.
No, the real test is whether the club will front up and be accountable to its supporters when the going gets tough, when they’ve only won a paltry 43% of their games and supporters are fast becoming disillusioned and, in some cases, just plain angry.
And for me, Coventry have failed this test.
Supporters would have been far more inclined to be patient and understanding if they’d had the chance to hear from the coaches, players or even the Board explanations as to why things haven’t worked out the way we all hoped and expected and what the club is doing to address these concerns being expressed by supporters on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
That’s the way you earn respect…when it’s hard going you tackle the difficulties head on. Not just on the pitch, but off it as well.
What the Board failed to do was to a) recognise early on the concerns of supporters (or perhaps, even worse, they recognised them, but chose to ignore them) and b) when the Board did recognise them, they failed to address them.
Instead the wall of silence became almost a physical divide between the club and the supporters, creating further exasperations on the part of the fans. The e-letter blaming the players and almost exonerating the coaches certainly did nothing to help and the publishing of plans to further develop the Butts for many just widened the gap between the emphasis on the corporate needs of the Board versus the playing concerns of the supporters. It was meant well, but the timing was poor.
It was a real failure on the part of the club to read the genuine misgivings of supporters, seemingly believing that expansion of the club and the developing of its resources would appease the faithful who really far more concerned with success on the pitch, following three consecutive defeats and the prospect of a run of further losses against the leading teams in the league after Christmas.
With more talk of relegation and the teams below us than even the securing of a mid-table position, expansion of the ground and the possible financial rewards to be made by the club and/or individuals seemed rather mercenary and it was something Telly1 was able to use to his own advantage. For me, it was the lowest point so far in a season full of lows.
However, to be fair to the club, whilst results on the pitch haven’t improved greatly, they certainly have off it, with regular articles in the Coventry Telegraph about the club and features on individual players ensuring the emphasis is very much on the rugby and not the rancour. Whether this is a charm offensive on the part of Coventry or another example of John Wilkinson reading the situation and understanding how best to respond is debatable.
John W (and others, too, but most notably John) has a wealth of experience and is someone to whom the club should be turning to for advice on how best to develop better links with it’s supporters and the local community. It’s implicit in his job and he does it with aplomb.
If Rowland Winter tries to addresses the present lack of face-to-face communication between the club and it supporters, he will get my vote.
How about once a month an open evening at the Butts, 7-00 -9.00 for a q +a session for supporters and 2-3 representatives from the club, players or officials, with a brief feedback on the website later in the week? It’s so easy to do, provided you’re prepared to keep it going even if things aren’t necessarily going your way. My experience of such meetings is that they are always conducted in a relaxed and friendly manner and even the most difficult of questions are asked in an affable and responsible way.
I actually think Scott Morgan has a very pleasant presence about him when speaking publicly – he’s someone who has played at the highest level, is well respected and clearly loves the club. He’s inexperienced as a head coach and poorly advised, but I’m sure he would have won people round and could have been the ‘conduit’ between the club and supporters that is so visibly lacking at the moment. (Apologies for using the word ‘conduit’ – not entirely flattering, but I trust you understand the imagery…).
I hope there’s someone in the club who will be around next season who ‘gets’ this and who understands how simple it would be to address the problem of communication coming out of the club… (isn’t it ironic that Scott’s major gripe about the events of the past few weeks is that no one from the club respected him enough to let him know what they were thinking?).
At 30, Rowland Winter is clearly young and dynamic and perhaps will be more sympathetic to the thoughts and feelings of the supporters than maybe the case under the present regime. I think Scott Morgan does understand this, but Winter will have the experience that perhaps he has lacked, or maybe he’ll have benefitted from having those around him being more aware of the importance of keeping a much smaller fan base happy.
Whilst I’m sad that Scott won’t be at the helm next season, it’s exciting to know that Rowland Winter will be and that he has the next three months to work with the club to put in place the systems he’ll be relying on next year. Not only is he Cambridge’s Director of Rugby, he is also their attack coach, which might suggest that next season we’ll be watching a slightly more entertaining style of rugby?
Hopefully, Rowland will be the man for all seasons…
…particularly the season of our discontent…
I appreciate I’m going to be playing catch up over the next few days, but I’d just like to add my own disappointment at the news that Courtney Roberts has returned to New Zealand and presumably, in so doing, has ended his contract with Coventry RFC.
Back in the summer he was one of the stand out players during the friendlies and opening couple of league games. He looked to be forming a formidable partnership with Tom Poole, one which boded well for the rest of the season. However, following the two initial defeats, against Hartpury College and Richmond, Courtney was dropped and seemed to disappear off the radar for a while, before resurfacing at Broadstreet.
Courtney’s final appearance in a Coventry shirt, against league leaders Richmond, reminded us of just what Coventry had been lacking for much of the season, someone who would just ‘roll up your sleeves and get stuck in’. A no nonsense, no frills second row who was dominant in the lineout and unremitting in defence.
I was lucky enough to share some correspondence with his dad and step mom, both of whom followed Courtney’s time at Coventry with huge interest. He clearly has a sincere, caring and above all hugely supportive family to go back to and I wish them and Courtney all the best.
The consensus amongst many supporters is that Courtney wasn’t given a fair crack of the whip and for whatever reasons Coventry decided that other second row options were preferable. It would be of great interest to know why, when results were so disappointing and Ben Thomas wasn’t having the impact that Courtney had earlier in the season, Courtney wasn’t recalled sooner. There is a story to be told, I guess, but the one certain thing is that you won’t hear it from Courtney himself. Despite the ‘Street incident, he always appeared to conduct himself with courtesy and consideration – his parents are right to be proud of him.
I might be wrong here, and I’ll remove this if I am, but I haven’t spotted an official club comment confirming Courtney’s departure and thanking him for his efforts – if that is the case, it’s remiss of a club that prides itself in its traditions and values. It might be that the departure has yet to be finalised, but it is common knowledge, and it has been officially confirmed by his family on the messageboard, together with much disappointment expressed by many supporters.
A comment from the club to confirm this and to express gratitude for a player who made personal and professional sacrifices to travel half way across the world to put on a Cov shirt might have been appropriate…but then again, it seems par for the course these days. If such a comment is forthcoming, it will be too little, too late.
However, if I am incorrect I can only apologise, having been away for a couple of weeks…I had a look at the website but as always it’s so difficult to navigate beyond the home page news that I gave up. (I could only scroll up and down news items from the 5th -8th Feb!?). Perhaps someone could confirm one way or the other…in my absence I might have missed it, in which case I’ll remove this comment!