Club talk

My Funny Valentine

Words that could have been written about Cov…

My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Unphotographable
Yet you’re my favourite work of art

My Funny Valentine – Frank Sinatra

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rosslyn Park v Coventry.

Perhaps the fixture that was to decide the outcome of the National 1 season 2015/16.

The two teams that were widely recognised as being the front runners for the title, meeting head on at The Rock. The National League 1 decider.

At least that was how it looked when the fixtures were first released last summer. But of course the reality is far different. Two teams, 8th and 10th in the league respectively, both with their seasons in tatters and with seemingly little to play for.

Except perhaps contracts.

Whilst it was Rosslyn Park who prevailed in the end, I’d venture to suggest that it’s Coventry who might yet benefit most from the game. That might seem a little strange, but I’ll explain.

The first 70 minutes of the game summed up for me much that has gone wrong for Coventry this season. Injuries to Hamilton in the first half and Ryan in the second meant that once again the back division were forced to reshuffle, twice. A yellow card for Tivalu and we were yet again playing with 14 for a ten minute period of the game. We conceded two tries from opposition lineouts in our own 22, followed by the obligatory catch and drive. We struggled to keep hold of the ball long enough to put phases together and when we did we were promptly turned over. The line outs once again seemed to create problems and there wasn’t a great deal of clean ball coming from them for most of the game. The same old, same old.

Oh, and the referee was a little too whistle happy as well…originally seeming to favour Park, especially in the area of the scrum, but then  in the second half he started to address his earlier bias and by the end of the game the penalty count, although heavy, was in fairness pretty even.

But trust me, this is going to be a positive review…

It was all pretty depressing stuff. In all honestly, Rosslyn Park weren’t a great deal better either, I would imagine they were fired up by the ‘resignation’ of Jack Buckland this week, with immediate effect and certainly the response from their players at the end of the game suggested they were not only relieved, but very much united as a team. Their pack were probably a bit stronger and quicker in the breakdown and with the likes of Shires and Hugo Ellis, they have a back row with immense experience at this level.

There was certainly no lack of spirit from Coventry and the concerns expressed after the game last week against Hull  weren’t in any way evident to me yesterday. The team played with plenty of spirit and no lack of effort but at times basic errors in handling cost us dear. For much of the game, especially in the first half we had a territorial advantage but lacked both the incision and decision to break down a resolute Park defence.

We conceded two tries from initial infringements, ensuing penalties and kicks into our 22, followed by driving mauls from park, the first of which was for all of 20m. It was all too reminiscent of the failings of the team before Christmas. Parks 3rd try, and their final score of the game, was even more frustrating from a Coventry viewpoint…

…Cov were camped on the Park line and had been for a couple of minutes. We had a scrum pretty close to the left hand corner (I think, but can’t be certain, we’d opted for it following a penalty) and were looking to take advantage. From the scrum, the ball was lost and Park hoofed the ball downfield, only for us to show hesitancy and panic in front of our posts and for Park to score. It was pretty poor stuff.

If Rowland Winter watches the recording of the game, when he gets to that part, he might well be wondering what he’s let himself in for…

Up to that point, Coventry had looked indecisive…plenty of commitment and willingness to get stuck in and actually defensively quite strong, with the line holding good for much of the game (excluding their inability to deal with a driving pack). But little confidence in attack, or with few options…or both.

It was as it is, a Coventry side mid/low-table and struggling to find any consistency in their form, although battling hard and never giving up.

However, a moment of magic almost turned the game upside down and from that point the game was turned on its head. For the final 15 minutes or so (of which 6 were in injury time) Coventry dominated  play. For the first time almost since Wharfedale, there was belief…confidence soared and the tempo changed dramatically.

It all started deep in our own half. Cov, from out of nowhere really, got the ball to Weightman who surged through the Park defences and after 30-40 metres found Dom on his shoulder…Dom’s pace was enough for him to out run the defences and score under the posts.

It was a classic try, very much in the Rundle/Hurrell, Hurrell/Lespierre styles of last season. Great to watch and certainly the highlight of the game from either team.

And there it was…suddenly self-belief coursed through Coventry’s veins – belief that this game was theirs. Within another few minutes Cliffie had converted a straightforward penalty to leave Coventry within 6 points of a win that no Coventry supporter had thought possible after Park’s third try.

They ran hard and true at Park and when they did lose possession, they were able to regain it pretty quickly…in the end Park were scrambling their defences and when eventually, deep into injury time, a Coventry player was bundled into touch deep into Park territory, the final whistle was clearly a huge relief to Park’s players and supporters.

Contrast that with the reaction of the Cov players, many of whom dropped to ground and looked crestfallen, their efforts in the end not being enough…and there’s the disappointment.

This is a team who had Park on the backfoo  for the final 15 minutes, a team that looked confident and sharp, and capable of snatching an unlikely victory following a pretty ordinary first 70 minutes. Why they left it so late, why it took that one piece of magic to change the momentum and spark Coventry into life is an unknown to me. Had they played with that energy and commitment from the onset the result would certainly have been different.

In truth, it seems as much a matter of confidence  than it is of ability. This was a team put together as a result of an horrific injury crisis that has lasted for the best part of the whole season so far and with Gaston Mieres returning back from South America prematurely with a shoulder injury, it’s not getting a great deal better. Problems off the pitch haven’t helped either, although none of this should be an excuse.

But players yesterday whom I might not expected to be playing in this fixture back in September (the likes of Smith, Hough, Ryan, Kivalu, and perhaps Wright) , players who were likely to be squad players rather than in the starting line-up, actually had pretty decent shifts for the most part, although Kivalu failed to return after his yellow with Chad Torne replacing him.

That’s why I said at the start it might well be that it’s Coventry who will ultimately benefit most from the game. Yes, it’s Park who got the four points, although the bonus point that Cov achieved was well…a bonus. But it’s those last 15 minutes that could be so important over the remainder of the season.

Use those effectively – start with that as the building block for next week’s training and maybe we could see some renewed confidence and energy returning. Coventry remained huddled after the game for a long time, longer than I’ve seen before and the players were all listening intently to what was being said.

There was pride and there was passion for those last 15 minutes and whilst the team lost, it’s what the coaches should be taking away from the game and using. It was a crazy, crazy end to the game and despite some pretty ordinary rugby from Coventry for much of the game, supporters were left thinking about ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’, as I rather imagine the players were.

The recording of the game won’t make comfortable viewing for the new DoR…at least that first 70 minutes won’t. However, he might well have been sitting a little more easily come the end of the game. On the RP website, midweek, a preview of the game appeared from which I’ve taken this:

Having recruited Cambridge director of rugby Rowland Winter for next season, Coventry are already making plans for a serious assault on the 2016/17 campaign and many of their current squad will be playing for their places under Winter

Well, I’m certainly not falling for the hype again, but it is interesting how Winter’s appointment is perceived elsewhere – although this was probably written prior to Buckland being released! A ‘serious assault’ – come on, just from one appointment?Perhaps ‘entering the next phase of Coventry’s long term progression into the Championship’, or words to that effect, might have been more appropriate.

Anyway, for much of the game many in the current squad will have hoped the recording equipment, rather like the Cov side itself this season, was in a state of malfunction and Rowland Winter wouldn’t have access to a ‘tape’ of the game. However, come the end of the match there was certainly enough there for many players to have got themselves noticed and for Winter to be encouraged by what he saw.

A game of two halves – okay, well a game of a quarter and three quarters.

A word before I close for two people whom I think deserve to be singled out for additional praise. First Scott Morgan, who has had a pretty torrid last couple of week but who has remained focussed on the task in hand, despite what’s happening behind the scenes at Cov and the on-field problems. He’s conducted himself extremely well publicly, despite the manner of the announcement and yesterday got a decent response from a team that he’s had to patch together from the remnants of a squad decimated by injury.

The whole thing could easily have gone belly up yesterday; that it didn’t must be down in some respects to the way the coaches had been preparing the team. There were those on the messageboard who were, understandably, forecasting another possible Esher…and it wasn’t. So well done, Scott…something to work on for next week and the remainder of the season.

Secondly, Cliffie Hodgson. The plaudits have already started and rightly so. Cliffie’s achievement of 1000 (thanks Martin!) league points, the first person to do so in a Coventry shirt is a pretty impressive feat…having done so in such a relatively short space of time (he only joined at the start of the 2012/13 season) is even more so, particularly given he has missed a fair few games through injury over the last few months.

He has a quiet unassuming manner and a calming presence on the pitch. You always expect Cliffie to score points during a game – even when Cov didn’t play particularly well yesterday for much of the game, he still picked up 11 points.

Metronomic – that’s what he is.

I’m sure that his success doesn’t just happen, that it takes hours and hours of dedicated practice to ensure that come match days it all looks so easy.

Well done, Cliffie.

 

 

 

 

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