Last year’s unbeaten run of 18 games, of which 16 were wins, was a hugely impressive effort on the part of everyone concerned with the club. Such was the self-belief at the time that the players, coaches and backroom staff must have thought at one point, as I certainly did, that promotion was a real possibility, especially around the Christmas break.
It’s small wonder, therefore, that come the end of last season and with the club announcing that it was retaining 20 plus of the 2014/15 squad for this season’s campaign, whilst also recruiting quality players to ensure there was even more strength in depth, most supporters should feel so optimistic about our chances this season. Another run like that, a bit more consistency away from home and who knows.
In the three previous years, the club relegated from the Championship had always been the favourite for promotion (Ealing Trailfinders twice and Doncaster Knights) but this season, with Plymouth Albion having to off-load almost all of their Championship squad from the year before, the race for the National 1 title was set to be as open a race as it had been for years.
What we all been hoping for as the team was assembled and began to produce some scintillating displays in the friendlies in August against Cardiff, Ealing and London Welsh, was confirmed by Jon Sharp and the coaches at the Members’ Forum back in August.
Namely, we were going to go all out for a place in the Championship.
But having looked at the results last season, I can’t help but feel we were all lulled into a false sense of security and, speaking only for myself here, I failed to spot what were some pretty glaring warning signs towards the end of last season. Signs that I chose to ignore, although I don’t remember doing so deliberately, because so much of the season had been a success and we had played some of the best rugby seen at the Butts since it opened back in 2004.
But signs they were and had we taken more notice of them, I think we might have been rather better prepared for many of the disappointing performances that the squad has produced over the past few months.
Coventry’s unbeaten run last season ran from 4th October 2014 to 7th Feb 2015. 18 games in total. 16 wins and 2 draws.
Yet in the last 10 games of the season we only managed to win four games in total – a 40% success rate and hardly something to get so excited about. To put that even more into perspective, our nine wins out of 24 games this season equates to a 38% success rate. We have continued to play this season in a very similar manner to the one we ended last season, so it shouldn’t have come as quite such a surprise, given so many of the players were involved in both.
Why I chose to ignore what were pretty clear warning signs and become quite so carried away by the talk of promotion is something I’ll never quite fathom. I think part of it was having retired in the January and having then decided to write a blog on Coventry’s 2015/16 season, I decided that it would become my very own record of Coventry’s most successful season in years and one that would go right up to the wire.
It wasn’t destined to be…
And here we are, just six months on and Scott Morgan is starting to concede that it is all becoming:
a little too close for comfort.
We absolutely need to start winning…We’ve got some really, really big games coming up with teams below us – Cinderford in two weeks, Henley and Wharfedale – and we’ve got to get it right.
We’ve all talked about why the season has gone so badly when it’s the same group of players as last year, all agreed that such good players don’t become bad overnight and pointed fingers at Scott and the coaches. And of course there is true in all this, except that this has hardly happened overnight…looking at it now and trying not to be wise after the event, the writing was very much on the wall well before the beginning of this season, even with the additional strengthening of the squad.
We all felt so positive about having kept hold of so many of last season’s squad, but take away that magnificent run and the rest of the season was very ordinary with only five wins in twelve games.
When I read Rowland Winter’s comments made to John Wilkinson in the Coventry Telegraph last week, I felt not a little tinge of sadness at the imminent departure of what looks likely to be a very large contingent of this season’s squad. And make no mistake, it will be large. In fairness to Rowland Winter, and in a complete contrast to the way things are usually done at the club, he has been very open about his intentions:
probably a large number…will have other opportunities next season as the team needs to be rebuilt
I beginning to think that for ‘large number’ read ‘cull’.
A while back I wrote a post in which I went through the squad and looked at those players I might keep and those who I would move on. The results since then, together with a realisation that actually last season’s run of unbeaten games masked what was a pretty average season otherwise, have lead me to believe that I was over-sentimental, too loyal. Mick Carter commented on as much at the next home game following the post and he was absolutely right.
There certainly are players I would keep, but not in the numbers I’d suggested back then. To be fair, I felt that perhaps the new DoR could do what Scott and the present coaches had failed to do and recapture the form of the middle part of last season.
But actually, it’s 13 months now since the run ended and Cov have lost 19, won only 12 and drawn one of the 34 games that have since been played.
In fairness, that’s more than enough time for players to have proved themselves. And many haven’t.
And that means there will be only one consequence.
Having thought it through after my initial emotive reaction, I do feel it is time for most of the squad to move on. I say that with a heavy heart…but I’ll stand by it. There will still be familiar faces here next season, indeed we already know of two, Dan Rundle and Rob Knox, but far fewer than we might have expected had we performed even a little better.
If there are 10 players remaining here from he present squad in total next season, then it would be something of a surprise (I’d be interested in how others view this figure). I’m buying in to Rowland Winter’s vision, if only because I don’t actually know what Coventry’s vision has been since September. I was going to say Scott’s, but I honestly don’t think he had the biggest say in which players were brought in last season, that honour I believe fell to Phil Maynard.
But since September, having been lead to believe that this was a squad that had the strength in depth to push for promotion, we’ve taken on several additional players (the likes of Carpo, Mieres, Smith and Sam Baker), released a few (the likes of Courtney Roberts, Tom Preece, Rikki Stout, Terry Sigley and James Tincknell) and taken on several DR youngsters.
So whatever the vision was, it was short-sighted and needed correcting. And yes, there have been an unprecedented of injuries but some of the comings and goings have little to do with that.
The breaking up of the old guard, sad that it is, must happen if we are to move forward. Winter needs to work with a new squad that he can mould and shape to his own pattern…
The brooms are out and poised…where they will sweep is still something very much open to conjecture.
But when the brooms are set in motion, I hope it’s a real spring clean and nothing is brushed under the carpet…
…and like all spring cleans, it needs to be a proper clear out.