Defending the indefensible and Rob Conquest
Watch Coventry play like they did yesterday and you begin to wonder why just so many of the squad are soon to be in receipt of their P45s.
UB40’s 1981 anthem for the unemployed could well do with a 2016 rewrite, with the title updated to reflect the Cov’s current predicament …not longer ‘One in Ten’, instead it’s ‘Eight in Ten’.
I haven’t yet heard of any supporter who would advocate quite the drastic cuts in personnel about to take place in the corridors and changing rooms of the Butts. We all have our favourites, players we would, without any hesitation, have back in the Coventry camp next September – whether it be Pailor, Oliver, Jones, Wright, Hope, Thomas, Weightman or Ryan or whoever – the same names keep recurring.
It makes no sense to let them go. How can you possibly defend such a decision?
I’m no different. There’d be 12-15 players now on my list, less than there would have been at Christmas, but still a healthy percentage. And I feel guilty about reducing it to that small a number.
But here’s the rub.
I’m a supporter, fiercely loyal to the club and to the players. My spectacles are so rose tinted, they’re almost crimson.
I don’t do ‘objective’ very well. I’m partisan, less so than some, more so than others. But which ever way you look at it, there’s an inherent bias in much that I write. I know that…it’s a fair cop.
But that said, I do have the capacity to be open-minded as, I hope, this post will evidence.
So it only seems fair to try and determine the reasons why Rowland Winter might have taken the decision to wield the axe to quite such a degree. I’m going to have a stab at defending the indefensible for the simple reason that in so doing, I’m forced into trying to understand something that doesn’t make immediate sense.
Context is key here. The majority of the current squad have been together for upwards of two seasons (a rough head count suggests 21 of the 30 players still at the club, including long term injuries, have been with us from last season or earlier).
They have had a fair amount of success in that time, many of them being involved in the squads that finished fourth in 2013/14 and third in 2014/15. They have proved themselves at this level and at one point last season were pushing for the top spot.
But in the last 14 months, since 14 February 2015 to be exact, Coventry’s form has dropped to the point back in mid January where relegation became a possibility if not a probability. No matter how good the squad is, if they continue to underachieve over that length of time then there has to be change. Most supporters would agree on that.
Jon Sharp has decided that a full-time head coach is the way forward, a role that Scott Morgan couldn’t have accepted because of his own business commitments, even had he been the Chairman’s first choice.
But he wasn’t. Rowland Winter was.
Having come in and spoken to Scott and worked with the coaches he’s bringing in with him, RW decided that wholesale changes were in order and whilst I would have like to have kept hold of a few more of the Coventry squad, most of whom played against Doncaster at the weekend, I think I can understand why he made that decision.
It seems to me that Rowland will bring with him a far more professional approach across all areas of the club; not just in terms of players but also with regards to coaching, training, fitness, nutrition and so on. In that respect, it’s a completely fresh start and he wants to work with players whom he and is coaches feel will best adapt to the new regime.
Retaining a larger number of Cov players would probably make it harder to introduce such new ideas, ideas which might not go down well with a squad who have become used to set routines and a less intensive programme. Players could have their own loyalties to the previous managerial set-up and would inevitably compare the past with the present.
In a sense, you divide and conquer so that there are very few preconceived ideas floating about – everyone who has signed a contract has come to Coventry knowing what to expect and has bought into the vision. If Rowland Winter was put in the position of having to take on players whom he didn’t feel would prosper under his new structures, then the likelihood is that team morale would quickly become a problem, confidence would drop and we’d get another season like the one we’ve had to endure up to now.
And also, there is the accountability factor.
Any Head Coach coming into the club wants to work with a squad he is responsible for putting together. His future career is just as much on the line as those of the players and other coaches, if not more so.
Inheriting a large contingent of the current squad is something that would be far more difficult than bringing in a squad who are coming here because they have been impressed by what the Head Coach has had to say and the vision he has set out.
Players leaving their clubs and coming to Cov because they want to work under RW is very different from players opting to stay on because they love the club or its supporters, or both. Taking players out of their comfort zone will probably make them sharper…
I guess that players who remain at a club when a new DoR arrives have already proved themselves to the supporters, the Chairman and each other so there arguably is less fire in their bellies. They have already been moulded into the squad they are. With new players coming in, Rowland gets to mould them the way he wants.
I have no idea as to the RWs reasoning, but I guess there must be some aspect of the above that is relevant. If I were coming into a club that has Championship rugby as its target, then I’d want to make sure I had everyone on board.
In short, the squad was mine and no one else’s.
So, playing devil’s advocate, losing so many players might be absolutely the right way of going about rebuilding the playing side of the club. As painful it is to see the likes of Sam Pailor have to leave, especially when he would like to stay on, it’s all part and parcel of the modern era.
There’s no place for sentimentality in the professional game and, like it or not, that’s exactly where we’re headed.
Whilst losing quite such a large number of the squad might seem a strange and unnecessary decision from a supporter’s viewpoint, to someone not emotionally attached to the club or its players (or indeed its supporters) then it might just appear a sensible move.
Just how right the decision is won’t be known until at least Christmas when the squad will have had time to bed-in, but it seems to me that it is important to try and understand the reasons for such a cull.
Perhaps that’s something Rowland Winter will want to explain when he talks to supporters at the Members’ Forum which must be looming large, although rather foolishly I didn’t make a note of the date…
I understand there will be an announcement of a few new players today, with more announcements at the beginning of each subsequent week. These are exciting times and whilst inevitably we will be saying goodbye to some old friends, there will be many new ones on the way.
It was a tough day at the office for Rob Conquest.
Having only just signed for Coventry, he will have been hoping to impress the Cov crowd and do enough to whet their appetites in readiness for the main course next season. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite as he’d hoped and he must have left the Butts somewhat chastened by the experience.
And to continue with the culinary theme, our bouches were not amused.
Darlington had been enjoying a rich vein of form – 15 wins in 17 isn’t too far off Coventry’s own run of 18 games without defeat last season (of which 16 were wins). Coventry, on the other hand, were floundering in the bottom half of the table with little to show in any of the games against teams above them in the league. It should have been a formality.
But sport often has a habit of kicking you in the teeth and even as you read this, Rob will almost certainly be sitting in the waiting room of some metaphorical orthodontist waiting to have assessed the damage he received from messrs Tomas and Wright.
The two Coventry locks had the better of the lineouts and in the loose and Conquest and Vaioleti were made to look ordinary, although to be fair the Darlington front 5 created huge problems in the set piece and Coventry found themselves going backwards time and time again.
It’s certainly not the way Conquest would have wanted it and understandably supporters are questioning how it is that Wright and Thomas aren’t being retained. However, for the record, Conquest and Jubb were completely dominant in their home game against Cov in December, with Conquest scoring one of the four tries Darlington scored that day. We had no answer to the Darlington’s driving maul and he was most definitely a handful. Quite literally, we got a good mauling up there
Rob was at Cambridge from 2012-2014, so he will be well known to Rowland Winter. With specialist scrum and lineout coaches at Coventry next year, players like Andy Brown, Joe Foreman, Alex Woodburn and Rob Conquest will be able to work that much harder to develop their game and I have no doubt that Rob will prove to be a popular signing.
Take some of the games that Danny or Ben have played over the last 7 months and I think we could pick holes in both their performances, too.
Saturday was definitely our day but we must be careful not to look at one game in isolation and make judgements on a player based solely on what we saw of him then.
However, that’s not to take anything away from Thomas and Wright; both were outstanding.
Wonder who’s coming our way, today…?