Whichever way you look at it, this season has been a massive anti-climax, so much so that there’s no point in even trying to put some sort of spin on it.
It’s hard to find any positives to come out of it, other than perhaps the fact that it has brought about a complete restructuring of everything connected with Coventry’s playing affairs; managers, coaches and players have all fallen victim to the slump in Coventry’s fortunes over the last 8 months or so.
The axe has been wielded and it has been ruthless.
I’m sure the inquest isn’t yet over and there will be a number of reasons offered in the Boardroom over the next few weeks as to why the team failed to achieve anything close to what was expected of it this season.
Will we ever find out just what went wrong from the top downwards to bring about such a dramatic decline in the team’s fortunes over the last 14 months?
Probably not and maybe there are things best left behind closed doors.
However, one of the most puzzling things early on in the season which I do believe did contribute to the initial run of defeats and a loss of confidence within the team, was the inconsistency in selection.
Players who had appeared to have promising debuts in the friendlies and against Wharfedale and Loughborough Students, suddenly appeared to become out of favour after the defeat in the following game at home to Hartpury College. Soon after the first couple of losses concerns were expressed about the quality of the players brought in to strengthen the squad over the summer.
The same players who, incidentally, have since reappeared principally as a result of the burgeoning injury crisis during December and January, and performed extremely well. Certainly, well enough to question earlier comments that they just weren’t good enough. The likes of Hough, Ryan, Thomas, Hope, Weightman and Woodburn have all have impressed as much as the more established players over the last 4 or 5 games, something which I do think should be acknowledged as some point.
Anyway, the situation was bad enough in late October to necessitate the Board releasing a statement of intent in their first e-letter – a top 3 finish was to be the new target. Five dual registered loan players were duly drafted into the squad, as well as Carpo, Mieres, Smith, Kivalu and Baker (although to be fair, all five might have been in discussions with the club well before the slump in form). However, it all seemed like a bit of a knee jerk reaction at the time.
Surely, the underlying failure of the team at various points in the season has been down to the performance of the team as a whole, not just those individuals coming in to the club at the start of the season? When performances have been good, it’s been down to all 15 players out there on the pitch, as is the case when the team has underperformed.
According to Statbunker, 41 players have so far made an appearance on at least one team list for Coventry this season, with 40 of them getting onto the pitch at some stage of the game. The only one who hasn’t being Terry Sigley.
At this stage of the season it’s often the custom to pick your best team, your ‘dream team’, the one you would feel offers the best opportunity of success on the pitch.
However, on this occasion, I’ve gone for something slightly different – I’ve gone for the best Coventry side made up of the players who have made just 10 starts or less.
In other words a team comprising players who haven’t had the opportunities to impress on the pitch that others in the squad have benefitted from. Just to reiterate, the team is selected from the players who have had no more than ten starts rather than 10 appearances (ie it doesn’t include appearances made from off the bench).
There are 19 players in the squad who have had eleven or more starts, leaving 30 who would qualify for this ‘Alternatives XV’. I’ve cheated a little because I’ve included players who have moved on during the season or who have had long term injuries, but were, or still are, on the official squad list – so I’ve allowed myself a little leeway here.
However, the players who have left have done so by and large because they felt they weren’t getting the chance at Cov, other than Tom Preece who just had a better offer…
So how might this ‘Alternatives XV’ look on paper…(the number of appearances made so far this season is in brackets after the player’s name)?
Coventry RFC Alternatives XV – 2015/16
Full Back: Scott Hamilton (C) (8)
Right Wing: Dan Rundle (0)
Centre: Sam Smith (7)
Centre: James Tincknell (8)
Left Wing: Ryan Hough (10)
Fly Half: Adam Canning (0)
Scrum Half: George Tresidder (7)
Openside: Alex Woodburn (8)
No 8: Daniel Carpo (8)
Blindside: Tom Preece (6)
Lock: Courtney Roberts (5)
Lock: Tom Hicks (3)
Tighthead: Adam Parkins (9)
Hooker: Devlin Hope (7)
Loosehead: Joe Foreman (3)
Terry Sigley (FR) (0)
Jake Farnworth (FR) (1)
Martin Wolfenden (1)
Sam Baker (3)
Harrison Lee-Everton (4)
Now that’s a pretty decent looking side and one that would certainly win games in National 1 during the course of the season and probably more than it would lose too, provided it remained free from injury.
The strength of the team lies in the pack, with the front row able to give most teams a competitive game. Roberts and Hicks are both strong in the line-out and the back row, if playing to form, would create problems for any opposition in the league.
With just under 100 appearances between them, those picked for the Alternatives XV haven’t had a lot of rugby this season – although of course some of these players have themselves been injured for some time and therefore unavailable.
However, it does show that actually there has always been a fair amount of strength in depth, more so in the forwards than the backs, but there is definitely quality spread right across the team.
I have a vague recollection that eons ago there used to be trials before what was then the 5 Nations and England would hold a game between the Possibles XV v Probables XV as the final trial. They were rightly abandoned, probably in the early 70s (a complete guess), partly because the Possibles would occasionally beat the Probables which caused no end of embarrassment for the selectors. I think Wales have use this format in the last couple of seasons.
Quite who would come out on top between in a game between this team and one made up of last Saturday’s victorious Cov minus Hough, Woodburn and Tresidder is open to discussion. Rundle and Hough would certainly be dangerous and with Tresidder and a fit and firing Adam Canning, the Alternatives XV would have the half backs to provide quick ball to give the wings a license to run. Their pack would be big enough to withstand most teams and it could be a pretty even contest, especially with the back row of Carpo, Woodburn and Preece.
The current XV would have a clear advantage in the centres with Knox and MacBurnie already beginning to show signs of the form that created so many tries for Coventry last season. Add to this the running of Caolan Ryan and the Alternatives Xv would certainly be stretched if the current Cov team played an expansive game.
However, with both sides having home advantage ( a toss of a coin to decide which team has use of the home changing room) and I’m guessing a lot of support for the Alternatives XV, it could be closer game than it might look on paper.
All hypothetical, but nevertheless an interesting talking point.
Coventry’s next opponents, Blackheath RFC, are another team struggling financially to keep their heads above water. Having played their rugby at Rectory Field since the early 1880s, although founded some 16 years before us in 1858, it now seems that a dispute with Blackheath Sports’ Club over bar takings means that they will be playing their rugby at Well Hall from next season onwards.
This income is every club’s life blood; without it we cannot continue to run as a successful club at National 1, or indeed Championship – a level to which we aspire.
It’s a reminder of just how hard it is for clubs to survive without additional revenue streams.
With Plymouth also going into administration, the announcement recently from our own Chairman that over the last 4 years the club’s balance sheet has been ‘cleared of debt’ is a welcome reminder of just what a strong position Coventry are in relative to most other teams in our league.
The fact that Jon Sharp is continuing to stress the aim of moving to a full-time squad (having already recruited a full-time coaching team) is evidence of the drive and determination he has to see Coventry in the Championship before too long. Whilst there is clearly some concern as to the proposed plan to fund such a goal through a sharing of the club’s facilities with Coventry City, the very fact that the club can talk about a future where we are a fully professional side indicates just how far we have come in the last 6 years or so.
In the words of the Blackheath President, when making any changes to the club, the:
overriding consideration has to be based on commercial viability and financial stability.
Fortunately, under the steerage of the current Board, we seem to have crossed the stormier seas of the last few years and are heading for some calmer waters for the time being.
The fact that Cov supporters can enjoy their rugby in a dedicated arena and look forward to the prospect of further improvements in facilities and in the overall quality of the rugby they watch, shouldn’t ever be taken for granted…
Good luck to Blackheath in their pursuit of financial stability.
I’m really looking forward to visiting Rectory Field on Saturday for what might be the last time in quite a while.