Club talk

From the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City, reconnecting, Blackheath’s match report

This week’s ‘The Rugby Paper’ includes a feature article on James Pritchard, the Bedford stalwart who is soon to become one of Coventry’s four full-time coaches with responsibility for the team’s defence, whilst also giving the teams’ kickers the benefit of his vast experience having scored almost 3000 points for his present club.

There are a number of interesting things to come out of article, not the least of which is a brief explanation as to why Pritchard decided to join Coventry. He seems to have the same ambitious nature as Rowland Winter, mentioning how impressed he is with the direction the club wants to take:

One of the things that attracted me to Coventry is the fact that they’ve mapped out what they want to do and have put a timeline in place to achieve those goals

RW also referred to the fact that his decision to come to Coventry was made easy for him because Coventry want Championship rugby and many of the structures are in place to achieve that:

but once we dust a few things off at Coventry we’re in a fantastic position to be able to challenge, make sure the fundamentals continue to be built and have the Championship firmly in sight. It fits my ambition…

Cambridge would need time to adapt to life in the third tier of national rugby and Rowland Winter isn’t one to hang around.

It would seem that both he and James Pritchard are clearly in agreement in that respect and want to achieve their own goals sooner rather than later.

I’m not sure that supporters have been told just what that timeline is, other than to review the situation after the first couple of seasons, but Jon Sharp has clearly impressed RW enough to make the jump from Cambridge and in turn he must have been able to persuade James Pritchard that Coventry is a club very much on the up.

For me, perhaps the most reassuring thing to come out of the article is to be found tucked away in the penultimate paragraph. Having talked about the timeline the club has put in place to achieve its goals, the most important of which is presumably Championship rugby, James Pritchard goes on to say:

Coventry are not afraid to let people know they are ambitious. They want to push for the Championship and they’ve got the infrastructure and the money and the backing behind them to do that.

One of the things that’s caused the most debate amongst supporters over the course of this season is just how strong the club’s finances are.

I remember an accountant on the Messageboard explaining the workings of a balance sheet at one point, although to be honest my eyes  glazed over all too quickly. It does appear, however, that as far as the DoR and coaches are concerned there’s a war chest in place to finance any promotion push. Not only that, there’s  also ‘backing’ behind the club to presumably sustain it.

All this bodes well for the future. If next season is to be one of initial consolidation and bedding in, with perhaps a decent run of results somewhere along the way, then if there is a need to add to the squad either in January or to make a more determined assault on the title starting September 2017, there’s money in place to allow for it.

The club has come an awfully long way since 2010.

Jon Sharp has to take a lot of credit for the way he has led the club  from the Sloughs of Despond* via the uphill struggle that’s been the Hill Difficulty, the summit of which we’ve hopefully reached, now to look out in the distance towards the Celestial City. Understandably, there are still  Cov supporters who are stuck in Doubting Castle, very much concerned that Giant Despair will once again exert its influence on our band of happy pilgrim’s, but…

…over the six years, well, great progress has been made.

My only slight concern is that it’s not the first time that Coventry ‘haven’t been afraid to let people know they are ambitious’. We only have to go back 8 moths or so to find the last time that happened. It’s one thing to talk ambitions; achieving them is an entirely different matter. However, the fact that both Winter and Pritchard have bought into the vision is hugely encouraging and for that to have happened, then I’m sure they will have wanted something other than just words.

In accepting the role of DoR at Coventry RFC, Rowland Winter has clearly accepted that the budget he’s been allocated is generous enough for him to achieve his goals in his first couple of seasons here, so we can only believe that the finances are all in place for a concerted promotion push at some stage in the not too distant future.

And if James Pritchard could persuade Aaron Carpenter and Phil MacKenzie to return to Cov as well, then perhaps Jon Sharp might be willing to dig even deeper into the coffers..(that’s not me starting a rumour by the way, it’s just a bit of wishful thinking…)

Now for the release of the names of another 3 or 4 signings…

…please…

*which incidentally take their name from the clay deposits left behind by  London brickmakers, deposits of which can still be found rather ironically on the road between Bedford and Ampthill, the two teams that James Pritchard has represented this season!

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There is no doubt that the club have suffered a disconnect between itself and its supporters. I know Cov have put a brave face on attendances at the last couple of home games but the fact remains we are a good 450 down or so down of late on last season’s average gate, with a difference of some 130o or so between the lowest gate this season and highest last.

Whatever the reasons, the club must be worried that this decline in attendances will become a trend rather than a blip.

There must be a number of reasons for the fall, but the most obvious one must be related to the disappointing results supporters have endured this season. Despite the best efforts of the players, tenth in the league as we were not so long ago isn’t going to get the supporters flocking through the turnstiles. If there is to be a reconnection, it will come through the team being  successful on the pitch, as well as playing a style of rugby that is rather more entertaining to watch than the one we’ve witnessed most of this season.

The last few games have seen Coventry play a more expansive game, with forwards and backs combining more effectively with less of an inclination to kick deep and chase. Players like Ryan and Knox have begun to be far more influential and we’re scoring a little more freely. The prospect of seeing another cameo from Dan Rundle could well attract a few more on Saturday, and hopefully supporters will want to come and say their goodbyes to the team and to Dave Addleton in particular, so hopefully it could be our biggest gate of the season.

Rowland Winter has already said that his is an attacking brand of rugby, one that is bound to appeal to the majority of supporters.

I’m a fan of tap penalties, quick kicks to the corner, being quick to set scrums, speed of thought and speed of foot, and moving the ball quicker than the opposition. The enjoyment must be there, and I want to see hunger in the players and excitement. Teams must be worried about keeping up with Coventry.

I want a brand of rugby players want to play, where they can express themselves.

It should be a key feature in the Club’s marketing leading up to the first game in September.

A coach who wants his players to enjoy their rugby on the pitch and to entertain at the same time is going to be well-received anywhere in National 1. A pre-season where Cov are able to do just this could make a real difference. It’s just the sort of thing to put bums on seats.

If the disappointment amongst supporters over the loss of so many familiar faces come the end of the season is to be countered, then an emphasis on this  rebranding is going to be key. If players and coaches can quickly bring some excitement back to The Butts, and I think even the most ardent supporters will accept that the rugby Cov have played over the last 12 months hasn’t been the most attractive to watch, then perhaps the crowds will return to something like the 2014/15 averages.

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And finally, just a pat on the back for whoever wrote the Blackheath match report of the Coventry game that can now be found on their website.

It makes for a very fair read, singling out as it does the contributions of Sam Pailor and Coventry’s ‘two half backs’ in the second half, as well as Matt Price’s accuracy at the line-out – something Rowland Winter alluded to recently.

Quite often an opposition’s own match report will offer a decidedly one-sided take on the game, but Blackheath’s is extremely balanced, even to the extend of the subheading reading ‘Pailor paves the way for Coventry come back’.

It is well worth a read:

Blackheath’s match report their website

It’s interesting that Blackheath should choose to comment on our line-out as it is something that has become a real strength in the last few games. Danny Wright and Ben Thomas are making a really good job of not only winning our ball, but also disrupting the opposition on their throw-ins too. Whilst Poole and Wright would probably be my choice of second rows to start, Ben Thomas has made it difficult for the selectors to pick Tom. The fact he remained on the bench following his return from ‘flu for the second game running suggests that Scott has great faith in Ben.

 

 

 

5 replies »

  1. Hi Tim
    Isn’t Warren’s research fascinating? Who would have thought that the teams at the top of our league would have used as many, in some cases more, players over the course of the season? It really does put the excuse as to injuries into perspective. Unfortunately it confirms my view that the coaching of the team is where the problem has been which, in turn, showed itself in our play and, ultimately, the match results and our league position.
    I also share his view that the whole structure of the club has suffered from “a part time attitude” which has been so obvious in such a wide variety of areas of the operation of the club.
    Much as the cull is painful and will mean the departure of players we’ve learned to respect and admire, there is something exciting about the prospects for the future following the way RW seems to have galvanised and focussed the club.

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  2. I think if Cov had the same kind of season as last season – plucky losers who have a good winning run with no real chance of promotion, where 3rd looks quite good but 24 points behind the league winners – then average attendances might have been on a par with last season, and we may have gone home after the last home game of the season happy enough with that, and looking forward to the same next season (and the next season etc). I think from what I have seen, the club have been suffering from a part time attitude (from the coaches, players, even the website, & communication to the fans etc). Over the long term the ‘stagnation’ (probably not the right word) of Cov in NL1 may alienate prospective fans in the long run. Now the club has bought into RW’s vision, and will be backed by the board – and hopefully the club as a whole will have a more professional attitude throughout. Although there may be a few hiccups during the vision transition over the next season or so, at least the club are giving it a go. Hopefully the masses will follow.

    On the playing side it is a big positive that the team are playing better and getting results – but it is obviously too little too late. I do hold out hope that some players may be kept on. I know people have blamed Cov’s injury problems as partly to blame for our poor form. This is true, we have lost good players for long spells, swith 42 players played so far this season, and I haven’t researched it properly (by position and what impact it has had for each individual game etc), but it is interesting to see the numbers of players the top three clubs have played :- Richmond-40, Hartpury College-50, Ampthill-50. It is not scientific I know, but I don’t think we can blame injuries for not finishing a good few places further up the league at least.

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    • Great comments…I’m sure you’re right, even despite the hype we would have accepted 3rd place and there would have been no call for heads to roll or changes to be made. For real change to take place something drastic had to happen and happen it has! I’m not convinced everyone will buy into what is currently happening, but I do think that however painful it might be, it’s long overdue. And in some respects, the disappointments of this season will be cathartic in the long run.
      Very interesting point about the number of players used elsewhere – the similarity in the number of players used between ourselves and Richmond pulls the rug from underneath those of us who have tried to soften the ignominy of such a disappointing season by using the injury problems we faced as the sole reason. Would be interesting to hear Scott’s or JS’s response to that!

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  3. Hi tim I too hope dan gets a run out on Sat as me and his mam are cov bound for the last home game. And I hope all the fans that have dropped off of late return to show their appreciation to everyone who won’t be at the club next term. My personal opinion is that cov are going to miss some of these players who are outward bound.but I hope they all don’t end up on the same opposing team or we could be in trouble. But let’s hope they win the game and sign off in style in the bar good luck for the future to all of them. See you all sat.

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    • As we all are! I’m sure that many of those players we’re saying goodbye to will be back in National 1 next season and from what I’ve heard, one or two might be in the Championship as well. I’d like to see them back against us, but you’re right, we could regret not renewing one or tow of their contracts! Still, what’s done is done, let’s hope Saturday is a celebration and not a dirge and the players who are leaving get the send off they deserve.

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