The Friendlies: Episode 1: the one where it all starts…
The wait was worth it…
Hardly a polished performance, and one that I rather suspect will have left the coaches somewhat frustrated at times, especially in the second half…
…but as dress rehearsals go, this one was an encouraging performance.
When the players have all learned their lines and the prompters become a little less visible and when the curtains finally opens for real on that first Saturday in September, Cov could yet bring the house down.
Get your tickets early, it should be a sell-out.
The Butts Retreat?
…I don’t think so.First things first.
..and it was a decent one.
I’m no good a guestimating, so just how many turned up to watch Coventry’s opening game of the pre-season will have to be confirmed by the club, but it looked healthy enough…maybe 450-500, but I could be hopelessly out there.
There was plenty of noise, plenty of encouragement and some warm applause for Broadstreet when they finally got on the score sheet in the final 15 minutes or so of the game. I thought ‘Street stuck at it admirably and their fitness levels were impressive. Yes, there was an obvious gulf between the two teams but they came back strongly in the second half and gave the Coventry defence some testing moments at times. They shouldn’t be too downbeat about the score (52-12/14?) and there were one or two notable performances from their players, particularly in the forwards. They helped make it such an enjoyable spectacle for the those who were there to witness the game and they fully deserved both their tries, although I have to say we did miss some crucial tackles to allow them to cross.
(A brief word, too, about the injured ‘Street player (their No 7) who appeared to suffer a serious ankle/foot injury…for a while it looked grim, but he was able to ‘hop’ off on one leg, supported by someone each side of him so hopefully it might be better than first feared? I hope he’s able to make a full recovery and get back out on the pitch with no ill effects.)
And full marks to the both sets of coaches for making what I’d expected to be something akin to a glorified training ground game into a physical and hard fought match up between two fully committed teams – it was so different to last season’s opener at Binley Woods which was a turgid and rather depressing affair, despite the warm welcome from Broadstreet.
Anyway….to the game.
From a Cov supporter’s viewpoint, the first half 45-50 minutes are probably going to feature most in any discussions about the game. For the most part, the remaining 30 minutes suffered a little bit from the inevitable changes that were made and as a result some of the fluidity was lost. It would be easy to be a bit critical of Cov’s performance in the second half but it’s important to remember than many of the replacements coming on for the final 20-30 minutes were members of the Development Squad, still very much getting used to playing against experienced and (please forgive the pun) rather ‘streetwise’ opposition. It was a step up for some of them, a big one at that, and I thought they acquitted themselves well. RW clearly wasn’t at all concerned about throwing them in at the deep end and a few more games like this over the coming months is going to give them some fantastic experiences to take back with them to their junior clubs.
I thought they did damn pretty well considering – like most there this evening, I have still to learn their names, so apologies for not singling any of the youngsters out…
There was one amusing incident late on in the second half when the crowd became a little animated when we were pushed off the ball for a second time at the set piece…what I don’t think many had realised was that both Sam Smith and Max Trimble were part of the 8 forwards at that point (I’m not altogether sure why…?). RW and Boris seemed to have a little chuckle at that point…
And the first 45-50 minutes. Well, it lived up to my expectations…
RW had repeatedly hinted that this season Coventry would be playing an ‘in your face’, expansive style of rugby and that’s exactly what we saw out there this evening. We played some high octane rugby at times and, with the likes of Max Trimble and Dan Rundle, there are players in the squad who can hurt the opposition from anywhere on the pitch. Dan had a quiet came and saw little of the ball other than on a couple of occasions, the second of which saw him receive the ball 50m or more out and, once the after-burners had kicked in, he was away and gliding around the final defender.
Trimble looked just as quick and both his tries relied on pace from some distance out to get him clear of the chasing defenders. It was great to watch…
At times, the movement amongst the Coventry players was as quick as I can remember, with forwards and backs linking seamlessly and, more often than not, someone on the shoulder of the ball carrier to receive the pass when needed.
You can count the number of times we kicked the ball away on two fingers, let alone one hand…penalties were taken quickly and often forwards were able to make inroads into the ‘Street defence to allow the backs the room to spread the ball. Plays weren’t always executed perfectly, nor would you expect them to be, but it was clear that Coventry will frighten many of the teams in our league this season with their pace and movement.
However, on occasions I do think we over-complicated things a little. Several times during the course of the game, players making a decoy run overstepped the ball carrier and we rightly ended up being penalised for crossing. Handling, too, wasn’t always as sure as it will need to be once the league games start. However, the positives far outweighed the negatives…
It wasn’t just about speed though, at least not in the sense of distance over time. It was about speed of hands and of thought and of knowing where the next player is.
So who stood out for me?
Will Maisey was a revelation for the short period he was on the pitch – it was a cameo appreciated by everyone. Not only did he control the game from 10, he made several breaks that left the opposition standing, scoring a try as well. His chip over the top that Max Trimble collected (following a kind bounce) to score his second was a delight, showing both vision and touch – a case of Good Will Hunting (sorry…).
Will promised much when last here, but I always thought his kicking out of hand let him down then…no need to worry about that this season, it won’t be needed. He might not be the first choice no 10 with Tony Fenner around, at least not straight away, but he’s going to be a real asset and could become a very useful member of the squad indeed.
The new scrum half, Sam Grasso, is clearly going to become a popular signing. Have you looked at that YouTube clip yet? Well a lot of what was on there he repeated out on the pitch this evening. Good hands, quick distribution and a keen eye for a gap. He caused real problems with his sniping runs and he has genuine pace over 30 or 40 metres…he did come off injured so that’s something of a concern, but it didn’t look too serious. Another great cameo.
Tom Jubb was something of a revelation. For a second row he’s frighteningly quick and seems to love running with the ball. With his size and speed, he’s able to hit the tackler hard, very hard, and several times he either knocked defenders aside or just broke through the tackle. A quicker version of Sam Herrington…
The other second rower and someone who is presumably on trial (?), Ian Ashcroft-Leigh, also had an encouraging game…very mobile and with good hands, he made some impressive yards.
It does look very much as if one of the most important things RW has been looking for in his players, both the forwards and the backs, is pace – something his players are going to need if this expansive, free-flowing style of rugby is to be effective.
And welcome back Brett Daynes! It was as if he’d never been away; a crowd favourite before and certain to be one again. He made some rampaging breaks and he still has a very decent turn of speed and was often to be seen supporting the initial break. He’s one of the those players whom, if we had webcams on everyone, I’d follow over the course of a game…he always seems involved in so much of the play. Once RW was announced as DoR both Sam (my lad) and I secretly hoped he’d bring Brett back to his alma mater. Thank you, Rowland!
Also in the forwards, Matt Price looked sharp and certainly as committed as ever and distributed the ball effectively, as well as carrying it well. Darrell Dyer also caught the eye and he’s another who is exceptionally quick.
In the backs, Adam Canning also looked very sharp, breaking the defensive line on a couple of occasions, although it looked like he went off with an injury after 25(ish) minutes – hopefully, it’s another one that isn’t too serious.
The scrum looked very solid with Brown, Price and Boulton in the front row, less so without them and the line-outs worked well, too. I’m sure Boris and Brendon won’t have been satisfied, but the set pieces looked good from where I was sitting.
All-in-all, it was a very encouraging opener. But then again, remember Cardiff and Ealing last year…? But with 10 or more absentees, many of whom would at the moment be considered first choices in their respective positions, this performance suggests there is a lot, lot more still to come.
The important thing is the players for the mostpart delivered on what Rowland Winter had promised, and that’s kind of all I’d hoped for really.
They’re not the finished article by any means, far from it, and the second half showed where the problems are – too many missed tackles, players tiring a little (as you’d expect given the pace the game was played at) and far too many penalties given away. Early days and plenty of time to iron out some of the errors before we face Ealing and Newport…
The important thing is we’ve now seen what RW is trying to achieve and we’ve also had a glimpse of just how effective the style of play he is advocating can be. Get it right and things will happen…
I did promise today that I’d publish the results of Monday’s poll which asked readers to indicate where in the National 1 league table Coventry would need to finish for the season to be deemed, purely on results, a success.
All it is meant to be is a rough guide as to what supporters would expect from the team over the coming months.
And looking at the results, there appears to be a general consensus amongst most of those taking part that, whilst supporters want Cov to be far more competitive this season, they’re not expecting the team to be chasing a top 2 spot in the final few games. It’s probably a step too far this season.
20% of supporters opted for a top 2 finish.
3rd in the league was the modal position (the most popular choice)
60% selected either 3rd or 4th
Almost everyone expects to see a significant improvement on last season’s 8th position (95%) (and you be kind of worried if they didn’t!)
However, only 20% felt that a top 2 position would indicate a successful season. The majority (3 in 5 supporters) would settle on Cov being one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the league come April.
You’d hope that would come as something of a relief for Rowland Winter and the management team.
I’m sure they’ll be saying to the players, quite rightly, that Cov must go into every game believing they are capable of winning it. However, the fact remains that supporters seem to be setting on what are, after all, still challenging targets for the team, but not ones that are anything other than realistic. It’s all too easy to forget that just as Cov have been making massive improvements in all areas of the club, other National 1 teams might well have been doing something similar. We discount the progress they have made at our peril.
Birmingham Moseley, Rosslyn Park, Plymouth, Hartpury et al. will have strengthened their squads over the close season (one or two of them with some of last season’s squad!) and will want to make their own statement of intent early on. It’s going to be very tough.
The one thing Cov don’t want early on is its supporters expecting a top 2 finish come April – a couple of early losses and the pressure becomes huge, as Scott M found to his cost back in September.
If results do go our way and, after the first round of league fixtures, we’re in the top 3 or 4 and within 10 points or so of the top team then things might well change as far as most supporters are concerned, but that is something very much for the future.
Personally, I’d like to see us making steady progress over the course of the season, with everything being put in place to make a serious challenge next season or the season after.
Anyway, the full results can be seen below:
Come the end of the season, and in terms of results only, where would Coventry need to finish in the league in your view for this season to be deemed a success?