It was Thomas Edison who famously said:
I have not failed, I’ve just found 10000 ways that won’t work
And isn’t that really the point of the pre-season friendlies?
Games, against opposition that you know are going to test you to the limit – with a new DoR, working with a new coaching structure overseeing a new squad.
At the moment it is very much a question of looking at the various combinations available and honing down the options ready for the start of the National 1 fixtures in September…and discarding those that just won’t work.
…it doesn’t always turn out as you hoped, but as long as you get something from the game, then it’s always a positive experience. With Ealing opting to play what amounted to a different team in each half, it is hard to gauge just how strong a side they are, but they’ve recruited well, I believe, and will expect to improve upon their showing last season. I think it’s fair to assume that Ealing will be stronger, on paper at least, than the team heading National 1 in April, so there should be plenty for Cov to take out of the game, despite that 7-28 scoreline.
Two Championship sides and two defeats, both by quite large margins, doesn’t look great on paper and whilst I understand that at times the game yesterday was frustrating to watch for supporters, I don’t think RW and the coaches will be too downbeat when they reflect on the game over the weekend.
Disappointed…well, yes, you’d hope so, but I thought there were a number of positives coming out of the game, and although the forwards weren’t quite as dominant as they were for that 25 minute spell in the second half against Jersey Reds, once again they showed they have a scrum that can compete against the best that teams in our league will have to offer.
The real disappointment for me was that we never really saw Ealing knocked backwards in the way Jersey were at times last week. For all our possession and for all our territorial advantage in the second half, we couldn’t make the advantage tell.
We had our chances, and had Dan Rundle been able to hold on to a pass just 15 meters out with the line beckoning, the final 40 minutes would have been a score draw.
Ironically, despite conceding three tries in the first half, I thought we looked more dangerous in attack in the opening 40 minutes, with Brendon Burke controlling play and his partnership with James Wheatcroft causing Ealing a fair few problems.
I also liked the look of James Stokes. He’s clearly quick and looks to be a powerful runner…and at 15 he had more impact on the game than he did out on the wing against Jersey. With James Prichard also in the reckoning at full back, Stokes will probably play one out wide in some games to facilitate Pritchard’s inclusion and when we do play teams who will give us a little more time and space, Rundle, Trimble, Stokes, Burke and Wheatcroft have the potential to hurt the opposition.
With Hircock, Knox and MacBurnie all in the wings (but not on them), we shouldn’t be too concerned about our inability to make inroads into what have been two very secure defences in the last two weeks. And when Maisey came on, he again showed he has the game to profit from an attacking, expansive game plan…his distribution seems his real strength although I’m not convinced he kicks as well out of hand as, say, Tony Fenner does.
I was a little concerned that we left too many holes for the opposition centres to exploit and if we are to play a running game, then on today’s performance we could be exposed by teams who play in a similar way. With players all getting a feel for each other’s game, the understanding you hope will come with more games under their belts isn’t as yet there, but these are experienced players and I’m sure that it will be an area the coaches will be looking at this week.
Wheatcroft is a strong, powerful runner and he broke the gain line on several occasions. In contrast, Burke is far more elusive and although there’s no great size to him, he made one mercurial break, which was set up by Wheatcroft, that led directly to Coventry’s only score of the afternoon, by Max Trimble – his third try in 2 games. Burke was the playmaker whilst on the pitch and he marshalled the backs effectively in attack. When he departed the pitch, there seemed to be fewer options available.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Burke is going to play much more than a 30-40 minute cameo at the moment, and once he left the field many of the attacking options seemed to leave with him…defensively, both Burke and Wheatcroft did miss important tackles in that first 30 minutes or so, but they were not alone and it is something that will need to be addressed.
In contrast, Ealing seemed to have a very organised defence and they were always up quickly which gave Cov very little time and room to use the ball. Whether it was for this reason or just part of the game plan I’m not sure, but I think we saw Cov kick the ball away more in this game than we did in the other two games put together. However, with the opposition then having to turn and chase, and Dan looking to be getting back to full speed, that’s no bad thing and on a couple of occasions, one in each half, it nearly paid off. Dan came more in to the game the longer it went on and in the second half he made a try scoring tackle when it looked for all the world as if Ealing were about to score.
I thought Eoghan Grace had a good game in defence, winning a couple of turnovers and looking very sharp at times and Darrell Dyer did a lot of work from no 8, although I’m not convinced that is his best position…? Brett Daynes, too, was noticeable in the first half and he remains a very exciting player to watch with ball in hand.
Tom Jubb is one of the most athletic second rows I can remember at Cov for a long time and I think he played the full 80 minutes – with Snyman, Conquest and Poole also available, there are plenty of options there, even if the lineout didn’t function at all effectively for most of the game.
Both Scott Tolmie and Matt Price had difficulties throwing the ball in, but I learned my lesson last season – whilst the hooker is invariably the one who gets the blame from supporters when the lineout misfires, it could well be as a result of the jumpers mistiming their jumps, wrong calls or poor throwing by the hooker, or a combination of the 3. I’m sure Brendan Snyman will be anxious to get it sorted over the next week and we need to be careful not to apportion blame where it might not be due.
Last week the line-outs held up well, so I guess yesterday should be seen in terms of a blip at the moment and not as a return to last season’s problems. And in fairness, we disrupted their throw at times and for the second week running, when they had a lineout close to our line, we successfully prevented them from getting the drive on, which was a real failing last season. Positives there then.
The scrum, too, held up well in the first half and caused Ealing some problems and although we were shoved off the ball early on in the second half, a change in the front row shored things up again for the most part.
Rhodri Adamson must be feeling much happier today…he replaced Sam Grasso in the second half and looked altogether more confident this week…his passing was quick and accurate and he helped keep Cov on the front foot during the second half – a solid performance from the youngster. Grasso’s passing was more erratic in the first half and on a couple of occasions this resulted in the receiver being put under real pressure, but defensively he put in a good stint.
As a teacher, the word fail was never used other than as an acronym – FAIL – or First Attempt At Learning…
Rather as Edison suggested in the quote at the start of this post, life is about trial and error. You work on things, go through the options available to you and eventually end up with the right combinations to achieve success. It might take many attempts to get there, but success won’t just happen overnight.
So, last week we had F(irst)AIL, yesterday was S(econd)AIL and who knows, next week might even be T(hird)AIL…
The most important thing is that we get positives out of each of these games and those positives are taken into the next game.
Jersey, Ealing and Newport weren’t chosen because they’d provide us with easy wins and we could go into the league programme full of confidence, albeit a confidence built with little or no foundations. No, they were carefully chosen to test the squad, to provide a challenge to the team that will be greater than Cov are likely to experience in National 1 – but not so great as to leave them demoralised.
At this point it might be appropriate to spare Fylde a thought – they played Sale Sharks yesterday and ended up losing 81-0. Now I’m not altogether sure of the side Sale put out, but it was clearly far too good for Fylde and just what either side got out of the game is unclear…but you know it’s not a great deal when your DoR (Paul Arnold, for whom I have huge respect) tweets:
Well 81-0 against a very Big, Fast, Fit, skilful & physical
@SaleSharksRugby side but proud of our boys especially the young lads.
Our three pre-season games against quality opposition (presuming Newport send out a strong side) will definitely toughen us up.
What spectators want from the games and what the coaches are looking for aren’t necessarily one and the same and it is inevitably going to lead to frustrations for those supporters whose expectations are for a very free-flowing, high scoring game with Cov dominant.
These games have shown just how big the gap between the Championship and the mid-to-top end of National 1 really is and they are a useful reality check for us all. Last year’s successes in the pre-season masked Cov’s real frailties which were then cruelly exposed a few weeks later. Over-confidence won’t be a concern this time round.
If we are still struggling in October and wins are hard to find, then perhaps there is a problem, but surely we are where we’d pretty much expect ourselves to be at this stage…clearly able to compete for long periods in a game with Championship opposition, but without the all round physicality and skill levels to prevent them from taking advantage of any weaknesses we might have.
I’d have liked us to have created more scoring opportunities, but they were some that we just couldn’t take advantage of and, in addition, we had 4 or 5 attacking scrums that we lost without ever being able to threaten Ealing’s defences.
And that is disappointing…but it’s disappointing for the right reasons…this wasn’t a heavy defeat or a poor performance by any means. Handling errors, missed tackles and a lack of bite in attack…but positives there, too. And nor did we concede many penalties, in fact I’d care to wager that Ealing incurred the wrath of the referee far more often than we did.
One final point…I found it vaguely reassuring to watch Rowland Winter become increasingly animated as the game went on. He was clearly frustrated by some of the decisions and presumably by our inability to turn good possession into points…it’s was never in either Scott Morgan’s nature, or Phil Maynard’s for that matter, to prowl the touch-line and gesticulate, but I admit it’s something I like to see.
All DoR’s will have that sort of passion in their psyche, but its outward manifestation in the form of what we saw from RW yesterday is something that suggests the kind of passion and emotion that supporters feel too. We will always shout and give vent to our feelings; sometimes a coach’s deadpan demeanour can come across as a lack of urgency…something that wasn’t missing in Rowland Winter yesterday.
Forget any fine tuning – that’s not for the present.
With Poole, MacBurnie and Hodgson unavailable for selection through injury, Rowland Winter has pretty