Rowland Winter is such a wag…
Minutes before the Members’ Forum started, he sidled up to where I was sitting and, seeing that I was preparing to takes some notes for the blog, offered a pint if I could include in it most of the information he was about to share with the supporters…
Within three minutes of the start all bets were off. He’d lost me before he’d finished the first slide.
RW’s money remains firmly in his back pocket.
Given the sheer volume of information he gave us yesterday evening, all I can hope to do in this post is summarise the key points that were covered during the 75 minutes or so the forum lasted.
And he’d knownn that…the smile as he said it made it clear I’d failed even before I’d begun.
I never stood a chance.
So here’s the potted version…
What we heard this evening took the communication between the club and its supporters to a different level…it was honest, open and no subject seemed off limits, although such was the detail in Rowland Winter’s presentation that in actual fact when it came to the q+a session at the end, little was left to discuss.
It was almost information overload and yet I left with the distinct feeling that RW was still only scratching at the surface. And in my defence, at times it was so interesting that I failed to take notes, so some of this is reliant on a failing memory – so I must apologise in advance if there are bits that aren’t as accurate as they should be. Hopefully, those who were there and who now who read this will correct me where I’ve made a misrepresentation…just not too often please…!
Rowland Winter is a charismatic speaker, very natural in his delivery, with a sharp sense of humour (most of the time) and he has the ability to make the complicated sound relatively straight forward. It’s hard not to warm to him and certainly if there were any sceptics in the 60 or so supporters when they arrived, I doubt if there were any in the room by the time he’d finished.
After a brief introduction from Jon Sharp, Rowland Winter began by detailing the make up of the medical/support and performance teams, 9 people in all, led by Hannah Walker (Head of Physio) and Rob Norman (Head of Performance). He did mention a new name, that of Max Hartman, who will be a link between Hannah as physio and Rob as the training coach and he’ll have an important role to play in an injured player’s rehab prior to commencing training. He’ll have a greater input when Hannah leaves for Rio to support the GB Paralympians.
We have also taken on an assistant physio who has just qualified from Bristol Uni, (Ashley?). Apparently she is, for reasons not detailed by RW, very popular with some of the players – one can only imagine why!
There was some interesting news regarding the team doctor (Anne ?) – she has handed in her notice at her surgery and from April will be working with us one day a week, so instead of having a match day doctor, Cov will have a team doctor. This is an important distinction and one that will offer the squad even more medical support.
RW then went on to talk about the screening and monitoring of players which is something as a supporter I know obviously takes place, but have never understood what it involves.
And it seems that not only are we streets ahead of the rest of National 1, what we are currently doing is comparable with many Premiership sides.
If I’ve got this right (and I was already starting to glaze over a this point), 5 weeks prior to the start of training Cov undertook intensive monitoring of every Cov player, including such areas as movement functionality, joint alignment and so on (if I use ‘and so on’ it means RW gave loads more examples but I just couldn’t keep up with him!).
This level of monitoring allows Rob Norman and his team to design individual programmes to help overcome any problems, actual or potential, that might have been picked up during the analysis. He gave the example of James Stokes who has some problem with a rotated hip (I might have paraphrased that) and as a result he is being given lots of posterior training to strengthen his back.
By keeping an eye on potential problems, the team can help prevent possible injuries, as well as speed up rehab and a return to training.
All players have access, presumably via any device linked to the Internet whether mobile or not, to the RFU League 1 Hub. This provides a massive amount of data on all teams in National 1 and every game played over a number of seasons and can isolate everything from line-outs and scrums to how teams use the ball in each area of the pitch. So for instance it is possible to look at, say, Loughborough Students and determine over the last x number of seasons what Loughborough have tended to do with their line-outs in the opposition 22. It gives the coaches lots of information on work on. Of course all National 1 teams have access to this, but RW made the point that the difference is Coventry have the staff to make use of it.
And make use of it they do.
Another really interesting piece of info is that each morning every player in the squad is required, via the Team Hub and presumably from home, to answer 5 or 6 questions about their well-being. Questions involve such diverse areas as general health, upper and lower body, motivation and energy levels and so on. Players are required to rate each question from 1-5, with a space for a comment.
This is analysed and, on the basis of the players’ responses, the performance team can make decisions as to specific areas of training that need concentrating on that day, or even if a player should be training at all – for instance, someone might have indicated they’d got a cold, achy limbs, sore throat etc, so the decision might be made to exclude him from training to avoid a bug going through the whole squad.
If a number of players report the morning after a game that they’ve woken up with tight hamstrings, for instance, then Rob and his team will adapt training accordingly. Against Ealing, many of the team felt battered and bruised and the decision was taken to reduce the amount of training that week to allow for a better recovery.
Coventry have their own team data going back over the last 7 seasons and it is clear that the present squad is fitter at this point of the season than in any other and it’s not hard to see why.
Moving on from monitoring, RW went over the various roles of the coaches – as this has been covered elsewhere, I won’t repeat it here for the sake of brevity (which isn’t one of my strong points). However, he did make some interesting comments which I’ll include in this section, although it might not flow very well when read.
When he met up with the last season’s squad, RW asked each player what the team’s attack plans were. He got several different answers.
This season he wants to leave no one in doubt, whether it be players or supporters; he wants his teams to run with the ball with the intention of achieving a bonus point in every game.
And here it got a bit technical…
All teams in our league (other than Hartpury) tend to use a ‘pod’ system which is, in effect, a pass/contact, pass/contact, pass/contact approach. The ball is made available to the scrum half who quickly feeds the next player who is tackled and the ball keeps being recycled. It means that players end up being grouped too closely together…
…what Cov want to do is avoid this pass/contact, pass/contact ‘pod’ approach.
Coventry will play differently in that they will try and ensure at least two passes are made before the opposition make contact, allowing Cov more points of attack because they have got the ball beyond the opposition ‘hub’, so there is less of a defensive presence. (I think I’ve got that right). Recruitment has ensured players are strong runners with an attacking mindset so that space can then be created for the speedsters. As I understand it, the coaches only want two players at the break down and with quick ball going beyond the first receiver onto a second or third, defences become unsettled and aren’t ready to defend.
RW made the point that players do have their weaknesses, that’s why they’re in National 1, and to get where he wants Cov to be isn’t going to happen overnight.
It will take time.
He also wanted to absolve the hookers from much of the blame as far as lost line-out ball is concerned. Over the last three games only 3 line-outs were lost as a result of the hooker’s throw. The rest were the result of a combination of factors, from the wrong call, to timing the jump incorrectly and so on. He cited one example where Tom Jubb had backed into Eoghan Grace as he was about to jump which caused Grace to fall backwards as the ball sailed over his head…it was nothing to do with a poor throw.
Another interesting comment was made in reference to our defensive lapses. In the last 3 games tackle completion was at 87%, 89% and 90% which was pleasing. The problem has been that Cov hasn’t been getting the right number of people into the defensive line, meaning the backs have been left exposed. Something to look out for there!
Rowland was very open about the rewards and incentives being offered to the players. There will be no win bonus this season, instead players will be set targets (or set their own) for every game and if these are met, then they will get paid. This stops the situation whereby you could play a team, play poorly and win, but still achieve a bonus, whereas against another team play your socks off, but get nothing.
Discipline in the team has been very good, with us outperforming the opposition in the last three games. Against Newport we conceded 9 penalties to their 17 and against Ealing it was 8 to their 18. (I wasn’t quick enough to catch the Jersey Reds stats – sorry).
In National 1 you’re looking for less than 12 penalties in a game if you’re going to be in with a shout…
At the breakdown, players need to be there within one or two seconds, with attackers in each 15m channel to avoid attacking in just the one area. With quick ball to the scrum half, it gives the team more options. What RW doesn’t want to see is players getting involved in fights or moving players off the ball as this means they aren’t undertaking their roles, so less players are committed whether in attack or defence.
Cov won’t consider kicking the ball unless the ball is going backwards or there have been three negative plays in a row and the decision to do so will be made by the 9 or 10.
The coaches will break the season up into five mini leagues of six games each – the first mini league consisting of the first 6 games. Talk of teams outside of these first 6 games is not permitted. Once the six games are completed, the next mini league begins and the points are zeroed again. Focus, focus, focus…with training set against this six week programme.
Injuries – in the forwards only Rob Conquest is unavailable this weekend, but he should be in consideration for the Loughborough game – testament to the great work being done by Hannah and her team.
On Saturday, Boris and Jimmy will swap their usual positions to enable the coaches to see what further options are available to Cov in the front row. Andy Brown and Phil Boulton don’t have that flexibility, being out-and-out either tight or loose-heads.
Andy is also going to be a dad soon and is understandably a little less settled…(good luck to him though…Andy Brown…a daddy!).
With Will Priestley not yet ready for National 1 rugby, RW is looking to bring in another hooker to add a bit more competition, together with another second row. Messrs Conquest, Jubb and Poole are all very similar in the way they play with Brendon Snyman being the best scrummaging lock by a distance. The others have better skills around the pitch. The incoming lock will be big!
In the back row, Povoas, Bone and Dyer have all been tried at No 8 and Eoghan Grce will get a chance on Saturday…the others don’t really have the ball skills that they’re looking for at 8.
Pete White is making a good recovery. He’s different from the other scrum halves as he’s ‘gobby’ and that leadership is missing a little at the base of the scrum.
Adam Canning remains desperate to play for Cov, but after having picked up an injury, he’s getting married at the weekend and he’s been told he’s well down the pecking order at the moment. Given he was injured playing for Cov, the club will stand by him and will look at him once he’s playing again.
Rob Knox offers lots of different options…the feeling is that he’s not the best of distributors and would be best suited on the wing. However, with Tom Wheatcroft in the centre alongside him, there are two 100kg players who will cause damage. There is also some concern that Rob is injury prone and as such the wing is probably a safer bet for him.
RW was asked about the thinking behind the two games this weekend. He responded by saying that the squad was big enough to allow the Colchester game to be selected from the main squad but with no subs (although I think the Development Squad might have a role there?) .
Bury St Edmunds play a similar style of rugby to Loughborough and are well coached and have excellent facilities…he did make it clear that those selected to play Bury St Edmunds are very much in the driving seat as far as selection for the Loughborough game is concerned and a place in the side is theirs to lose.
Asked about the quality of referees, Rowland said that they will initially tend to concentrate on applying the new laws and Cov will need to adapt. He has the chance to speak to each referee by phone and he’ll endeavour to explain what it is Cov are trying to do on the pitch. Cov will get to know each referee and work with them.
The new kit was then unveiled…I’ll try and get hold of a picture to put on the blog, but it’s going back to a more traditional broad (4″) blue and white hoops, with blue shorts and white and blue stripy socks. The away kick, which I think looks really striking, is all red with a white band on the upper third of the front of the jersey. The contract is with Under Armour for 3 years and I think there is some flexibility in the design of the away strip in particular in subsequent years, depending on the feedback from supporters and players.
There will be a hyperlink to Maudesports via the new website and supporters will be able to order directly from the distributor with deliver the next day! In addition, there will be examples of the kit in the club shop and whilst supporters can pay over the counter, they will be encouraged to use the Internet.
Tom Little then went through his thoughts on how individual teams might fare this season in National 1, together with changes to squads and any names that we might want to look out for. Whilst it was interesting, it was a chance to take a bit of a breather, so I’m not including any added notes here…sorry. I’ll be up ’til dawn otherwise!
Jon Sharp introduced the two captains and the four coaches who spoke for a couple of minutes about their backgrounds in terms of previous clubs and why they had decided to come to Cov. It was mostly them talking about the ambition of the club, their desire to achieve success for the club and for the supporters and the influence of Rowland Winter. All are seriously relishing the challenges and have enjoyed the first couple of months…it was a nice touch to get them involved and they were warmly received.
There were a few questions from the floor but I’m not going to detail them other than a couple.
Boris was asked about the role of the hooker and the actual hooking of the ball. His answer was really interesting in that if a hooker hooks, then immediately it becomes 7 pushing against 8. Everything the forwards do in training is geared to our scrum pushing themselves over the ball without necessarily striking for it. We’ve recruited 2 big hookers in Price and Tolmie which helps…
John Sharp asked the players about the importance of the crowd and whether the roar of the Cov supporters would make a difference. Both Tom Wheatcroft and Brendan Burke spoke about their memories of playing in front of Cov supporters and how it was something that they were all looking forward to. Brendon Snyman referred to the crowd as becoming the 16th man in tight games…something which has happened a few times at The Butts in recent years.
Someone did ask about Coventry’s ability to change tactics mid-game if needed. An emphasis on attack is all very well but sometimes you need to slow things down – the ‘ball up the jersey approach’. RW made the point that there are different forms of attack…it doesn’t necessarily have to be all about expansive rugby from one end of the pitch to the other…you can use your physically in the forwards, or make judicious use of the high ball, or just kick to turn defences…it’s about having the experienced players on the pitch to make those decisions and that’s something we’ve got in abundance.
I think everyone left very impressed with what they’d seen and heard. Coaching and team management is almost a science in itself now. The depth that the coaches are going into to ensure that players are prepared for the challenges they will met this season was a real eye-opener.
Those who attended will definitely have a much better understanding of what’s been happening these past few weeks and I think most, if not all, will have gone away reassured that the massive changes that have taken place across all areas of the club are already bringing about change…and in a very positive way, too.
Such willingness to talk to supporters and explain what the club is doing on and off the pitch is refreshing and whilst Rowland Winter and his team are still very much enjoying a honeymoon period here at Coventry…
…it’s certainly beginning to look like a marriage made in heaven…