Club talk

Black day in Blackheath…

combustionIn one of my more prophetic posts, yesterday I suggested that ‘Cov are currently on fire and it will take a strong Blackheath performance to douse the flames this afternoon’.

Cov were certainly red-hot, but rather than Blackheath feeling the heat, it was very much a case of self-immolation, especially in the second half when I can’t recall a single occasion in which we entered their final 40m.

Maybe not even self-immolation come the final whistle…with Cov conceding two of the softest tries possible in the final few minutes, it was more a case of spontaneous combustion.But I’m certainly not going to sit here and be wise after the event, nor proffer any suggestions as to the whys and wherefores of what was arguably Coventry’s most disappointing 40 minutes of rugby for many a season. What happened, happened and whilst there has to be an inquest, of course there does, that is something best left to the coaches and players tomorrow and Tuesday.

It’s now all about next week and how the team respond in training and how prepared they are to face a Hartpury College who will be eagerly anticipating Saturday’s visit to the BPA. They are bound to be relishing the prospect of facing what I’m sure they’ll believe to be a battered and bruised Cov team following the beating we received at the hands of Blackheath yesterday.

But wounded animals are always at their most dangerous…

Cov’s second half performance yesterday is one that will live in the memory for all the wrong reasons, especially as it came after what was an encouraging comeback from them in a first half that had seen us once again totally dominant in the scrum. Indeed, Cov were camped on the Blackheath line for the final few minutes of that first half and within inches of scoring a second try to go in at half time just three points behind and with their tails very much up.

Coventry had won three consecutive penalties from 5 m scrums, the Blackheath pack looked to be in disarray and Coventry must have been just one more scrum away from a penalty try. But for some reason best known only to themselves, they chose to let the ball out of the scrum rather than drive for the line which would have most likely resulted in either a try or a penalty try.

Even then, as Blackheath looked to have disrupted the play, Scott Tolmie drove forward and seemed to score the 5 pointer (and certainly the reactions of the Cov players suggested he had) only for the referee to consult with his assistant on the far side and indicate that the ball had been held up…

…scrum 5, surely?

But we were well into injury time , the whistle blew for half time and that was the last occasion we threatened to add to our points tally for the rest of the game. The whistle blowing when it did was indicative of how the game unfolded for Cov…little at all went right for us on the day.

All ifs and buts, but had we made better use of the ball in those final moments, and had the referee awarded the try (and Scott Tolmie is pretty adamant he grounded the ball), well things might have been so different.

But he didn’t…and they aren’t.

So off Cov went to the changing rooms for 10 minutes, leaving the travelling faithful to rue the moment, but content in the belief that Coventry had turned the tide and with the advantage in the second half of what was a pretty strong wind, they would turn things around even going into the break 15-5 down.

Supporters will doubtless talk about the lineout failing once again, about declining kickable penalties for the chance to kick to the corner, about the scrum buckling in the second half, about two yellows and some ill-discipline creeping into Cov’s play, about far too many missed tackles, about Cov’s inability to defend against the high ball and about some heads dropping a little in the face of a Blackheath onslaught in the final minutes…

All of which are true.

However, this might be rather an ostrich-like response on my part, but it’s not something that I’m going to get too worked up about. I understand the comments coming from fans that the supporters deserve better and it’s a long way to go to watch such a pasting, but I kind of view it differently…

That was only Cov’s fourth competitive game, a game against a tough and resilient Blackheath team who had only lost one previous game, and that against Hartpury College who seem to be in a rich vein of form at the moment. Yes, we were found wanting but Cov are still very much finding their feet and losses, and even the odd poor performance, are to be expected along the way.

Rowland Winter has made it clear that this first season is about putting structures in place and about building a squad that is capable of winning promotion in the next two or three years. Next week is going to be another even tougher game against Hartpury and we shouldn’t expect too much, and with Esher (away) to follow, it doesn’t get any easier. By mid-way through October, Cov supporters might not be wanting to look too closely at the league table.

But we knew this could happen and this is a group of players who haven’t played together before and who will need time to get used to each other and to a league that is particularly competitive this year. What happened on Saturday was hugely disappointing and whilst the manner the defeat is obviously a concern, the result shouldn’t be overly so.

You just have to put you faith in the coaches and in the players to work hard over the coming week to put things right.

Any defeat is hard to take, I’m just reflecting on the fact that it’s still very early days in terms of the journey we’ve recently embarked upon and, as a supporter, I need to remind myself to be patient..

Were this squad into its second season together and we produced a display similar to yesterday’s, well it would be a problem…but not after just 4 games. Not for me, anyway.

The manner in which the coaches and players respond to yesterday’s result over the coming days is going to be crucial and to be fair to the coaches, they began positively,  with Rowland and Boris coming on to the supporters’ coach not only to thank those supporters who’d made the journey down to watch such a disappointing performance from Cov, but also to give an honest assessment of what happened out on the pitch.

In a much appreciated gesture, Rowland moved Rhodri Adamson out of the firing line (it was Rhodri who was originally going to say a few words which would have been a tough call for the youngest player in the team). He could have easily avoided speaking to supporters so soon after the game, but that’s not RW’s style and after a few words from Boris, he talked for several minutes (incurring the wrath of an increasingly impatient driver) about his reaction to what he’d seen.

 

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Rowland Winter on the supporters’ coach after the Blackheath game

He was clearly disappointed, as you’d expect. But one got the distinct impression that it had been a valuable lesson for him.

He talked about how heads had dropped in the second half, but he’d learned a lot about the players, especially those who hadn’t been able to lift themselves in the face of the challenges in front of them.

Too many first  tackles had been missed and some odd decisions had been made, notably in that final scrum of the first half.

The backs just hadn’t seen the ball and, interestingly, he commented on the fact that because the team had no shared experience of coming back from a half time deficit, they had nothing to fall back on. He talked about the failing lineout and scrums and about the work that needs to be done this week in preparation for Hartpury at home.

He was happy to answer questions, but with the driver getting ever more irritable, there were only a couple. Inevitably, one was about Cov declining the opportunity to kick penalties early on to keep the points ticking over. RW’s response was an enlightening one and gave an insight into the thinking behind some of the decisions being made on the pitch.

He explained that it wasn’t  Coventry’s policy to always turn down a potential three pointer. However, penalties often come after sequences of play, so in the case of the Moseley and Blackheath games if the referee is telling you that the next penalty will either end in a yellow for the opposition or a penalty try, it makes sense to opt for the scrum rather than take the three points. Whilst I wasn’t at the Moseley game, certainly that made sense yesterday and Coventry could and probably should have made more of that final scrum in front of the posts at half time…why they opted to let the ball out, rather than go for the 8 man shove is a question that I’m sure the coaches will be asking on Monday.

RW was clearly grateful to those supporters who had travelled down, including those who made their own way to the ground, and his decision to talk to the supporters in person, rather than send a player, was greatly appreciated.

It was a long, long day…the coach didn’t get back to the ground until 11.40 pm, having set out at 6.00 pm (but more of that later!). It was a game that will live in the memory for all the wrong reasons and other than the first half dominance of the pack, there’s not a lot of positives to take from the game, although I did feel that Rob Knox looked strong going forward in the first half.

Am I down?

A bit…

Am I down-hearted?

Not at all.

It’s just one game and in the scheme of things, an away visit against what was a decent, but by no means quality, Blackheath side was always going to be a tough challenge. They grew stronger during the second half as we lost a bit of confidence and in the final 15 minutes were rampant and in all honestly could have had another two but for a try saving tackle from Dan Rundle and the scrum half dropping the ball over the line.

…and at least I’m not a Rosslyn Park supporter? Played 4, lost 4…now that would be a worry!

I’m sure there will be several changes made to the team on Saturday, particularly with several players become available for selection again. With home advantage, albeit in front of a smaller crowd than we might have expected to see had we come away from Rectory Field with a win (the PA still called it RF, even though Blackheath have moved grounds – I’m not quite sure how that works?), we’ll see a very different Cov performance.

And to finish on…a big thank you to Steve Hood who organised and managed the trip down to Blackheath so effectively, ably supported by Paul Ingleston. It wasn’t the easiest of journeys back, and despite the result and the disruptions on the way home, everyone remained in good humour. The travel arrangements don’t happen without a fair amount of effort on the part of the organisers and I thought Steve did a brilliant job…

I’ll talk a little more about the visit to Blackheath tomorrow…

And I’m not quite a quip for the waiting game
I have a little money, and I have a little pain
And these few golden days, as the days grow so few
These golden days, I’d like to spend ’em with you
These precious golden days, I’d like to spend ’em with you
September song, September song
September song, September song

September Song – Lou Reed

 

 

 

 

4 replies »

  1. The problem for Cov is that while a result like this won’t put off those who are committed to watching the club through thick and thin, it has an impact on those of us who are not quite able to make that kind of commitment.

    So yesterday I decided to make the trip across London to support Cov, although doing so involved crying off something else I had half agreed to do and putting off a couple of other important but unwelcome tasks.

    A game like that does then leave me feeling much less willing to make the journey to Esher in a fortnight’s time (the next game I could go to). Each time this happens, I swear never again (I’m a veteran of watching 77 -3 defeat away to Bedford; 45-7 at home to Fylde, a couple of horror shows against Old Albanian away etc.)

    And I do keep coming back, sometimes after a bit of a gap. Not everyone can be a diehard supporter, but Cov also need supporters like me, who will come if there are signs of progress, but who weary of finding every step forward is followed by an equivalent back.

    I realise this is a rather negative comment and that trying to revive a club in Cov’s position is hard work and those trying to do it deserve support and gratitude. It’s just that after a performance like yesterday’s it is hard for me to make going to watch Cov a priority.

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    • Hi Iain and thanks for taking the time to comment!

      You make a really pertinent point and one that Cov has failed to address for a while now.

      Attendances have been on the decline for 18 months and really those who come to watch at the moment are the ones who by-and-large will come if Cov are winning or losing. Whilst the likes of Mick and I are, indeed, diehards and will go to watch Cov whatever the situation, for every one of us there are probably two in a similar position to you…those who will attend but do so as and when.

      When we aren’t playing well and performances are poor, as was the case yesterday, I wouldn’t expect anyone, outside of the regular supporters and season ticket holders, to be coming to along to watch a losing team playing with little confidence. However, in Cov’s defence, that’s not the case this season in the other games up to Blackheath, so even if the Hartpury result goes against us, I’d give it one more go and come along to Esher. Given time, I’m sure RW will win the crowds back.

      The brand of rugby Cov are capable of playing is worth the entrance fee alone! But there is a wider problem, in that Cov have got to try and attract those fans who haven’t been for a while and have got into different routines on a Saturday afternoon. Quite how they manage that, well I’m not sure, but it’s vital the Club continues its rebrand on and off the pitch. An emphasis on attracting more juniors into the games, bringing as they do parents, seems an obvious option.

      Yours is not a negative comment at all…and it’s one that needs those with better brains than mine to work on.

      Please do keep in touch, just because you’re an expat (!) doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice and more voices making more noise is certainly what is needed at the moment.

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  2. Good blog Tim. Yes the experience of that game may make this week very interesting behind the scenes. That is where it should and will be sorted out. Yes Coventry fans in general will not throw the towel in after that display. But I hope the players get focused this week on the game ahead. Who knows this coming Saturday evening lady luck may have smiled on Coventry this time.

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    • Hi Mick, yes…would be interested to listen to what the coaches have to say to the players this week. James Pritchard was annoyed last week after scoring 61 points, so I dread to think what he’ll have to say on his return! with support around the 100o mark, I think we’re left with those who will turn up through thick and thin, so I have no worries on that front and equally, the players are playing for a living, so it’s in their interests to sort things out asap. It won’t be a problem ensuring they are focused for Saturday, addressing some of the concerns we saw against Blackheath in just 5 days might well be…

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