Esher – expecting to see red, hoping to see gold…
One of the more interesting comparisons on the playing front between the Coventry of last season and that of the present is the relative size of the two squads.
As of now, the current squad is 34 (I think), which includes 3 players who have yet to play any National 1 rugby so far this season – Cliffie Hodgson, Adam Canning and Pete White – and Brendan Burke who, as a player coach, has only a few minutes of competitive rugby under his belt. So, in effect, 30 players in all as of now.
We’re already into week 7 of the campaign and whilst we’ve had a few injuries, other than Pete White and Cliffie Hodgson who have been unavailable since before the start of the season, they really haven’t caused any major problems and those concerned have either returned to the squad, or are due to re-join shortly.
Compare that with last season.
It was around this time a year ago that Coventry were reeling under a series of injuries and a loss of form of some of its key players. So worried at the time were Phil Maynard and Scott Morgan that in the space of just three weeks (weeks 7-9) Coventry had taken on by my reckoning another 7 or 8 players, so that by the end of October the squad had increased in size to around 42 players. Carpo and Mieres were presumably players who Cov had been negotiating with for a while and could only join after their World Cup had ended, but remember, Tresidder, Hutchinson, Farnworth, Worth, Ryan et al?
With its ambitions of a promotion chasing season seemingly already in tatters, Cov’s dip into the Autumn sales looked to be something of a knee jerk reaction and in retrospect was probably one of the first indications that the wheels had already started to fall off as early as the end of September.
Almost the entire squad available for selection with Rowland Winter able to state in yesterday’s team announcement that:
…with our squad nearing full fitness, we now have pressure and competition in every area for selection.
Yes, we’ve had a couple of disappointing results but the performances generally, other than that against Blackheath, have been encouraging. And, with RW being spoiled for choice across all areas of the team, Cov are in a far, far better place than they were this time last year.
Much of this has to go down to the pre-season planning and preparation that RW and the coaches assiduously undertook prior to the start of the season.
I can well recall a conversation I had with RW at an evening training session as far back as late July when he took me through the rigorous monitoring of fitness levels that was being undertaken at the time in readiness for the start of the season. He felt that the players weren’t then close to where the coaches needed them to be in terms of their conditioning and he talked about an extensive monitoring of each player’s individual fitness, strength and endurance levels and how these were tracked via regular testing, with targets for the following week based on the data accumulated from the previous week’s results…
RW was happy to explain that a lot of the work that was being done by Rob Norman and his team was focused on assessing each player to determine potential weaknesses in key areas of the body…knees, hips, back and so on…and then providing individual programmes to strengthen any highlighted concerns.
Preventative care in effect.
Whilst it was tough on the players and on Rob and Hannah and those who worked with them, the rewards would be evident once the players started to play regular contact rugby.
RW was fulsome in his praise of Rob and Hannah, and of Max Hartman who oversees the rehab of players following injury. In addition, the monitoring of diet and nutrition under the guidance of Corey Hircock would also impact on the general fitness and well-being of the players and these various interventions meant that he felt confident that he could assemble a relatively small squad and not have to rely heavily on the use of dual reg players or loanees later in the season at a time when other clubs might be struggling with selection as a result of a growing injury list.
Certainly, his meticulous planning and attention to detail is paying off at the moment. At a time when you would expect injuries to start to play their part in the selection of the team, RW is able to rotate his players to ensure that they aren’t being over used:
It’s not always purely about selecting based on performance. In some cases we look to rest and rotate players who haven’t had a break or an opportunity yet, to make use of squad depth
It’s all so different from this time last year when Scott Morgan simply had to make do and mend, with there being little choice, if any, in selection in key areas. At one point Scott even decided to make an appearance himself, a brave but foolhardy decision which lasted for all of a few minutes before he was injured. It was painful both for him physically and for the supporters emotionally as he limped off the pitch to sympathetic applause.
He duly announcing his retirement as a player once and for all soon afterwards
Boxer had indeed fallen…
I imagine the team selected to play Esher on Saturday will meet with pretty much universal approval by those who read this blog, especially as it bears a striking similarity to that picked by them as their strongest Cov team given the availability of the players at that time…
Blog XV Team v Esher
- Andy Brown (18) 1. Andy Brown
- Scott Tolmie (24) 2. Scott Tolmie
- Phil Boulton (20) 3. Jimmy Litchfield
- Tom Jubb (37) 4. Tom Jubb
- Brendon Snyman (37) 5. Brendon Snyman
- Brett Daynes (24) 6. Brett Daynes
- Eoghan Grace (31) 7. Eoghan Grace
- Darrell Dyer (29) 8. Ali Bone
- Sam Grasso (39) 9. Rhodri Adamson
- Will Maisey (24) 10. Tony Fenner
- Max Trimble (28) 11. Dan Rundle
- Tom Wheatcroft (35) 12. Tom Wheatcroft
- Rob Knox (41) 13. Rob Knox
- Dan Rundle (25) 14 Cory Hircock
- James Stokes 15 James Stokes
With Sam Grasso and Max Trimble still unavailable through injury, Boulton, Maisey and Dyer are replaced by Litchfield, Fenner and Bone…but both Maisey and Dyer are on the bench.
It certainly has a strong look to it and should have more than enough in the tank to beat an Esher side that is sat near the foot of the table and struggling to find the kind of form that saw it last season so comprehensively dismantle a Coventry team bereft of ideas and low in confidence.
I’m a big Tom Wheatcroft fan, so I’m delighted to see his return, especially alongside Rob Knox, who is beginning to take his chances and looks to be playing with renewed confidence. For me, it’s the first choice pairing, although Callum and Corey will doubtless have their own thoughts on that. With Cliffie likely to get some game time in the second half, either at full back or in midfield, RW has options to move Rob onto the wing to allow Cliffie to play at 12 or just make a straight swap with either Knoxy or Tom W, or James Stokes at 15.
I imagine either Rhodri Adamson or Tony Fenner will start off as kicker, but whether that will change when Cliffie comes on remains to be seen, as does whether he can prove to the coaches that he deserves a place in the team purely as a non-kicking centre or full-back. Cliffie scores a lot of tries when he is regularly playing, something that isn’t always recognised, and if Coventry go back to the more expansive game plan preferred by RW ( the one they rightly left in the changing room last weekend), then Cliffie might well find it very much to his liking. I’m intrigued to see how the coaches will use him and whether in so doing they will be able get the best out of him. I hope so because he has remained loyal to the club and has had to put up with recurring injuries that must have been pretty tough to cope with.
Coventry do need to break a run of three away defeats so far this season if it is to start to put any sort of run together and justify the feeling that many of us have that this is a team capable of producing something special over the course of a season once it starts to play for a full 80 minutes, rather than just 50 or 60 that it is at present. We’ve played some great rugby at times both in defence, as in the game last week ,or in attack when we took Loughborough and Macclesfield apart in the opening half of each game.
However, away from home against an Esher side that has lost its last three games, I think we have to be prepared for something of a backlash as I expect that they’ll see Coventry as a side that is eminently beatable, especially at home, which in all fairness it probably is if we play as we did against Blackheath. Esher’s losses have been against Blackheath, Hartpury and Fylde so they haven’t had the easiest of starts to the season.
It’s a game that will be a test of character for Cov.
A Cov side that remains enigmatic.
At times capable of playing fluid, expansive rugby that any team in our league would find hard to live with but, at others, capable of switching off and allowing the opposition the opportunity to exploit some inexperience and naivety that rears its head every now and again.
RW says we’ve had another good week’s training which bodes well and one thing is for sure, the coaches will have drummed into the players the need to be focused from the moment the whistle blows for the start of the game. I really can’t imagine they’ll be caught off-guard in the first 15 minutes or so as they have been against Hartpury, Blackheath and Moseley. We just can’t afford to be giving teams a 12-14 point head start and then be playing catch up for the rest of the game.
That said, I’m confident that we’ll come away with the points tomorrow and with two home matches to come, we could be in a far more comfortable position in the league by the end of the month.
If only it were all that simple…
Having watched Cov play in the new home kit last weekend, I’m looking forward to seeing them run out tomorrow in the new away strip. Although it’s probably not one that appeals to the purists, I do think it’s one of the better designs in recent years.
A new strip and hopefully five points into the bargain…
…a case of expecting to see red, hoping to see gold.