There’s something rather bizarre about having a 3000 seater stand all to yourself.
Despite Rowland Winter’s open invitation to come and watch Coventry train, in the end I think there were just the two of us there. Me in the stand and another chap taking residence at the railway end, which was actually a very good vantage point – but age and excess weight requires me to sit down more these days.
So the stand it was.
Whilst I can understand why folk don’t venture out on a weekday evening, an hour watching the players put through their paces does provide an insight into the planning and preparation that goes into the build-up to the game on a Saturday.
And you do get the added bonus of an extended chat with Rowland Winter who is always willing to answer questions and provide information on the team, tactics, selection and whatever else you might choose to ask of him.
It certainly beats an evening in with Emmerdale and EastEnders for company, that’s for sure.
So, what did I learn…
More than I can recall for starters.
Rowland Winter covers so much ground using such specialised language that I know what he’s saying is really interesting and fantastic for the blog, but I just cannot keep up with him. There’s a slight sense of panic but I don’t want to ask a question for fear of exposing myself for the fraud that I am.
A watcher of rugby who blogs…
…and certainly no expert.
I can feel my eyes glaze over as he gets increasingly more technical in his analysis of where Coventry have struggled in the last couple of defeats and what they need to do in order to get back to a more direct game played at greater pace…something we can definitely expect to see against Fylde on Saturday.
I hope I’ve got this right…
Whereas Coventry played pretty much to plan against Hartpury, kicking more and stifling their ball in the first half and opening it up a little more in the second, against Esher it was a case of not being direct enough and because the first tackler on occasions wasn’t bringing the ball carrier to ground, Esher were able to offload. Once the ball had gone though three or four phases, we were in difficulties.
The real problem is with that first tackle – it’s got to be nailed.
Statistically, in National 1, a team that goes through 4 phases in possession is going to more often than not get the territorial possession to dominate. It’s imperative, therefore, that you bring the ball carrier down and prevent quick ball – it slows down the opposition’s momentum and means that any attack becomes more lateral rather than forward moving. And when this does happen, either opposition is forced to kick the ball away because there is no opportunity to make territory any other way, or the defending side puts enough pressure on the attacking side to cause them to lose possession either through knock ons, forward passes, turnover ball or similar infringements.
And against Fylde, who like to play with width, it’s vital to get make sure the initial tackles are sufficient to slow things down.
On a Tuesday evening one of the key areas being addressed over the next set of six weeks is the ‘chop tackle’, which at first I thought just referred to players who were particularly well endowed. However, having looked questioningly at Rowland, he put me right by explaining it means tackling the ball carrier below the knees, in effect ‘chopping’ him down.
Such a tackle prevents the ball from being released quickly, but requires the tackler to be quick and direct in the engagement. If the ball carrier remains on his feet, then potentially you are allowing the opposition time and room to continue the attack . Often, the attacking ball carrier will have a man either side in a pod of three – so taking the middle man down below the knees is the most effective way of slowing the play down.
Conversely, when attacking the idea is to draw the opposition defensive pods into the tackle, and then ship the ball out quickly so that two or three defenders are either grounded or temporarily out of it – do this through two or three phases and you then have the width outside of the defensive pods to use your runners. It all needs to be direct and at pace and that was what was lacking particularly against Esher and Blackheath.
It’s a question of finding the balance between the short interchange of passes through the initial pods and then knowing when to get it out wide. Try to get width too early and the defensive line isn’t sucked in and the backs become isolated and exposed…something that happened too often against Esher and Blackheath.
Rowland was frank about the way we played the game last weekend and is looking for more pace in everything we do…from lineouts to the taking of penalties and scrums. If we do kick to the corner from a penalty, he doesn’t want to see the forwards amble up to form the lineout; get the ball in quickly and put constant pressure on the opposition. Sometimes it becomes almost too technical.
The forwards were also practising their drills when ‘fatigued’ to reproduce match day conditions – it’s all very well practising line-outs or scrummaging when relatively fresh on the training ground, but that isn’t necessarily going to replicate a match day situation.
When the players first came out, Nick Walshe and James Pritchard worked with groups initially, swapping over after a while, and then Boris got involved. I was close to where NW was working with a group early on and he was looking at breaking down defences with simple movements, using the feet and body to beat the player and off-loading to the supporting player.
It was all very much back to basis, nothing fancy or over-complicated and in the short time the players were with Nick Walshe, you could see them become sharper and more confident. It was fascinating to watch.
Did Rowland reveal anything interesting.
But given that some of it was regarding team news for Saturday, that had best wait until Thursday when it is officially announced. But there will be some changes.
The good news is that James Stokes’ injury isn’t as bad as I feared having watched him hobble off on Saturday and he could be fit to play against Fylde. Cliffie got a hit on his shoulder, but it was ‘only’ a stinger so there’s nothing to worry about long term there.
There will be a few changes for reasons ranging from the tactical through to the personal but if I’ve put the pieces together correctly, it’s a pretty strong team!
There were three new faces out there yesterday, all D/Rs from Wasps, all experienced, although they won’t be with us for much more than three weeks as they’ll be required to return to the Ricoh. At least one has already played in the Premiership and all are highly rated. Because Wasps want them to still attend some of the Wasps training sessions which are during the day, they can’t be ‘loaned’ out to Championship sides because they, too, train during the day, having entirely full-time squads (other than Richmond, of course).
I do think that we’ll see them get some game time for Cov, but it is only in the very short term.
They’ll train with the Cov squad on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
I’m pleased that discussions have been taking place between the two clubs and whilst I’m sure the three players will benefit from the experience, so will Cov. Also, it might attract a few Wasps supporters into the Butts, especially if we publicise it via social media, and one or two of those might well be impressed enough to return again. It’s how these things work, I guess, and a slow trickle will become more of a stream once results improve, as they will. The sooner we learn to live with Wasps the better, They’re not going to go away.
Pete White was involved in his first contact session and if he gets through this week’s training without any reaction, then he’ll be available for selection. He looks to be a really ‘in your face’ sort of scrum half and from watching him yesterday in some of the short practice sessions, he seems to want to get the ball out quickly and keep things moving; in short, very much looking to play the fast-paced, expansive rugby that RW wants to get back to. He was first choice scrum half originally before Sam Grasso’s arrival, so once the two of them are fit, there’s going to be plenty of competition for that no 9 shirt, not forgetting Rhodri Adamson, of course.
Nothing I can clearly remember – so bamboozled was I by all the information Rowland was providing that some of it got lost in translation in my head. At one point I asked if I could jot something down, but the notes I made are intelligible! I can only equate it to what it must have been like for some of the E2L (English as a Second Language) kids I taught who, back in the early 80s and having just stepped off a plane from a non-English speaking country, found themselves sitting in the back of one of my lessons with a copy of Macbeth in front of them and a bemused look on their faces…yesterday I was an Abdul or a Mohammed for those 30 minutes or so.
But I am the wiser for it..
…although in my case a little knowledge is probably a dangerous thing.
Thanks to Rowland for his time and patience.
If you can get along, give it a go, you’ll be made to feel very welcome.