Club talk

James Pritchard – a shock to the system?

We would like to thank James for his effort and commitment to Coventry Rugby, which cannot be faulted, and we wish him well for the future

So ended James Pritchard’s brief spell as player coach at Coventry Rugby Club.

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I remember the excitement at hearing the rumours of JP’s arrival at Coventry back in late February/early March. As is the case with many signings, word gets out well before the official announcement.

Not so with James’ Pritchard’s dismissal though.

IMG_3273That came from out of nowhere. A real shock to the system and I’m still somewhat taken aback by the news, though more on account of the speed of his departure than the actual sacking itself.

The tone of Rowland Winter’s last post-match comment was very different to those we’ve read before, with RW clearly unhappy about some supporters questioning the players desire and commitment, something I alluded to in a previous post. He also added:

But our defence needs a lot of attention – it’s an area where we’ve been improving, and today we’ve gone backwards in that.

and it’s clearly this lack of consistency that has cost James Pritchard his job.

Now I’m a great one for reading between the lines, so for me the official statement announcing JP’s departure from the club was always going to be of interest.

And to be honest, it didn’t disappoint.

As a formal statement it says everything that needs to be said, giving reasons why the decision was made and thanking James for his contribution and wishing him well for the future.

Everything you’d expect, but little else.

There’s no ‘mutual agreement’ to part company, suggesting therefore that it is indeed a sacking rather than an agreement between JP and the club.

Nor is there anything to suggest it was particularly amicable – an observation and not a comment I hasten to add.

And whilst there is the obligatory comment regarding JP’s effort and commitment to Coventry Rugby, there’s nothing about the foundations he’s helped put in place, or otherwise, as he case may be.

It could be that that it was felt that a statement needed to be made quickly to avoid unnecessary and potentially damaging speculation, or maybe it was all done in a business-like way  with little room for sentiment.

Whatever the reasons, it wasn’t a statement that suggested a parting on the best of terms. Hopefully, it wasn’t like that at all but from the perspective of the outsider looking in, that’s how it comes across.

And what about the actual decision itself…?

Is it the correct one…?

Well that is obviously one for Rowland Winter and the coaches to answer, but clearly  RW believes it is…and it’s hard to argue against it given the defensive problems Coventry have suffered this season.

Had their been a more linear improvement in the quality of Cov’s defensive play over the course of the season, then Saturday’s performance against Old Albanian might not have seemed quite so woeful.

‘You’re only as good as your last game’ is an oft used expression these days…

…sadly, one that is all too true for  James Pritchard.

As a player, JP was vastly experienced, as a coach at this level, he wasn’t.

Throughout the season so far, Coventry have suffered periods in almost every game where  poor defensive lapses have put us under considerable pressure. Perhaps our best performance, ironically, came in the defeat to Hartpury where I thought we defended extremely well and had it not been for two pieces of brilliance from their young scrum half, we might well have won the game.

But, ultimately, the team have shown little improvement defensively over the course of the season and James Pritchard has paid the price.

As a high profile signing and someone with such vast experience both internationally and at club level, it never occurred to me we might see a mid-season departure and certainly one so ignominious as this…

I don’t know JP the man at all…or the  player really. Certainly I have huge respect for him and when he’s played, he’s always performed well and his age has never been a factor on the pitch. But he’s only been here 5 months; I have no great loyalty to him given he’s more on the periphery of things…

His departure therefore isn’t going to have a great impact on me as a spectator…

…although it might have a far bigger one for me as a supporter.

And in admitting that, I’m also admitting that I actually I respect the club, and RW, for making the decision to terminate his contract..

Whilst I’m sure it’s one that RW had thought long and hard about and didn’t come just as a response to last Saturday’s performance, I do like the way that once the conclusion that a change needed to be made was reached, it was carried out quickly and in private.

No public vote of confidence from the DoR, no warning statements that things need to improve and improve quickly…just a swift and, hopefully, relatively painless departure, if not for JP then certainly for the supporters.

Actually, swift doesn’t do it justice. No time to take sides, not time to thrash it out on the Messageboard. It’s all over before you even know it.

A longer, more drawn out affair with rumours of a breakdown in the relationship between RW and one of the coaches would have created unease within the squad and the supporters, something that we could well do without this season.

And dare I say it, I have some admiration for a DoR who is prepared to take such difficult decisions, however ruthless they might seem to those not in the know.

It’s that steely side of Rowland Winter coming through again, the one that will not only have the difficult conversations when they are needed, but also the one that will make the tough decisions as well when he feels they are in the best interests of the club.

And James Pritchard’s departure sends a clear message to everyone under RW’s charge…

…if you underperform, then expect the consequences.

To some extent we’ve already seen that with Dan Rundle and the likes of Alex Smith and Jay Heath, all of whom appear to be currently off radar other than when needed to cover for injuries. Indeed, Rowland Winter has hinted as recently as yesterday that there are 24 or 25 players whom he’s now regards as making up his first team squad, starting form a core of 30+.

If the club is to move with the times and to be far more professional in its approach, then maybe we’ll have to get used to personnel being moved on in this way every now and then.

It happens in all walks of life; we are all accountable for the effectiveness and efficiency of the work we do and whilst it seems brutal at times, if you’re not able to produce the results then you have to be moved on. And it’s hard not to argue against that.

The club conducted a mid-season review, areas of weaknesses were highlighted and changes made to ensure they are addressed.  There’s been a change of plan, so it would seem, and ‘the plan we have put in place to build going forward does not now involve James’.

Some professions might go through capability first, but in the world of professional sport it’s a very different story.

And I have to say, I would rather decisions like this be made than we continue to meander over the course of a season because the leadership of the club is too impotent to make what might be unpopular or unpleasant decisions.

Far rather.

Last season it’s a shame Scott Morgan didn’t do something similar with Scott Hamilton. Rather like James Pritchard, Scott came to Cov in late 2014/early 2015 as a temporary player coach and was given a one year contract in April 2015. And like JP, he had a wealth of experience behind him with  2 caps for the All Blacks and 145 appearances for Leicester Tigers.

But there was little evidence that Scott was able to bring much to the club as a coach and many supporters were left wondering exactly what his role was – in the backs, for sure, but in attack? Or defence? The impact he had was arguably less than that of JP, yet he stayed the season and has since gone to Hinckley, again as player coach.

I wonder just how JP’s dismissal will be seen by the players? I guess that depends on how popular he was in the changing room. Given James was a player coach, I guess he would have had a slightly different relationship with the players given his coaching role.

The players will certainly have taken note of RW’s willingness to confront the most difficult of situations and I rather expect they will be wary of putting in another performance on a par with Old Albanian lest one or two of them find themselves playing their rugby at one of the local junior clubs over the remainder of the season.

An occasional reminder that you are accountable for your results, is no bad thing and everyone needs reminding of the consequences of failing to perform to an acceptable level over a period of time.

I’m certainly no advocate of ruling with an iron fist but it strikes me as absolutely fair to hold to account those who underachieve.

And whilst James Pritchard’s departure as coach was very much a response to his inability to tighten up the defence, it could also have the secondary effect of focusing the minds of everyone else at the club.

As Voltaire once wrote of Marshal Ney:

Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres

James Pritchard’s dismissal is certainly a shock to the system, but maybe that’s exactly what is needed…

 

 

 

 

8 replies »

  1. I tweeted JP just to say I was sorry to hear he was leaving and he replied –

    “Cheers mate thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure to be involved with such a great club and brilliant group of players.”

    Of course that gives no insight into the how’s and why’s of his departure, but quite a nice and professional touch considering how he must be feeling.

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  2. Did we not have two defensive coaches loaned to us by Wasps to work along side James and also the recruitment of Nick Walsh as attacking coach to free up Rowland so he could assist the other coaches negate Rob’s comment!

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  3. Yes, it’s interesting that they haven’t brought in anyone to coach the coach, so-to-speak. Nick Walshe has already come in so perhaps it might have become too top heavy had they done that and, as you imply, not necessarily cost effective. Releasing James might open up funds for a replacement with someone to come in after Christmas perhaps? All a bit up in the air…
    Still, not the best of time for JP – here’s hoping he’ll find a position elsewhere soon.

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  4. The timing of this is key. A short statement from the club before a long distance away game followed by a Xmas local derby…..what do the politicians say, a good time to bury bad news?
    All the best to James for the future.

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  5. Whilst it’s sad to see James go, for me this says far more about Rowland than the platitudes of a week or two ago, suggesting that he is happy with where we are at this point in the season.
    If he was happy with the quality of defence we have seen thus far then I would be very worried as to the level of his ambition.
    Having said this, I would maybe have expected some extra help to be brought in to assist James, given his inexperience, but I imagine funds would have precluded this.
    My new year’s wish would be to see an obvious improvement in defence and handling skills – other things should then fall into place.

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