Esher – a curate’s egg or a step backwards?
It clearly didn’t make the earth move for Rowland Winter, judging by his post-match interview immediately after the game…
— Coventry Rugby (@CoventryRugby) January 28, 2017
As DoR, the game is his to call and it’s hard to argue when he suggests this was a result and not a performance.
‘A step back’, ‘a big club’, ‘an ambitious side’, ‘today didn’t help us at all’, the need to get a ‘performance’ rather than a ‘result’…all the sorts of comments you’d want to hear from Rowland, but listening to that clip and not having known the result beforehand, you’d be tempted to think Cov had lost and lost badly.
But they won…won ‘ugly’ as Phil Boulton termed it, but won nonetheless and when a team can play as poorly as we did for 40 minutes of the game, spanning the last 30 of the first half and the first 10 of the second, and still win…well, that has to be a positive, surely?
It was a game that lends itself to clichés…a ‘Jekyll and Hyde performance’, ‘something of a curate’s egg’ (good in parts) and possibly even ‘a game of two halves’, but one thing is for sure, I think the majority of the 1397 in attendance yesterday would have left the ground as sick as the proverbial parrot had we lost.
I do think RW is being a bit harsh on himself and the team when he says that yesterday’s performance was ‘a step back’ – it certainly wasn’t a great leap forward but there were plenty of encouraging aspects in the game as far as I saw it. Down 5 points at half time and 12 points just a few minutes into the second half, we had enough about us to beat, and beat Esher fairly comfortably in the end, even going down to 14 players at one point. I think I’m right (?) in saying that yesterday was the first occasion this season where we were losing at half time but still managed the win. To do so takes a bit of character and we certainly showed that in abundance yesterday.
Esher could have made things far more uncomfortable for Coventry had their kicker not had such an off-day. However, such was the dominance of the Coventry side in the final 15-20 minutes that I do feel that they could have caught Esher had they had a 15-18 point lead at the 50 minute mark. We were extremely profligate at times, spurning at least two tries with forward passes and failing to capitalise on plenty of ball in the final minutes.
And in the past this season, when teams have taken the lead, we seem to have had no answer and they have pulled away in the final quarter…Esher, Blackheath, Richmond, Ampthill…against none of the sides did we seem to show the belief that we did yesterday. Home advantage might have made a difference but, even so, the way we came back from what many of us were beginning to feel was increasingly looking like a lost cause was particularly pleasing.
And, yes, this is a club with big aspirations, shared both by the team and the supporters. And in many respects, the game yesterday was a barometer of where we currently are…still struggling at times and making too many naïve error and exhibiting some poor handling and decision making, some wayward kicking and plenty of defensive lapses which cost us dearly at times. However, within all that were passages of play when we looked irrepressible, with the scrum pretty much dominant once again, White distributing the ball quickly and effectively and the backs looking sharp and combining well to slice open the Esher defences on occasions. Some of the movement was really encouraging with players running their lines to pull the opposition away from the ball carriers. When those training ground moves worked, we looked good – really good.
At times we made things difficult for ourselves with some wayward passing and poor hands, but at others we went through the phases well and allowed space for the runners to profit.
To me, that 80 minutes was a microcosm of where we currently are. We have made plenty of progress since losing 4 of the first 6 games, we know what we need to do and how to execute it, but just aren’t clinical enough to be able to put together an 80 minute performance. I thought some of the tries we scored were out of the top drawer and there was certainly occasions when the Coventry crowd were purring with pleasure and a couple of long range efforts, in particular, were classic examples of the type of rugby RW had been promising at the start of the season. Equal, though, we got the basics wrong, missed tackles, kicked poorly and took the wrong option. We’re getting there slowly, but there’s still a long way to go.
Defensively we got it wrong on a number of occasions and after a good start we let Esher back into the game and for 40 minutes they were the better side. It began to look as if we might end up repeating the performance, and the result, that befell us down at theirs earlier in the season…but three changes at half time saw Poole, Tolmie and Knox on for Peters, Price and Trimble and following Esher’s fourth try early on, Litchfield for Boulton and the turnaround was begun. We still left ourselves exposed but after we scored our second try there was a noticeable change in tempo…we were a yard faster and with the pack winning vital penalties, suddenly Esher were under the cosh.
Whilst the performance wasn’t great…was it a backwards step?
I suppose if you are your own harshest critic, then perhaps it might have been, but when you play poorly (I’m not even convinced this was a ‘poor’ display) and win, well that is often the sign of a good team. And isn’t that what we are…in seventh place but just 5 points off fourth and the teams in front yet to play Hartpury.
We are a good side in this league with ambitions to be the best…
…which is why some of the play yesterday was so disappointing. But not all.
Definitely a curate’s egg for me, then.
As a supporter it made for a great game, with the balance of power ebbing and flowing from one team to the other. In the second half, in particular, it was end-to-end and it was great entertainment and if by any chance there were any neutrals in the crowd, then they would have witnessed a classic encounter with both teams committed to attacking rugby.
It was a larger than expected crowd and perhaps evidence that supporters are beginning to take more note of what is happening at Cov this season and are starting to return to watch a rejuvenated Coventry play the kind of exciting, attack-minded rugby that saw crowds averaging 1500 a couple of season back. It bodes well for the future and with only four, yes four, home games left this season, I’d like to think the powers-that-be are already beginning to plan an ‘early bird’ offer for next season’s season tickets – you’d certainly want to be advertising something to that effect at the final couple of home games…?
Strike whilst the iron’s hot and all that.
I thought there were some encouraging individual performances from Coventry players amidst all the gloom and despondence and I’ll focus on those in tomorrow’s post. I did think their no 19, the replacement scrum half, was exceptional and almost turned things around for them. Sadly, I don’t have his name to hand, but he caused us all sorts of problems when he came on and looked a useful player, as did their No 8.
And it would be remiss of me not to mention the return of Devlin Hope, who got a warm reception when he came on as an Esher replacement mid-way though the second half. For 10 minutes before that he had been itching to get on, going through various warm up exercise as he waited for the signal to go on. I hope he finds a club somewhere next season that will offer him a regular spot in the first team and an opportunity to prove himself…good luck to him wherever he ends up.
As a supporter, were I to be asked what I would look for from any live game I watch, I think I’d single out two things…to see my team win and to be entertained.
I got both my wishes yesterday.
Secondary to that comes the performance, although more often than not to be entertained means that there is some attacking, quality rugby played by Cov during the game.
Whilst winning would clearly be an objective shared by the coaches, playing entertaining rugby might not always be the case – performance would probably come higher up the list, which goes some way to explain why my assessment as a supporter might be slightly less critical than Rowland Winter’s as a coach.
The game might not have gone quite to plan and Cov might not have defended to the levels we’ve seen on occasions in recent games, but they did show a degree of resilience and self-confidence, especially when we were down to 14 players, that was heartening.
As it happens, Michael Gillick tweeted this today:
You can be outplayed, out skilled, out classed. Don't be out worked.
— Michael Gillick (@MikeGillick13) January 28, 2017
…which seems particularly apposite. Despite being outplayed for long periods of the first half in particular, we never let our heads drop and we were certainly never outworked. It’s a principle which must be embedded in the foundations of what Rowland Winter and his team are starting to build here at Cov. In recent years, there have been games where we have been outworked, but certainly out on the pitch yesterday. I think you’d have to be pretty mean-spirited to criticise the commitment, determination or attitude of the players as they fought back from what was looking a pretty ominous situation at half time.
Next week’s trip to Fylde will be another difficult test for Coventry and a win there would see us equal last season’s total number of wins for the season – with 9 games still remaining – which is pretty indicative of the progress that has been made already this season. Here’s hoping we see the performance that RW is looking for next weekend and not just the result.
A final chance to vote for yesterday’s Man of the Match award against Esher. At the moment there’s no clear leader, so any votes made today are going to make a real difference – I’ll announce the winner in tomorrow’s post.
Please give it a go.