Club talk

Cambridge v Coventry – hopefully not one in the eye for Goliath

I’m walkin’ in shadows, I cannot see
Faces, they smile when I fall or flee
Doors without windows all shuttered tight again
I just might pass this way again
I just might pass this way again

Doobie Brothers – Toulouse Street

And on to Cambridge…

T-5 and counting.

And what an interesting game it is, too.

Cov travel to Cambridge having already beaten them at home but with an away record that is less than convincing.

Bizarrely, Cambridge have one of the poorest home records, so it should make for a pretty even match up based purely on home and away form.

Cambridge at home:

14 Cambridge

Cambridge

12 4 1 7 339 350 -11 8 2 28 2.33

against Coventry away:

11 Coventry

Coventry

12 3 1 8 245 345 -100 3 17 1.42

However, despite Cambridge having secured an excellent win at Fylde two weeks ago (and remember what happened to Cov up there back in early Feb), the momentum is very much with Coventry this weekend on the back of a very encouraging away performance at Plymouth followed by three good wins against Hull (h), Blaydon (a) and Ampthill (h), the last being arguably Cov’s best performance of the season.

At least it should be.

But given that this is something akin to a local derby with so many players from each side having connections to both clubs, maybe the form book goes out of the window for this one.

At last week’s Supporters’ Club meeting, Rowland Winter spelled out the reasons as to why Cov’s away form hasn’t been, well…acceptable, really.

A new squad, some of the more difficult away fixtures coming early on, the problems that come with playing at home in front of such a large and often vociferous crowd in contrast to away games where sometimes the atmosphere is lacking – none of these exactly excuse what has happened, but they do help to explain it.

Which is precisely why the way fixture at Cambridge will be so very different to the others. Cambridge’s average attendance is 447, but that will be boosted by a significant number of Coventry supporters who will no doubt be in good voice, together with a higher than usual home crowd interested in seeing the return of Rowland Winter, if only because they would like to see Coventry, and RW, turned over…

At least, that’s the way I would be looking at it were I a Cambridge supporter, although that probably says more about me than it does about the reality of the situation…or about Cambridge supporters for that matter!

I’m sure Cambridge fans will have very fond memories of Rowland Winter and will be hugely grateful to him for turning the club round in the space of just three seasons, securing promotion into National One and putting in place the structures to ensure the club had a good chance of surviving this all-important first season.

Head Coach, Ross Stewart, can’t have had the easiest of jobs this year, taking over as he has  from Rowland Winter and losing players of the calibre of Stokes, Daynes, Hircock and Burke…

Fair play to Cambridge, then.

14 points clear of the relegation places, you’d hope that they are now safe from being sucked into a battle for survival  – something which many outside of the Blood and Sand faithful might have expected would be the case at the start of the season.

Nor have they had to rely on the fact that only two teams will now be relegated this season, following London Welsh’s removal from the Championship, as is the case for Esher and Blaydon as the table presently stands.

I would guess that most connected with the club would have happily accepted a twelfth placed finish at the start of the season and, presuming Cambridge do avoid the drop, they then have the springboard to push on over the next couple of seasons to ensure they avoid the yo-yo scenario that can befall many clubs in their situation.

And I hope they do…genuinely so.

A year ago, I don’t think I would have expressed too much of an opinion, either way, but the fact that there are now so many connections between ourselves and Cambridge means that I do have an interest, if not allegiance, to the club.

Much of this is of course down to the ‘Winter’ factor – initially it was a case of finding out a bit about the club our new DoR had come from, then it was the taking on several of their players and finally, through the blog, getting in contact with some of the Cambridge supporters, all of whom seem particularly welcoming and pleased that RW is proving the success they believed  he’d be.

Fylde has always been the club I would choose to watch were I not a Coventry supporter given it plays such an entertaining brand of rugby. However, as of now, Cambridge would be the club I would choose to join (geographical difficulties apart), based simply on my interaction with its supporters.

And by all accounts, Cambridge also play a similar brand of exciting, expansive rugby as well, so it would be a win/win all round.

In the game at the BPA, Cambridge had little ball with which to work and, in all honesty, the 55-15 win was a pretty one-sided affair. However, unless Coventry can repeat their forward dominance  on which Cov’s 8 try victory was based, then it will be a much, much closer affair on Saturday.

Indeed, Cov has only scored above 30 points away from home twice this season, against Macclesfield and Hull, and averaged only 20 points a game on their travels.

And conceded an average of 28 points…

…hardly convincing, then.

I imagine Cambridge aren’t going to be content to just sit back and defend, so  it has all the hallmarks of being one of the more entertaining games we’ll see on our travels this season.

It will be interesting to see just how Rowland Winter is received back at his alma mater. I’m sure there will be some light-hearted banter during the course of the afternoon, which is only to be expected, but he is bound to be highly respected by Cambridge supporters for what he achieved in his three years with the club, although I’m sure that they’ll be desperate for the home win.

Whatever the result, it will be a welcome return for the Coventry DoR.

RW speaks very fondly of Cambridge, but I rather imagine that beating Cambridge for him is like beating Moseley for me – any other result is unacceptable. He seems extremely competitive at the best of times, so a loss to Cambridge would be a bitter pill to swallow and would result in him being on the receiving end of some pretty tasty tweets come Saturday evening!

However, there is one big thing in Coventry’s favour.

If, indeed, playing in front of smaller crowds with less atmosphere away from home has been an issue for Coventry for most of this season, then this certainly shouldn’t be the case against Cambridge on Saturday.

In front of a home crowd that will be expecting to see their team make some sort of statement against a Coventry squad comprising several ex-players and coaches, supported by a large contingent of very loyal Coventry fans who will be just as keen to show Cambridge exactly why RW decided to leave Cambridge and come on board, then there should be no need for Cov to find any additional motivation.

The team will bring with it pretty much a full coach of travelling fans, together with an even greater number than usual of supporters making their own way there.

As atmospheres go, it should be quite special.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And there’s still quite a bit to play for.

With Coventry due to play Rosslyn Park next week and having moved to within just one point of their London rivals, a win on Saturday is really important. Beat Cambridge and Rosslyn Park and we move into fifth place and with Moseley just 7 points ahead of us and still to play Hartpury (h), Esher (a) and Blackheath (a), then potentially we could yet finish in fourth.

And fourth would make for an extremely impressive first season, given this one was meant to be all about consolidation and putting structures in place to further progress over the next couple of seasons.

So whilst for Cambridge this is a significant game in that a win would just about make them safe with four games remaining, for Coventry it is also important. I know it’s been said before that finishing fourth or twelfth makes little difference ultimately, but there is definitely something to be said for ending the season on a run and perhaps going into the pre-season in July and August with that much more confidence.

And there’s also the small question of the likes of James Stokes, Brett Daynes, Brendan Burke and Rowland Winter not wanting to end up on the losing side against the team they left in order to join a bigger, more ambitious club. It’s something that they’ll want to avoid at all costs, if only to sidestep the obvious comments from their ex-teammates and supporters in the bar after the game…

As a Cov supporter, I would argue that the current set of coaches and players has moved Coventry forward a long way these past 7 months or so and we are far better placed to make a concerted attack on the top spot over the next two or three seasons than at any time since we’ve been in National One, even counting the seasons we finished fourth and third – indeed, in that 2014/15 when we did finish in the top three, the cracks were appearing well before the end of that 18 game unbeaten run.

However, the progress we’ve made this season counts for little when you’re sitting in the Cambridge clubhouse having a beer or two with those you played alongside less than 12 months ago, having just been beaten.

Very little indeed.

If motivation is needed, then there’s no need to look any further.

Prior to taking up his position at Cov, Rowland Winter explained why it was he was prepared to leave Cambridge, a club he had just seen promoted into National One, to join Cov, a club rooted pretty much in mid-table mediocrity for much of the last 6 years.

Cambridge know my ambition, they know how hungry I am for development and progression, and I was ready for a new challenge…I wanted stretching which I haven’t been this season, so this is an opportunity to come to an ambitious club and take another step.

I’m sure over this last few months RW will have experienced various degrees of challenge, both on and off the pitch. Jon Sharp has made no secret of his ambition to see Coventry become a Championship side club with the facilities  to match and there can’t be too many supporters who don’t recognise the progress made since RW’s appointment. However, Saturday is about more than just a long term vision, certainly for Cambridge.

For them it’s surely about reminding Rowland Winter, and those he took with him, exactly what he left to join Cov and about the fact that sometimes size and reputation aren’t enough.

National One’s own David v Goliath, perhaps…?

Certainly on this Saturday, anyway.

David, on home turf is always going to be a tough challenge.

I’m banking it not being one in the eye for Goliath, so-to-speak.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Hardly ‘Listen to the Music’ (Whoa…)…what a classic that was, eh?

and probably atypical of the Doobie Brothers’  best known songs.

Yet the opening verse of Toulouse Street seems vaguely appropriate…

 

 

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