The boys are learning, and we are so pleased with the performance and professionalism of the team. This is the biggest away league win for the club and it speaks volumes for the boys
Nick Walshe’s comment following Cov’s impressive win again Old Albanian on Saturday is one that will be echoed by most supporters.
Six wins in the last six games, eleven out of the last 13.
It’s record that augers well for a Coventry side that is playing the type of rugby that not just wins games, it also entertains as well.
Cov has relied on a small squad since Christmas following various departures and injuries and it has meant there’s been a consistency in selection missing up to then, one that has enabled everyone in the squad to be involved. There’s still some rotation, but those coming into the side know their roles without any disruption to the team.
And this is because, as Walshe explains, the players have learned as they’ve gone along. Before Christmas it was very much a question of Rowland Winter looking at individuals, determining strengths and weaknesses and then working out the right combinations. Players had to adapt to new routines off the pitch as well as new gameplans on it – some were found wanting, others came to the fore.
If players weren’t able to adapt or just didn’t learn quickly enough, then after the first half of the fixtures had been completed it was pretty clear they weren’t going to appear in a Cov shirt again.
And whilst decisions not to involve the likes of MacBurnie or Rundle, favourites amongst Cov supporters for the last couple of seasons, were questioned at the time, they have been proved to be the correct ones.
Whilst this is purely a personal opinion, some of the players now playing regularly in the latter part of the season weren’t the ones who I would have necessarily expected to end up as first choices in their respective positions.
Take the back row for example. I would have had money on the strongest line up being Dyer, Grace and Bone. Now it’s Povoas, Daynes and Dyer/Tuilagi/Harry.
You could argue that Grace’s injury means he would otherwise be playing, but even before he sustained it, he was struggling to hold his place in the team. Bone was a disappointment, whilst Povoas and Harry, in particular, have clearly benefitted from the move to Cov and it is clear from their performances that they are learning all the time. Povoas has grown in stature with every game and whilst Sam Harry won’t be with us next season, he’s clearly going to have a future in the game.
Rhodri Adamson, who also hasn’t featured a great deal since Christmas, is unlucky in that he’s found himself as third choice scrum half and although by the look of it he’ll be moving on, it is only because he needs to be playing more regularly and, behind White and Brazier, that is something that is unlikely to happen. He’s another Sam Harry for me and whenever he’s played he’s never let himself, or the club, down.
Those players who have already moved on , or are about to, all had the potential to succeed but just weren’t able to adapt as well to what was being asked of them. As Walshe made clear in his interview with JW, those who have learned all get their reward in a different way.
And for every player who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations, there are those who have excelled. Players like the two Toms, Poole and Jubb, in the second row might have been expected to play second fiddle to Snyman and possibly Conquest back in September, but through both luck and judgement they find themselves the two first choice second rows and are at the very heart of the teams recent successes.
No one could have foreseen what happened to Snyman, nor probably Conquest’s somewhat premature departure, but the two beneficiaries have taken their opportunities well, well enough to be retained and they have formed a hugely impressive second row pairing in the second half of the season.
NW mentioned the fact that players have learned as the season has progressed – and Tom Jubb is probably the best example of this. He had to learn really, and learn quickly, after the red card against Moseley in only the second match of the season followed by some further concerns about his discipline…or lack of it.
And how he has improved…
I remember one of the supporters at the last Thursday training session, I think it might have been Mark H, asking Rowland Winter if he felt that Tom Jubb was the most improved player this season. It was a fair question and TJ is a player who would certainly be in my top three…but RW’s answer was quite revealing in many ways.
He took the view that Tom Jubb’s current form was no more than what he had expected it to be back in September, which I guess is a kind of back-handed compliment. Not, then, a question for the DoR of TJ learning as a player, as much as one of hitting the kind of form he knew he should have been achieving all along.
With the exception of perhaps Dan Rundle and the late arrival of Heath Stevens, there aren’t the same surprises in the backs. They are all pretty much as I’d expected them to be. That said, Rob Knox out wide wasn’t something I had anticipated back at the start of the pre-season, although his inclusion in the side was.
The competition for the 10 shirt has been probably closer than I might have imagined, but the main protagonists remain. Although there’s no news on Corey Hircock, such is his versatility, I’d expect him to be retained.
If one of the reasons the team has been so successful of late is down to players learning and adapting to their roles, the same is true of the coaches.
There is an assumption that it is the players who learn, not the coaches, that in some way they are expected to know not just the questions to pose, but also the solutions to go with them.
But the coaching team that started back in June was fairly inexperienced by National One standards.
Yes, Burke, Stankovich, Snyman and Pritchard had all played at a level well above National One and RW came into the job with a very impressive CV and plenty of success at Cambridge, but that’s not quite the same as being experienced in their roles at this level.
And I think that is what has impressed me so much, especially about Roland Winter. Young as he is, relatively, as a DoR of a national league club, he has adapted so well to what must have been a pretty steep learning curve.
Bigger club, bigger support, bigger budget, bigger egos to deal with. It can’t have been easy setting foot in the Cov training camp at the end of last season and telling player after player that they won’t be staying.
And if he required the new squad of players to learn quickly, so he needed to as well.
In order to get that consistency in selection by Christmas, he had to make some pretty difficult decisions and I’m sure he will have been involved in some tough conversations behind closed doors.
There can’t have been any more difficult than the dismissal of James Pritchard, someone who has a place in the pantheon of world rugby and is so widely respected.
But RW saw a problem and dealt with it.
Swiftly and summarily (at least to those on the outside) and the decision, together with that of the appointment of Nick Walshe so soon afterwards, proved to be the springboard for the successes we have seen since the December rematch against Mose.
I’m sure there are things that RW would do differently, but to be successful in his role, he has had to learn quicker than anyone else and always be that one step ahead. It’s about not just having a vision, but also about having the skills to put into place an improvement plan to achieve it and the determination to see it through.
Last season there was always the vision, but knowing what we know now and understanding a little bit more about what has been required to get to where we presently are, the necessary skills just weren’t there back then. However good the coaches were, and were they honestly that good when you compare them to the likes of Walshe, Stankovich, Newby and Burke, they lacked the direction of a Rowland Winter.
Whilst we aren’t yet in sight of the promised land, or anywhere near it for that matter, there is a definite route mapped out, it’s been inputted in the Coventry Satnav and it’s well signposted.
There might be the odd wrong turn or stop to fill up with fuel, but we’re on our way.
It took a fairly brave decision on the part of Jon Sharpe to finance the changes needed to move Coventry into the modern, professional era of rugby and to appoint a relatively untried management team. At least untried at this level.
It has meant bankrolling the club with a considerable amount of his own money, even to the extent of purchasing the lease, and he deserves no end of credit for taking the punt…so-to-speak.
And it meant a leap-of-faith for supporters to a certain extent as well, something some just weren’t prepared to take.
In came RW and out went so much of detritus that was cluttering the club and getting in the way of progress. Either you had to have faith to stand your ground or be blown away by the winds of change…
Well there’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and broken-hearted
Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land
And if you have stood your ground, then the old dreams have been blown away, dreams that in reality became nightmares for much of last season, to be replaced by a sense of realism.
We now have in place a pragmatic approach to a longer term goal…structures first, then consolidation and focus with incremental tweaks and changes when needed.
There’s another player announcement due today, one that will further add to the belief that, under Jon Sharpe and Rowland Winter, the club is creating something a bit special.
There’s a momentum building that we haven’t seen for a long time, and if that can be continued over the pre-season and we hit the ground running in September, then there are some very interesting times ahead…
Mister I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in a promised land
And I believe in a promised land
And I believe in a promised land
Springsteen…he’s always going to crop up now and again in this blog…lyrics first voice second for me, but only just.
Another fabulous live performer…