Thursday night might well have been an evening of comedy back at the Cov clubhouse, but just 4 miles away over at Massey Ferguson’s playing fields there wasn’t much laughter to be heard as the Coventry squad, together with some of the Academy players, were put through a gruelling training session that pulled no punches…
It was a damp mizzly evening when I arrived at about half past six and the players had clearly been out for a while and when I left, at ten past eight, it was still going strong with players wrestling with the conditions as much as the training itself.Despite the lack of any shelter, a handful of supporters turned up – something that bodes well for later in the season when Cov return on a Thursday to the Butts for their final training session each week. There are a small, but growing, number of fans who now come along to these open evenings, something that the club has been happy to allow – although it is a Thursday open invite only.
I’ve included a couple of short video clips to give an indication of what the Massey Ferguson ground looks like – please excuse the quality as I only took up a very basic GoPro-style imitation sports camera as it was raining – given it’s so cheap, it’s not too bad in terms of picture quality and does at least give you an idea of the set up there.
The first clip is from the main driveway into the grounds with the pavilion on the right. Coventry’s training area is presently behind there, although I believe there are going to be some rugby posts erected close to where the clip was filmed – you can see floodlights in the foreground which will presumably be used once the nights draw in.
As I mentioned in the previous post, the changing room is not yet ready for use, so the players are having to change in the portacabins behind it.
No real player news today other than Jack Preece had returned from his travels and was involved in the training, otherwise it was pretty much as earlier in the week, although there seemed rather more components to Thursday’s training session than the previous one. Olly Povoas was being put through his paces under the watchful, and at times seemingly sadistic eye, of Max Hartman and Tom Jubb wasn’t taking part as a precaution following a head injury at the Olney 7s.
John Wilkinson and Nick Meredith had been up there too, with Nick taking the official player photos – not the best of weathers for it, but at least the photos should be available shortly on the website sooner and then we can start to put names to faces. That said, it’s much more straightforward this season with fewer players recruited and those that have been are either more recognisable or already known.
I have to say, however, that even though Rowland Winter has gone through the names a couple of times now, I am struggling to identify some the Academy players, so it will be good to have a rogues gallery as such for reference when the Zoo league begins.
One thing I'd forgotten to mention from the previous training session was RW's comments about how the club's approach to defence has changed over last 12 months.
Initially, under James Pritchard's direction, the coaches were more prepared to trust in the pace of the Coventry defenders and allow the opposition to spread the ball out wide, believing that Cov's defence would be able to chase any threat down.
As a result, Cov's defenders weren't up as quickly as they needed to be, allowing the opposition too much space and too much time with the ball.
A quick check on last season results seems to back this up. Including JP's final game as defence coach, the 43-42 win against Old Albanian, Cov conceded 30 points 4 times in 14 games, but did so only twice in the final 16 (of which 9 were away from home, including the game at Hartpury) –
Craig Newby's arrival saw a change in tactics, with Cov beginning to rush the opposition when they had the ball far more quickly, stifling their attacking options. His appointment coincided with Coventry beginning to show the kind of form that took us from ninth in the league at one point up to fourth, overtaking Moseley in the process and winning the last eight games on the bounce, losing just three in the last 16.
Yes, this was a new squad which was always going to take time to gel which accounts for some of the lacklustre performances in the first half of the season, especially away from home, That said, some of the home games were far too close for comfort with Cov having to rely on two or three last-minute wins and Will Maisey's nerves of steel and where Cov's defence looked very shaky at times.
Both of the training sessions I've attended this season have included work on defence, led by Nick Walshe at the moment, but presumably later with the aid of someone like Luke Narraway or one of the senior players as part of their introduction into coaching. I would imagine that this season it is one of the areas where we will see the biggest differences from last year.
The attacking options remain and arguably players like Grove and Neal will give us even more fire power in the backs alongside the likes of Trimble, Stokes and Stevens.
However, one of the key changes for me this season is the that the likes of Tuitupou, Narraway, Makaafi, Preece and Nilsen will bring with them Premiership and Championship experience, both leagues where defences are that much meaner and where teams are that much better at playing without the ball.
Will we see 6 games this season in which Coventry concede 30 points or more?
I very much doubt it.
Plymouth Albion, the team that finished second last season, and probably the team that goes into the season as favourites to win the league, conceded an average of just 17 points a game – we averaged 24. They only won 4 more games than us, but their defence was far more parsimonious than ours.
On paper at least, the signings Rowland Winter has brought in this season will add some grit and steel to the flair of the backs. Add to that the likes of George Oram and the athleticism of Nile Dacres and it's no wonder that supporters are getting more and more excited as the pre-season games approach.
Talking of second rows, I came across an article in The Times last week that suggested 50% of tries scored come from an initial line-out…presumably many of those from catch and drives close to the opponent's line. Oram and Dacres, together with Jubb and Poole, will offer formidable options for the coaches and we are arguably as strong at 4 and 5 as we are anywhere else in the team. Add to that the arrival of Phil Nilsen at 2, along with Scott Tolmie, Will Priestley and Matt Price, and we should have even more strength in the lineouts than last season, and area which over the years has proved a concern, although admittedly last year was the best it's been for some time.
I watched the players going through some lineout work last Monday with Louis Deacon explaining some of the calls. I have to say I was lost after the first three or four and the permutations seemed endless. I was with Quent and we both decided the only way we could remember them would be to have written them on the backs of our hands, although even then there would never have been enough space.
The players, of course, took to it immediately, even Phil Nilsen who was only in his first training session. Watching up close, it's not difficult to see how in the heat of a game and in front of a large and vociferous crowd, sometimes calls get misheard or just simply temporarily confused.
I've learned my lesson a while back and accept that it's more often than not a wrong call or a poorly timed jump that is responsible for lost lineout rather than a poor throw from the much maligned hooker… 🙂
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I’m looking forward to Tuesday’s Fans’ Forum – I hope it is just that as opposed to a ‘members only’ affair which it has been in the past. Ideally, everyone should be able to attend, although it’s not clear that is the case from the notice on the website.
It will be interesting to see how Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter view, at least publicly, the coming season – promotion chasing or further consolidation and an improvement on last season?
Somewhere in between I would guess.
Cov made the mistake a couple of years ago of declaring the club were ready to make an assault on the National One title and after a couple of losses it all very quickly spiralled out of control. In the light of the success Cov enjoyed in the second half of last season, maintaining and improving on that record would be the sensible target and if we are there or thereabouts in the final third of the season, the I’m sure the coaches and players will want to make the most of the situation.
There are too many unknowns to predict with any certainty where Cov might finish but I’d like to think we’ll be in the top two or three. Plymouth remain my favourites, with perhaps Coventry and Ampthill in the mix, with clubs like Old Elthamiams having the financial backing to perhaps recruit well.
RW mentioned on Thursday that there has been a change to the number of A team players/loanees National One teams can play, with a club able to call on up to 10 Premiership A-team players for any match day squad, together with another 3 loanees (I think).
RW did explain how it would be possible for the likes of Loughborough, for example, to play 13 Leicester Tigers-based players including, say, someone like Tom Croft if he couldn’t get into the 1st XV on the day.
Of course that’s unlikely and with the increased number of A league fixtures this season, Premiership clubs will be unlikely to make their Academy players as available as often as they were last season. However, it does illustrate how it would be possible for clubs not featuring in a promotion challenge to affect the outcome of the league by fielding a one-off team as illustrated above.
Anyway, the Forum will be a chance to hear officially what targets the club is setting itself and ask questions directly of Rowland Winter.
Few better ways, then, to spend a Tuesday evening…