Club talk

Sparks are on the cards as M&S sign up for the season…

I know it’s all about longer term aims and disciplining yourself to look further ahead than just the one season.

I really do understand that it’s a race and not a sprint and we should look for improvements across the club as a whole rather than focus solely on promotion.

I get all that.

But come on…what are supporters expected to do when your club, starved of success for so many seasons, suddenly makes root and branch changes, has a season that for once matches and probably exceeds expectations, wins its final eight games, and then proceeds to sign a dozen or so players, most of whom have the distinction of playing representative rugby for their respective countries including several at full international level?4th last season and with no side relegated from the Championship  to do battle with – it is kind of tough to keep a lid on your excitement, especially when you see the calibre of the squad in pre-season training.

And then what does the club go and do?

It only recruits a further two players, both New Zealand born, one having played international 7s for Tonga and the other Super League rugby for Queensland Reds.

Any player from New Zealand, or the South Pacific in general, is going to get the pulses racing.

But two…?

Have a heart, Coventry…for goodness sake.

This is doing the old blood pressure no favours at all.

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I made the mistake of watching the YouTube clips of the two latest recruits that Wazeroonie kindly linked to the Messageboard – and of course they both appear to be world beaters.

Waita Setu is another Jack Preece by the look of it, immense in the tackle, quick to the ball, another turnover specialist and someone who enjoys an off load or two and Anthony Matoto with ball in hand is just the type of destructive runner we’ve been lacking for many a season.

That’s the danger of YouTube, of course…but there’s been plenty of excitement in the Cov camp in the run up to their arrival, especially that of Matoto, and, whilst you have to be careful to avoid building players up….well, you know what I’m getting at.

If I’ve had any concerns about there being a lack of depth in the squad in any one area, then it’s been out wide. There are options of course, with Trimble, Neal, Stokes and Knox all able to play on the wing, although there are still some doubts, amongst supporters at least, as to just where Rob Knox’s best position is (and, sadly, his current susceptibility to injury) and if  James Stokes plays on the wing, Cliffie is left a little exposed as the only other genuine full-back.

I believe Cov has recently signed a full back/wing from Moseley following a successful trial and there’s also the very promising Kwaku Asiedu in the Development squad, but whether he’s ready for regular first team rugby is as yet unknown. Matoto’s arrival clearly strengthens that area of the team – and we saw what a difference quality wings made when Owain James and Tome Howe arrived from Wasps after the first half dozen games last season. Despite their age, they added a new dimension to the team.

By the look of it, Matoto will be a similar kind of player to Howe, big and quick and able to run though and round the opposition, but with rather more experience. Provided his defence is equally as good, he should be a real asset.

I’ve always said to those who have asked that I think realistically we’ll finish in the top three and my best bet would be second behind Plymouth – that’s if you could get odds down at Ladbrokes on National One rugby.

Fortunately, you can’t.

The arrival Matoto and Setu will definitely strengthen the squad – although whether it will be enough to give us the edge over our rivals, well only time will tell.

However, M & S have at last arrived.

From hereon in, membership cards will be renamed Sparks cards (and aren’t they beginning to look good value already with Zoo league fixtures included in the price?) and, come the end of the season, the Cov shop’s best-selling lines will be underwear (for those who might want to play both home and away) and, of course, ready meals to take away after the match.

Just watch those points add up.

I’m particularly looking forward to the £10 meal deal for two on offer before the game.

And St Michael will become our patron saint…

and amongst other things, St Michael is the patron saint of paramedics. And guess what profession Phil Nilsen is hoping to follow once he hangs up his boots?

Yep, it’s all starting to make sense.

St Michael is also the patron saint of warriors. Once the rest of the league finds out, there might well be a few complaints lodged down at HQ…

The imminent arrival of Matoto & Setu has certainly notched up my excitement to another level. But it’s not just about their presence increasing the  prospect of a potential promotion coming our way in the next couple of seasons, good as that would be.

To be fair, I’ve said before that a move into the Championship could prove to be a double edged sword for all sorts of reasons, financial as well as rugby-wise.

No, what is really getting me so excited at the moment isn’t just the now realistic belief that we are starting to look like serious contenders for a place in the Championship next season, it’s actually the prospect of watching Cov play a brand of rugby that will both win us games and entertain at the same time.

Some of the rugby last season was fantastic to watch and the thought of that not just being replicated this season, but also maybe even bettered, especially in terms of consistency away from home – well that is something that is far more exhilarating.

And if that isn’t enough, there’s the two games every other Saturday to look forwards to as well. 160 plus minutes of watching Cov at home…at no additional cost. Just brilliant.

Whilst some of those Zoo league fixtures are going to be tough affairs, especially those against the Championship sides, watching a blend of promising youngsters playing alongside experienced first teamers is going to be just as interesting as the main event for me – and it will be intriguing to see how quickly players are able to progress from there into the full match day squad.

It’s a scenario that supporters have been hoping for over many seasons – an Extras side that feeds into the first team.

Whenever Cov announce new players, I always pop over to Rolling-maul.com just to get a sense of how supporters from other clubs view our acquisitions. To be fair, most supporters on there from clubs other than Coventry have recognised the changes that at being made and the usual accusations of cheque-book rugby haven’t been as forth-coming this season. There’s an admiration, albeit grudging at times, that Cov is for once going about the building of a squad the right way and that the business model is far stronger than it has been for a long, long time.

That said, on the announcement of the club’s latest signings yesterday, there was still one poster who was quick to reassure supporters from clubs other than Cov:

Don’t worry half will have left before Xmas due to no game time, harsh but probably true.

And from someone I presume isn’t a Coventry supporter, it’s probably a fair comment to make, and perhaps there is some truth in what he predicts, although not quite for the reasons he suggests.

On the face of it, how do you keep a dozen or more quality players happy when they aren’t playing regular first team rugby?

Players have come to us for reasons other than the salary they’ll command, so it makes sense to believe that players outside of the match day squad of 20 might begin to question their decision to come to Cov if they aren’t playing regular first team rugby by Christmas, especially if Coventry are winning games and up near the top of the league.

12 months ago, I would have said something very similar – but only because in the past it would most likely have been the case.

However, in making such a comment a year on, the person concerned probably won’t be aware of the two key factors that will ensure movement out of the club, if it indeed happens, will be limited.

First, Coventry’s decision to join the Zoo League and, secondly, the ability of Rowland Winter to man manage his squad.

Participation in the Zoo League will ensure that everyone in the first team squad, together with most of the gold and silver members of the Development squad will get regular rugby, week in, week out. If players who might have expected to be playing first team rugby are still involved in the Zoo league three or four league games in, then the onus is very much on them to put in the performances to warrant being given a chance in the full squad.

Professional players have to be professional and they know their chance will come.

Even more important though is the Rowland Winter factor. His ability to man manage a group of players who will all have different hopes and expectations and all be very different in their own wants and needs will be crucial this season.

Last year, despite a number of players probably not playing as often as they might have liked, Cov only lost the one member of the first team at the end of the season, Darrel Dyer – hardly indicative of the kind of mass exodus that the poster on Rolling-maul is forecasting for this season.

Players have stayed on because they have all bought into the vision Rowland Winter has created of a successful Coventry playing Championship rugby at some point in the next two or three years. They’ve worked with him for at least 12 months, many of them for longer, and they trust him, otherwise they wouldn’t have remained.

Not only that, he is someone who is prepared to make the tough decisions where necessary and if a player’s ego were to get the better of him, then I get the distinct impression that he would be pushed before he could walk.

There’s every chance that there will be one or two in the current squad, new or old, who won’t fit in, either because they won’t be prepared to play most of their rugby in the Zoo league  or because  they just aren’t able to perform at the level expected  – it would be very unusual out of a squad of 32, plus those in the gold Development squad group, for that not to be the case.

It would be my guess that RW will do as he did last season, namely give everyone until Christmas to stake their claim and then stick with a core of 25 or so, as well as any youngster who might come through via the Zoo league, moving  the rest on – either to local junior clubs or further afield. Obviously injuries might make this impractical, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see the full squad numbers decrease somewhat over the first 10 weeks or so.

RW is more than happy to make the tough calls – as Rundle, Pritchard, Smit, Conquest, Snyman (admittedly for other reasons) and Bone all found out from last year.

They didn’t feature because in the end they couldn’t perform as he wanted – so off they went.

Rowland Winter be very fair and  upfront but he won’t hang on to players unless they have a part to play, and that’s probably one of the key reasons during why he’s been so successful at whichever club he’s been with.

I reckon there’s a very tough side to Rowland Winter and he’ll keep the players he wants interested and hungry for success. I’m not convinced he’s a rotator by nature, but he knows he has to rest his players fairly regularly to avoid burn out over the course of the season.

However, if possible, I do think he’d prefer to rely on a relative small squad once he has seen how the players have settled after the first 10-15 games. All the permutations of players will be tried and tested in the pre-season and opening few games, after which time he and the coaches will know who their top 25/26 players are and from thereon in there will be far less chopping and changing, injuries permitting. And there’s always the Zoo League players he can fall back on should he need them, as well as dual registration/loanees from Wasps.

That’s my best guess anyway, although I know it might not be how others will see it .

Just ask Sam.

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I’m not able to go to the game today.

Unfortunately – Sue decided to avoid Saturdays for a few weeks because of pre-season clashes and so sensibly invited friends over on a Thursday instead.

Teach me not to have the dates up on the fridge door.

Still, a chance to earn some brownie points.

Good luck to everyone involved this evening, players, coaches and supporters alike.

Up the Cov.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 replies »

  1. Thinking about it further, he may have said there would be less rugby played on it and as a result, should hold up.

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    • Hi Paul…He did indeed say that – Cov moving to MF to train twice a week means that the number of training session played elsewhere is greater than the number of times the pitch will be used outside of Cov RFC – if that makes sense.
      I guess the problem would be if there was heavy rain on an already wet pitch for both the Zoo League (Shieldy thing) game at 12.30 on a Sat and then the National One game immediately afterwards. Might cut up a bit then…

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  2. HI Warren – always a pleasure! Yes, it’s certainly a consideration but if Cov are going to win the league, or be in contention at the very least, they can’t just be a one dimensional side. They’ve got a big pack, a really big pack if picked on size alone, and the coaches should have the benefit of picking horses for courses, depending on the opposition and the conditions – at least in theory. I certainly hope to see plenty of expansive rugby from Cov, both home and away, but won’t be averse to seeing the odd game of 10 man rugby if that is what it takes. That said, players like Matoto and Tuitupou are quite capable of playing like forwards anyway!

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  3. Firstly, thanks for the name check re the YouTube links.

    With the promise of some exciting free flowing and expansive rugby with the players we have, one concern I have about the forthcoming season is the hope that the pitch holds up with the extra rugby/soccer that will be played on it. I know the pitch is looked after superbly all year round, but a few bad weeks weather wise could hinder the kind of rugby we want to play at fortress BPA.

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    • I seem to recall RW saying at the forum that even with Bears, Cov Utd, ladies and the Zoo league (shield), there will be less time on the BPA turf with Cov and i believe, the others all training off site for the majority if not all training sessions (excluding Cov who are training there on Thursdays).With this in mind, I think the theory is that the pitch should hold up better than in the past!

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