Club talk

Friendlies Season 3 – Episode 3 the one on the island (repeat of Series 2 – Episode 2 but with an alternative ending, hopefully)

50 minutes by plane from Birmingham to Jersey. Ridiculous really when you think about it – it used to take me twice as long some evenings to get home from work in Small Heath via the Coventry Road, a distance of under 10 miles.

No need to check-in either these days, just walk into the airport, straight through security and the ubiquitous duty free, or not if you live in the UK, and then on to the departure gate. So simple.

If Cov are using the same travel arrangements as they did last season, then they’ll have had to go down to Luton to catch their flight, which adds a bit of time on to the journey but saves a considerable amount of money in the long run. Jersey has (or at least had last season) a deal with easyJet to provide reduced rates to teams flying over to the island and, as much of the cost of the trip will be met by the hosts, it is only right and proper that they should dictate the arrangements when such relatively large sums are involved, even if it means a slightly longer journey time.

Hopefully though it will have been as hassle free as mine was.

Other than to watch Cov play Jersey last season, the only other time that I’ve been to the island was back in 1985, although sadly I saw very little of the place other than the inside of the main hospital in St Helier where I spent 5 long weeks following a back injury that had required some pretty extensive surgery on a couple of occasions and which hadn’t taken too kindly to the increase cabin pressure on the plane on the way over. When I did eventually return, I had to be strapped to the top of six seats on a stretcher and then taken by ambulance from Heathrow to spend another few weeks in the Royal Orthopaedic.

Hence the reason it took me a further 31 years to return and then only to see Cov…

As soon as I arrived at the hotel where I’m staying in St Brelade, I checked in and then when for a long walk around part of  the bay – the weather was ideal and it’s such a beautiful stretch of beach.

I digress.

The first shop I popped into to get a cold drink, I was drawn to a copy of the local paper, the Jersey Evening Post, which was piled high adjacent to the till and turned upside down, so the sports section at the back was uppermost, if that makes sense.

The vast majority of the back page was given over to a preview of the Coventry game (written by a Tom Millar), together with a large photo of The Reds’ skipper for the day, South African full-back Scott van Breda, alongside the headline ‘Biljon: Reds targeting three key areas’. 

Needless to say, I bought a copy.

The very fact that such prominence was given to the local rugby team, Championship or otherwise, shows how important rugby club is to the island. Until Wasps arrived in Cov, football, understandably, would always have taken precedence over rugby in the local press and media, unless there was a major new breaking news. Pre-season friendlies wouldn’t have got much of a mention at all; even less now.

I know Coventry supporters often feel the club gets a hard time of it in terms of media coverage but the market dictates to a certain extent and whilst Cov fans are passionate folk by and large, there aren’t that many of them around and certainly not enough to make Cov headlines news these days, and then it’s it-s in connection with the proposed expansion of the business side of the club.

Until the club gets promoted, little is going to change and it’s up to the club to make its own press, something we are getting much better at these days. I happen to think that the work John Wilkinson is doing behind the scenes on the website, together with Lara with regard to social media, is the way forward, supported wherever possible, as is the case now, by Paul Smith at the Telegraph. We just aren’t a big enough fish these days to demand the publicity we would all like to see, both locally and beyond,

I guess I was just interested in the fact that Jersey’s ICC World Cricket news and all the local football updates played second fiddle to the relatively un-newsworthy pre-season friendly between Jersey and Cov . All the World Championship athletics and latest Premiership football news was pushed well to the back of the queue…well done JEP!

I hope no one sees this as a criticism of the local media in Coventry, that’s not the intention at all, it’s just a comment on the demise of the hold Cov once had over the local sporting world back when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s. If we take the initiative and  sell the club ourselves, then people will sit up and take note, as they are starting to do already – as evidenced by the increased sale of season tickets. It’s not just about winning games either, it’s about selling a package, of which the rugby is the most important part.


So, then, what was it that the Jersey Evening Post had to say about tomorrow’s friendly against Cov..?

…well, firstly it seems that the Reds have made wholesale changes to the team to face Coventry, with all but one of the side that lost to Vannes (38-14), winger Josh Hudson, left out of today’s starting line-up. Initially, I read this as being a bit of a knee-jerk response to the defeat, but I think that was more in hope thank expectation. Later in the article Head Coach Harvey Biljon explained the decision behind so many changes:

Anyone who didn’t play last week is going to get an opportunity to play rugby this week, that’s first and foremost

With it being such a new squad, I have no idea whether this represents a stronger or weaker side than that which played Vannes last weekend, but that fact that it is a ‘new’ side, in the sense that it’s one that won’t have played together competitively as yet,  probably works in out favour, at least in theory!

That said,  the side representing Cov today is pretty much in the same boat, with this being the first game the players will have played as a team, although 10 of the players starting remain from last season.

Biljon’s language is cautious, somewhat understandably given the changes to this season’s squad and last week’s defeat to the French League 2 side, stressing as he does that:

Coventry are a big club…when you look at Coventry they are the team that has to be tipped to get promoted this season, so it’s going to be a tough test for us

But Jersey are the home side and in the league above and whilst I understand that the club has gone through a major overhaul on and off the pitch in recent months, to the neutral the expectations must surely be on them to be pre-match favourites?

Cov has recruited well, has some continuity now in terms of coaching and  selection and has aspirations, at the very least, of being one of the top two or three clubs this season in National One.

And whilst other clubs might see them as favourites for promotion, nothing is being said in that regard by players or coaches at Cov…and rightly so.

Cov are opting to do their talking on the pitch these days and after the debacle of a couple of seasons ago, when predictions  were made that just couldn’t be delivered, this seems entirely the right approach. It doesn’t stop supporters like me getting carried away by it all at times, but that’s where games like today become an important reality check, a reminder of the gulf that exists between the top end of National One and the middle to lower end of the Championship which is probably where Jersey would expect to finish after this first season of consolidation.

Biljon also gives us an idea of what the focus on the game, for Jersey at least, will be. Following the game last week, the coaches have been looking at what he feels are three key areas:

There are a couple of things we need to clear up with regards to defensive understanding, a couple of things we need to clear up with our attacking frameworks and one or two things around out kick chase..

…so that attack, defence and their kicking game, then?

I think we can expect to see some ball played behind us this afternoon by the sound of it…with two fairly inexperienced wings in the Cov side, it should make for an interesting contest. If their kicking isn’t accurate then I’d imagine (and hope) the likes of James Stokes, Kwaku Asiedo and Rob Knox will run the ball back , especially the longer the game goes on.

Good job their set piece work is solid, though.

Intriguingly, and I have no idea what this means, Biljon refers to looking forwards to seeing how the players respond ‘to a couple of challenges we will throw at them’ creates visions of some ‘It’s a Knockout’ caper, with players having to run three-legged or blindfolded carrying the ball and a bucket of water, to be penalised if they spill either.

I wish that had been clarified as it is an odd comment to throw into the mix without an explanation.

Jersey are fantastic hosts and ever since last August I promised myself I’d return should the fixture be renewed this season.

And here I am…

Hand on heart, I do expect Cov to come second in this particular contest, but that is somewhat of improved from the third place we achieved in the 47-5 defeat last season. It’s one of those games where the performance is far more significant than the result and if we can come out of what is clearly going to be a tough, physical game having shown that against opposition from a higher league we can, for the most part, hold our own, then that would be a real bonus for me.

Put them under a degree of pressure at times, score a couple of tries and frustrate the opposition- job done (with no injuries!). I hope we take our points early on and play it as a proper game, not declining the three points should they be on offer – points on the board make a big difference, friendly or otherwise!

Not long to go now…a hotel breakfast in the offing and a leisurely walk along the beach followed by a  short taxi ride to the ground. If it weren’t quite so uphill I might have even walked.


I’ll tweet updates from the game on a regular basis (@CowshedTim), although they will be very much from a Cov perspective and somewhat one-eyed at times! If you don’t have Twitter, if you go the homepage of this blog, they will appear in the Twitter feed towards the top right of the page.

I apologise in advance – sometimes the spellcheck goes a little awry, although it’s not too bad early on in the season as the fingers remain warm in the summer months. Sadly, they are noticeably more arthritic these days…too much typing and texting…

…although as you can see from the clip, I’ve been working on making my fingers a little more supple over the summer recess.

Thought the nail varnish was particularly fetching, too.

I’ll put some pre-match photos on the blog later.

Wherever you are, have a great day.

Up the Cov.







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