The mood over at Summerhill Lane was upbeat at training yesterday, understandably so given the convincing wins on Saturday against opposition that was expected to push both Cov teams a little harder than perhaps was the case on the day.
The feeling was when arranging the fixtures that having just missed out on promotion from National Two, Sale FC would be pretty similar in terms of ability to the bottom end of National One and Broadstreet would be what they are, a National Two side looking to consolidate on their recent move up from National Three.
Talking to Rowland Winter, it seems that whilst there is some satisfaction within the club as to relative performances of the two home sides, it’s not clear whether it was down to the overall strength of the Coventry squads or the inability on the day of the opposition to play to their potential. Everyone seemed careful not to get too carried away by the weekend’s results, but equally there was a feeling that the club is definitely moving in the right direction and come the beginning of the season proper, the club will have hit its pre-season targets and be more than ready for the challenges ahead.
There were some ‘odd’ results over the weekend in other pre-season friendlies that have a bearing on Cov, and by odd I mean results that probably you might not have predicted, certainly in terms of the scoreline anyway. Moseley defeated Worcester at home, 24-15, Hartpury beat Rosslyn Park 66-12, Newcastle beat Rotherham 59-14, Cambridge beat Leicester Lions 33-7, Ampthill beat Newport 29-14 and Plymouth defeated Redruth 10-0.
The weather and the strengths of the various squads involved were factors in all these games and so it would be wrong to read too much into any one of them, but I thought it might be interesting to include the results here as they aren’t easily to be found unless you go hunting for them.
So a big test then for Cov with Rotherham at the weekend.
The Titans started their pre-season with a very comfortable 61-0 win against National Three side Sheffield, although it was 220 and 140 minute splits.
And then they played Newcastle…
I think it’s fair to say that Titans probably won’t achieve better than a low to mid-table position in the Championship come the end of the season, so in terms of the national rugby pyramid of teams, there aren’t that many places separating us – although of course Titans get a much healthier annual RFU payout.
Saturday should be a really good test of where Cov currently is in terms of its progress towards developing a squad capable of winning promotion into the Championship. Once again, as was the case with Jersey, it’s very much the performance rather than the outcome that is important. However, if there’s a decent crowd at the BPA on Saturday, with an atmosphere to match, then Coventry could push Rotherham close.
For several of the players it could be their first experience of the just how much of a motivation the Cov crowd can be – and if they don’t feel it on Saturday, then they sure as hell will in a couple of weeks time against Moseley. It’s all building up very nicely towards that first home league fixture – still the small matter of Hull Ionians away to come but it is, at last, almost upon us. There might be 700 or 800 to see Cov play Rotherham – it will be three times that number on 9th September.
Training today was, as always, focused but without some of the senior players who aren’t full-time, it never has quite the same intensity as the midweek sessions. However, there was plenty of contact going on, both one-to-one and whole squad, attack and defence. There’s always a lot happening, with different small group activities taking place in between sessions where all the players are involved.
It always seems as if the coaches make an effort to put on one or two activities which are hugely physical but which are also exactly the sort that the players really enjoy. Yesterday, for instance, there was a 2 vs 2 mini tug o’ war involving the forwards, as well as a ‘pin-the-man down’ contest (apologies, there must be a technical term for it but that will have to do).
Both involved the players having to exert massive amounts of energy, whilst also providing a competitive edge which they clearly embraced.
There was a lot of work done on the exercise bikes, all timed to the second with breaks in between and Phil Boulton and Jimmy Litchfield did a number of (I’m guessing here) 75m runs with a short break in between. And when I say number, it was a fair few, again timed and marshalled by one of the fitness coaches.
Both the props worked really hard throughout the session and whilst they said little, they worked in unison.
The backs, too, seemed to enjoy much of what they did, and when Quent and I arrived they looked to be practising their kick and chase game plays…the first thing I saw was Ben Palmer somehow managing to kick the ball into the face of Tony Fenner – clearly hoping to get a foot in the door of the first team this weekend 😉 (And whose to say, based on his display at the weekend, that he doesn’t deserve it…?). In fairness, Ben showed plenty of concern, although Fenner was quick to shake it off.
Quent and I, together with Sam (my son), have got a bet on as to the make-up of the team to play Hull in just 12 days time. We’ve each written down what we think it will be and have given the other a copy. However, having listened to Rowland Winter talk about how he and the coaches go about selecting a team, we’ve both decided to give it another game. Whilst he obviously wasn’t going to give us the team, he did show us how difficult it is to get the right balance in the side, how some players need to be on whilst others are off and how different scenarios require different options.
It made for really interesting listening, and again is one of those ‘discussions’ that would make a really interesting 20 minutes at a Supporters’ Club meeting. RW also spoke about the changes in the new scrum laws and how clubs have had to go away and seriously rethink their approaches to scrummaging over the pre-season. Boris Stankovich freely admits that much of what he was coaching in terms of the scrum last year no longer applies, especially now there needs to be a strike of the ball when it is put into the front row.
Once the hooker (presuming it is the hooker who strikes) lifts a foot off the ground, it’s a question of 7 now pushing instead of 8, so that puts the team receiving the ball at something of a disadvantage, as previously many packs just pushed over the ball once the scrum half had put the ball in. It’s something we did to particularly good effect last season.
Cov have worked hard to gain as big an advantage as they can given this new limitation, so it will be interesting to see how they get on once the season starts. The coaches have taken time to chat with referees to see how they are interpreting the rules and are even looking at games refereed by officials who will be presiding over Coventry games in the opening weeks to check for consistency and what Cov must do to ensure they don’t incur the wrath of the men in black.
The attention to detail is impressive and much of it is incredibly technical – all clubs are having to adapt to the new laws and Coventry is no exception. Interestingly, we got heavily penalised against Jersey, but with the same referee against Sale FC at the weekend, the penalty count was a lot less – and a lot of that is down to understanding what it is the referee is looking for, and adapting your game accordingly. Whilst the laws are the same for all officials, the interpretation of them isn’t.
I think Thursday training session could be really interesting – there was a real buzz yesterday, and it will only get more intense once the match day squad gets together for the final session before Rotherham. If you haven’t been to a session before, pop over – it’s a great atmosphere and everyone’s very friendly and usually one of the coaches will come along and say hello, as will the players at the end. Training usually starts around 6.30 pm. I’m told that one of the more senior players to join Cov over the pre-season has never been at a club before where supporters attend training sessions!
It’s another big test for Coventry.
So far the squad has more than lived up to expectations in the previous games. Rotherham, at home, well it’s not the easiest of games before your first league start of the season, but if Cov has genuine aspirations of playing Championship rugby next season, we need to be putting Championship sides under some pressure even now, especially at home.
Good to see Eoghan Grace being interviewed in The Rugby Paper. Grace is also the community coach at Plymouth and the club, now with a ‘vastly improved’ financial situation has acquired a nearby social club and playing fields to add to their already impressive ground.
Plymouth seems to have learned from its previous financial mistakes and Grace talks of there being a ‘business strategy’ in operation with the club having a long-term plan in place.
Somewhat annoyingly though, the article refers to Grace believing that Plymouth is ready ‘to give big spending Coventry a run for their money’. Now it’s unclear whether those are Eoghan Grace’s words or the writer’s own take on what he said, but once again the rugby world is making the assumption that Coventry’s squad is built purely on ‘big spending’ and not players buying into the vision.
Even though there was an article in TRP only a few weeks ago stressing that Coventry weren’t spending big, still the perception remains that players are coming to Coventry simply for the pay check, which just isn’t the case any more.
Sorry- that just me losing it again…
Back to the article – Grace suggests that most likely the one promotion place will be contested amongst 6 teams – Coventry, Plymouth, Moseley, Ampthill, Rosslyn Park and Blackheath.
Grace sounds confident that Plymouth will ‘have a good showing and push for top spot’ and it’s hard not to disagree, given Plymouth finished second last season behind run away leaders Hartpury and have since added to their squad. So have we though…and with one of Plymouth’s top players last season.
It will be interesting to see how Eoghan Grace gets on at Plymouth – injuries disrupted his spell with us and I’m not sure we always saw the best of him. He had some strong performances last season, but with competition for places in the back row as tight as it is this season, would he have played regular first team rugby for us had he stayed, anyway…?
Narraway, Makaafi, Preece, Waila, Povoas, Daynes and potentially Jubb and Dacres also in the mix (and the young Tom Willis a possible loanee from Wasps)…