Club talk

The Friendlies – Season 3: Episode 6 – the one with the Clash of the Titans

Rotherham Titans, our visitors on Saturday, faced Premiership opposition last weekend in the form of Newcastle Falcons and, just to make things that little bit tougher, they were the away team.

They lost 59-14.

It was something of a one-sided affair in the end by all accounts, with the Falcons proving too strong in almost all areas of the game.

So you have to feel for Titans head coach, Andy Key as he braved the post-match interview.

What do you say to the waiting press in that situation, other than we were outclassed on the day? I’m sure there will have been those amongst the Rotherham supporters questioning the sense in playing such strong opposition – coming away with such a heavy defeat is hardly going to lift morale with only two weeks to go before the Championship season kicks off, especially having finished bottom of the division at the end of last season.

Had it not been for London’ Welsh’s demise, the Yorkshire club would now be preparing for a season in National One.

I remember saying something similar a number of years ago when Coventry faced a Northampton side made up of what was then their Academy side. We lost very heavily, probably by 60 plus points…

…it didn’t do the team a great deal of good back then.

 

Thursday evening training at the BPA

Had it not been for London’ Welsh’s demise, the Yorkshire club would now be preparing for a season in National One.

So just what did Andy Key have to say?

Well, in actual fact he said something that made a great deal of sense and epitomises why clubs opt to take on teams from higher divisions as part of the pre-season friendlies.

The good thing is, and that’s why you have these pre-season games of Championship sides against Premiership sides, is to understand the speed and ferocity and intensity that they play at and the relentless wave of onslaught that they bring. We’ll learn some positive (and)  important lessons from today’s game and I just think these sorts of things hold us in good stead going forward.

Exactly so, Andy.

Such encounters, difficult as they are, are important because you pit yourself against stronger opposition to see how the players react. It gives the coaches plenty of insight into the qualities of the team and the individual players involved. Can they match the ‘speed, and ferocity and intensity’ and if the team struggles, are there players who rise to the challenge and stand up to be counted? Who are the players whose heads drop…because when the heat is really on at crucial moments in the coming season you want players out there that you know you can rely on.

And that’s precisely the reason we are playing Jersey and Rotherham in the build up to the start of our league fixtures – two Championship sides, both renowned as being physical, especially in the forwards. Going into the Jersey game the coaches were looking to see how Cov would stand up to the intensity that Championship teams bring to the game, as well as both the physicality and the technical skill.

And despite losing by just 9 points, many supporters left the ground, both home and away, believing that Coventry is a Championship side in-waiting. Skilful, certainly not intimidated by the physicality of a big Jersey side and technically good too, although prone to a lack of discipline at times that saw the penalty count far too high to have any real chance of achieving the win that few thought would be possible before kick off.

And on paper, Jersey away is a tougher ask than Rotherham at home. And there are supporters who will be going to the game on Saturday in the hope, if not the belief, that Coventry can pull off what would be something of a coup  – a win against a championship side. It’s happened before – a couple of years ago against newly promoted Ealing Trailfinders, but under very different circumstances. Even a performance similar to the one against Jersey would see the senior squad in confident mood going into the game against Hull next weekend.

Rotherham has brought in a number of new players during the close season, similar to Jersey in that respect:

The club seems a different place for all the new bodies and, obviously, a new coaching set up so things are looking good…It’s a brand-new squad, it was a long old tough year for us, as it was the previous year, so a lot of new signings and some young faces. You have to learn from last season. But we’ve tried to put it to bed, put it behind us, and we’ve looked at it as a new season

Coventry are probably 12 months further down the line that Rotherham, having been in a pretty similar position to Titans when Rowland Winter arrived at the end of the 2015/16 season.

Cov look to have turned the corner and are now producing the kind of rugby that everyone involved in the club hopes, perhaps even expects now, will get the club back into the Championship. As previously mentioned, Rotherham would have been alongside us had it not been for London Welsh’s misfortune. Had the two clubs met at the back end of last season, well you might have fancied Coventry to come away with the spoils as Rotherham went into free fall and Coventry an 8 match winning run.

Much now tomorrow is down to how well the Yorkshire side has recruited. We know Coventry has made some very shrewd signings, but Rotherham are something of an unknown, although Caolan Ryan is amongst there ranks still.

Following the Falcons game, Andy Key did give us an idea of what the focus would be in training in the days leading up to tomorrow’s encounter:

We are now looking forward to the Coventry game; I’m sure it’s going to be another physical challenge for us. Before that however, in the week we will have a look at ourselves, learn a few lessons about speed of ball and how we have to compete at the breakdown. If we want to play with the ball for long periods we need to learn how to do that…

If the breakdown is going to be one of the areas that might decide the result, then Cov will certainly look to Jack Preece, whom I’m guessing will start tomorrow, to win them the 50-50 balls…he’s the best in our league at the breakdown,and if we can get decent, quick ball, then the backs have shown exactly what they can do in attack. At times they pulled the Jersey defence apart in a way that the home side just weren’t able to do to us.

At training last night the squad looked really sharp and whilst Rotherham might well be in the division above, I still think they’ll  be surprised at the quality they’ll find themselves up against, especially if Cov’s discipline is better than it has been at times over the last few weeks. And there will be little difference in the intensity and physicality of the two sides…I have no worry on that score.

Coventry’s defence has looked really strong all through pre-season, but it will need to be at it’s best to keep the Titans at bay. The coaches, and I include Coventry’s ex-England No 8, Luke Narraway here, have spent hours out on the training field ensuring that everyone knows their defensive role when the opposition has the ball. Titans are going to have to work hard to break down Coventry’s midfield and if they lose possession and we win turnover ball, there are players in the Cov side who will strike from deep. Knox, Stevens, Asiedu and Stokes did it to good effect in the second half against Jersey.

Both Cov teams, the Ist Xv and academy sides, were training last night and at times the youngsters were working alongside the senior squad in some of the activities. The physicality was less than I’ve seen at some sessions, with players clearly instructed to hold off tackles to prevent any last minute injuries…but equally there was a buzz about the pitch that was almost palpable.

Waita Setu – trained yesterday and will play on Saturday

Waita Setu was at training  and will take part in one of the games, but he is still living out of suitcases as his accommodation won’t be ready until early next week. With two young children as well, and still suffering the effects of a bit of jet lag, I don’t think the club will be rushing him into league rugby until it is convinced he is ready. He came over to chat to the supporters, a gesture that is always appreciated, and was clearly looking forward to the season ahead.

Instead of sitting in the main stand to watch the training, myself, Simon and Steve H walked around the pitch, chatting away as you do about all things Cov. We each picked our own ‘dream’ team, the 15 players, plus bench, that we would select for that final game of the season that we had to win in order to gain promotion. Whilst we agreed on certain positions, there was a lot of differences of opinion and in the end we all found ourselves leaving out some very senior members of the squad, rarely the same ones mind…but even so.

I’ll get a poll going to see what a team selected by readers of the blog to face Hull Ionians might look like, and if I can get my act together and post it early in the week, it might help the coaches in their selection of the team on Saturday… :).

Ashamed at missing out one of the Cov Galaticos

It’s such a difficult exercise, albeit a purely academic one at that. In every position there are two, sometimes three players in contention. I have to say that having decided on my team it was pointed out that I hadn’t included one of the most senior members of the squad, a back, in terms of experience. I hadn’t even included him on the bench.

Simon also made the point, one that I was all for claiming as my own until my conscience kicked in, that players are having to play at a level well above what we have seen before because there’s always one or two others waiting in the wings should their levels of performance drop.

Take the open-side spot – I went for Jack Preece, so the likes of Olly Povoas and Waita Setu have to sit it out (and are unlikely to get on the bench if there’s a 3-2 split). In almost every other club Jack would be a shoe-in for open-side, but not at Cov. Not this season. Povoas is playing out of his skin and has done for most of the calendar year and Setu could, potentially, be the best of the three. And there are some very promising youngsters playing for the Academy side, too.

And when it came to deciding on the second row…well, we were miles apart. For the record, I had Oram and Dacres…but my heart said Jubby and Tom Poole!

We simply haven’t had the competition for places that we are currently witnessing for a long, long time and all the players know that one poor game could confine them to a long and frustrating period out of the senior side. It guarantees players focus and are at the top of the game.

They have to be.

No player is sure of his place – and whilst that should always be the case at this level, in the past if there isn’t the calibre of player to come in, then maybe the incentive to stay at the top of your game isn’t quite the same. And having some very talented youngsters snapping at your heels is also going to keep you on your toes, too. It’s what we’ve lacked, even as far back as the 2014/15 season when we had such a good run only for the season to end so poorly

Another big day tomorrow, and a massive test – for both Coventry and Rotherham.

59-14.

Beware the Wrath of the Titans…or the Kraken wakes.

And I haven’t even mentioned the opener against Newbold…

Yet…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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4 replies »

  1. Most teams would jump at the opportunity of fielding Daynes, Povoas, and Setu as their back row. I would certainly be happy,but I think at the moment I would go for Makaafi, Narraway, and Preece, what a dilemma…..

    Like

    • Hi FRU
      I’m sure that will be the starting line-up for the first game but I bet it won’t be for the last…! Will be plenty of combinations used over the course of the season such is the strength we have in depth now. Exciting times!

      Like

  2. “I remember saying something similar a number of years ago when Coventry faced a Northampton side made up of what was then their Academy side. We lost very heavily, probably by 60 plus points…

    …it didn’t do the team a great deal of good back then.”

    I met my wife after that game, having run touch!!

    Liked by 1 person

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