Room at the top…Zoo Sports Shield…Ambulances in attendance?
I can see everything tonight
I got a room where everyone
Can have a drink and forget those things
That went wrong in their life
…And I ain’t comin’ down, I ain’t comin’ down
Tom Petty – Room At The Top
‘A Room At The Top’, it’s what we all strive for.
Tom Petty found his almost 20 years ago with a single released from the aptly named ‘Echo’ album.
And, in an echo of the past, Coventry Rugby Club is once again embarking on a journey to rediscover the glories of its own past with an unbeaten run of league games stretching to 13 and remaining in second place, just a point away from current National One leaders Darlington Mowden Park.
There are a couple of tasty fixtures on the horizon that might well result in a change at the top, with Plymouth taking on Darlington at home at the end of the month and Coventry hosting Plymouth in late November. Early days I know, but at the moment it’s looking very much as if the three main contenders for promotion are indeed going to be Plymouth, Darlington and Cov – unless one of the clubs from the group below enjoys a lengthy run of bonus point wins whilst those above start dropping points with alarming regularity.
Cov’s final match in the first half of the season should be a real nerve jangler with a trip up to the Northern Echo (!) Arena to face Darlington on the 16th December. It won’t get much harder than that…although Coventry then has a second weekend away from home with a pre-Christmas visit to none other than local rivals Moseley on the 23rd.
Two really big games to finish off the year and both away.
Two games that will certainly test the calibre of a Cov side that is starting to look a real contender for promotion. There are still a fair few games to go before then, of course, but as a supporter it’s hard not to look beyond those games where you’d expect to take the points to the games where you’ll be facing your likely adversaries for a top three spot.
Success or otherwise could all come down to how we play in any one of the next 25 games, of course it could, but at this stage of the season it already looks more likely that it will be how the top three or four sides fair against each other that will probably determine the outcome of the league.
I’m sure that when they hear such statements, the coaches and the players, and a fair few supporters too, would be quick to assert that you have to take each game as it comes and that every club in this league is capable of beating any other.
However, when you see your team winning, and winning big, even when it’s not playing to its full potential, then as a fairly passionate supporter, I struggle to keep things that real by focusing purely on the next game. Okay, Old Albanian is a classic example of what can happen if you take the foot off the gas and coast a little, but it is also indicative of just why I really do believe that you have to look ahead to the bigger games, like those away against Moseley and Darlington in December…
The back row of Setu, Daynes and Povoas didn’t fire against Old Albanian by all accounts, and whilst they are three players most clubs would welcome with open arms in our league, having struggled to combine effectively at OA, would the coaches risk playing all three together against the top sides? I’m not so sure they would, which is perhaps one of the reasons why Cov look at games in blocks of 2, 4 0r 6 to ensure the big guns, the likes of Narraway, Makaafi, Preece and Nilsen are available against the top teams. One of Daynes, Povoas or Setu certainly – they’re all very gifted players at this level, but all three against, say, Plymouth? It would be a brave decision on current form. Getting the squad right over the preceding weeks so that players are relatively fresh when most needed must surely be a major concern when looking at selection?
You can’t simply pick the best available squad every weekend. Can you?
I’m guessing here, but the squad selected to play one weekend might well be determined to a certain extent by the squad required to face another team the following weekend. Take Coventry’s run-in to Christmas. Cov play at least 5 of the teams most fancied to be competing for the top positions in National One back in Week One.
11th Nov 2017 v Old Elthamians- Away
25th Nov 2017 v Plymouth- Home
2nd Dec 2017 v Rosslyn Park – Away
9th Dec 2017 v Ampthill – Home
16th Dec 2017 v Darlington Mowden Park – Away
23rd Dec 2017 v Birmingham Moseley – Away
Can you afford to pick your strongest squad for all those last 5 consecutive games, despite their importance, especially after having already played 10 tough fixtures.
Or do you have to try to juggle your resources a little and rotate your squad somewhat to give those players likely to have the biggest impact the best chance to influence a game whilst refreshed and relatively injury free?
A couple of seasons ago we suffered from numerous injuries to key players and we just didn’t have the luxury of real depth in the squad from which to select, despite pre-season suggestions to the contrary. It resulted in Cov putting out sides that were weakened in key areas and players turning out when injured. And it was a pretty disastrous season.
I was always a big advocate of playing your strongest side for every game, but I’m fast coming round to the view that provided you have a core of experienced players, then rotating your squad is no bad thing. Maybe not to excess, instead resting one or two of the senior players against teams that might not be expected to provide quite the same challenges as the top teams.
By entering the Zoo Sports Shield, Coventry has added real depth to its squad including players who might not have come to Cov had we just had the one side, as was the case in previous seasons. And whilst many of the players in that competition playing for Cov who might yet be lacking the experience to be tested in a competitive National One game just now, there are those who are more than capable of stepping up to the challenge, as we’ve seen with the likes of Asiedu, Titchard-Jones, Morley, Palmer, all of whom have performed strongly at the higher level.
I’m all for respecting the opposition and I’m not for a minute suggesting that Cov should put out under-strength teams. But I imagine being a coach is about far more than thinking one week in advance and, whilst the match day squad to face Bishop Stortford will be one that will be chosen to do a job and do it well, I imagine there will be plenty of discussions surrounding the need to perhaps rest one or two players to conserve their fitness for other games coming up over the next few weeks.
Some sides Cov put out just have to be stronger than others given the nature of the opposition We know from comments made by RW that the expectation was that the likes of Makaafi, Tuitupou and Narraway wouldn’t be playing much more than probably 18-20 games a season – and if that is the case, rotation has to be the name of the game for them, if not for some of the other senior players in the squad. Playing all three in every game to ensure you have your strongest possible side on the pitch just wouldn’t work, so presumably you target certain games in which you want them to be adding their experience and skills sets. There are still plenty of younger players, the likes of Dacres, Tolmie, Oram, White, Preece, Brazier, Fenner, Maisey, Knox, Stokes, Stevens, Knox and so on who will stand up to far more game time than some of the Galaticos, so it seems as if the coaches have got the balance just about spot on this season…
It’s selecting the right match day squad for each particular fixture that is the real challenge and as of now, the coaches seem to have pretty much made all the right decisions, despite the blip at OA. Once Winter kicks in (the season, not the Director of Rugby) and the conditions start to be come less than favourable, Cov’s strength in depth should become even more of an advantage, provided injuries don’t mount up.
Those final six fixtures leading up to Christmas are going to really test Coventry’s resolve, and I certainly wouldn’t put money on Coventry being top by then. However, if Cov is still in the mix come the new year, and we certainly should be, then the club has a much easier run-in to the end of the season than most, with four of the last six games at home, including the return fixture against Darlington…
…now that could be a big crowd in the making.
I appreciate we’re only five games in, but given the relative lack of success Cov has enjoyed these last couple of decades with the changes we’ve witnessed off the pitch combined with the success on it, then if you’re a glass half full type of guy, which I try to be, then it’s difficult not to get carried away by much of what is happening at Cov.
I’ve been away.
We’ve won some more games.
I’ll rein myself in before over the next couple of days.
At least I’ll try.
It’s good to be king, if just for a while
To be there in velvet, yeah, to give ’em a smile
It’s good to get high and never come down
It’s good to be king of your own little town
Tom Petty – Good To Be King
I just thought I’d include the Zoo Sports Shield table as it currently stands.
Despite fielding match days squads lacking the experience to be found in some of the opposing sides, Coventry’s current position of 6th seems to me to be a particularly encouragng one, with the only loss being in the first game against Jersey over at Broadstreet. I know the coaches felt this competition would be a fantastic learning curve for the players, whilst accepting that it might be a big ask of a newly assembled squad against some particularly strong clubs with a history of running junior sides. That said, the side has performed strongly, typified when, two weeks ago, Cov inflicted Blackheath’s only defeat of the season so far – and a thumping one it was too, 52-19.
I’m certainly looking forward to watching the youngsters on Saturday and will run a MoM poll for that game, as well as for the main event, for anyone who would like to take part. With all the coverage the senior squad are currently getting, it would be easy to neglect the success of the development squad…maybe it might be an idea to put the two tables side by side on the main Cov homepage…?
One question…I wonder if anyone reading this has the answer.
Paul Smith from the Coventry Telegraph ‘tweeted’ the following regarding Wasps’ A League fixture on Monday…
Tonight's A League game is postponed due to lack of an ambulance. Broadstreet advise tickets are valid for replay on a date tbc
— paul smith (@PaulSwarksrugby) October 2, 2017
Are the regulations different then to National One games where there is obviously no ambulance on standby?
Seems an odd one to me, given there is just as much likelihood of serious injury in our league, if not more so, given that many players are often older and probably slightly less fit being part-time. I imagine there’s little to choose as far as the intensity of the games are concerned.
I never saw Tom Petty, despite having a couple of his albums (back in the day) and being a fan of the Travelling Wilburys since their inception back in ’89. I stayed in digs with a lad who had everything he’d produced and it was Refugee that was the first single that really got me interested.
He’ll be greatly missed on both sides of the Atlantic…many hearts will have been broken this week by the real Heartbreaker…
RIP, Tom Petty.