Everybody’s always talkin’
‘Bout who’s on top
Don’t cross our path ’cause
You’re gonna get stomped
New Kids On The Block – Hangin’ Tough
It was felt good to be back at the BPA, albeit just for a Thursday night training session.
And it was even better to be able to talk rugby again and in particular all things Coventry.
Great as the holiday was, come the end of the two weeks I’d overdosed on the American War of Independence and the Deep South’s insatiable love for Donald Trump.
So last night was a welcome return to normality and a chance to catch up on much of what I’d missed during the three weekends I’d been away. Listening to the comments of the others there, it seems that optimism remains high and the belief is that Coventry will continue to grow in strength the longer the season goes on.
Rowland Winter came over and sat with us for some time and offered us an interesting insight into a couple of areas that have been the focus of some discussion on the Messageboard and elsewhere over the last few weeks.
The first is the use of the box kick, and indeed kicking out of hand in general.
I got the impression that RW at times gets a little frustrated by the crowd’s reaction sometimes to Coventry’s tendency to use the box kick when defending deep in their own half, especially in their own 22.
Having heard the reasons why the box kick is used, I’m much clearer as to why it can be such an effective form of defence and, if the kick is accurate and the chasers have time to run the catcher down, why it can also create plenty of attacking options.
I think RW feels that on occasions the scrum half, in particular, is given a hard time of it by supporters when using the angled kick, often from the base of the scrum or a lineout, most notably when the ball is caught by the opposition wing or full-back in space and with our chasers too far away to put the receiver under pressure. It is not something that is well received by some in the crowd.
As he explained, ideally, the chasers would reach the player as he lands having caught the ball, but even when this doesn’t happen and the receiver has space to run the ball back, this isn’t something that worries the coaches unduly.
Hopefully, I can explain why…
Firstly, the box kick is used principally when the opposition is lined up across the pitch, defending against our ball when we have possession in our own half, and more often than not in our own 22. By putting the ball behind the line of 14, effectively there is only one player in a position to play the ball, usually the opposing full-back or one of the wings. Cov will always use it in that situation, as all teams will. It is part of the modern day game.
Ideally, the kick will hang long enough to allow our chasers to reach the player almost immediately he receives the ball (but not in the air obviously), but even if that’s not the case, it still means that 14 of the opposition have been turned.
The coaches believe that Coventry’s defence when the opposition is in possession is good enough for us to either achieve a turnover or, more likely, for them to go through several phases only to then make little or no progress, in which case they kick the ball back, or make a technical error in the form of a knock-on or forward pass as a result of the pressure we put them under.
If they do kick the ball away, we tend to be far more dangerous than the opposition on the counter attack given that our attack tends to be more effective than the opponent’s defence. So even what may look like a poor kick to the crowd actually will almost always give us the advantage in terms of relieving the pressure on our own line AND using our defence as a means of attack.
RW clearly gets why it might be frustrating for the crowd to see Cov appear to give the ball away on occasions, but the players are under instructions to do so and at times he feels that the comments coming from the supporters can be unsettling for some of the players, especially those who perform better when their confidence is high.
It was an interesting discussion, made all the more so because Mark H was there to put across the other side of the argument and whilst Rowland Winter clearly accepted his concerns, he wanted to make it clear that crowd reactions do impact, both positively and negatively, on the team’s performance.
Having had time to think through what RW had to say, it certainly made sense and when the likes of Pete White or Dave Brazier next use the box kick, or Will Maisey kicks for a territorial advantage, I’ll make sure I look see how Cov then defend against the possession they have handed back to the opposition.
I hope that reads ok…although I’m not sure I’ve done total justice to Rowland Winter’s explanation as to the reasons why Cov will kick in those sort of pressure situations. Before I forget, he did also make the point that in the past Cov sides have sometimes tried to play their way out of their own 22 by going through phase after phase, keeping the ball in hand. On occasions this has led to players either dropping the ball and giving away a scrum or, worse still, being too eager at the breakdown and conceding a penalty in a crucial area of the pitch.
This developed into a wider discussion about the role of the crowd and the effect it can have on the players. RW stressed that the Cov roar has a massive impact on the team and can lift players to another level at times. The players are very aware of the supporters’ responses, especially in the main stand given the sheer numbers and it is one of the reasons that we have such a strong home record.
However, at times the crowd can be extremely quiet and it’s often when Coventry are in the lead by a good few points and the tensions that create that Cov roar no longer exist. It’s at such moments that he feels the team go off the boil a bit, almost reflecting the mood of the crowd. We’re well in front and the expectation is that the team is in a pretty strong position so the urgency tends to wane.
When this does happen, Cov has a tendency to lose concentration, often allowing the opposition back into the game or, at the very least, lessening the pressure it places on their opponents and allowing the game to open up. And how many times this season already has the opposition, behind by a shed load of points, scored the last try (or two) of the game?
To be fair to Mark, the lack of atmosphere is something that I know that he, amongst others, has commented on this season. The Butts Park Arena can be a fairly subdued place at times given the average gate we are currently enjoying this season. I think the coaches really do see the crowd as being something special here at Cov and they very much want to use it to the team’s advantage, especially in those games where we just cannot afford to lose concentration, particularly in the tough run up to Christmas.
He also made the point, and this harks back to something I mentioned earlier, that when the crowd is having one of its quieter moments, you can hear many of the individual comments that are being made. He’s been aware of it when in the technical area or at the side of the pitch and he knows that sometimes what is said does impact on some of the players as they can hear them, too. If you are a ‘confidence’ player, then it goes without saying that such responses can cause uncertainty, and that when good teams will sense the advantage is shifting.
RW wasn’t being at all critical, merely making an observation or two, and I think he was probably looking to the likes of Mark to enthuse the crowd as only he can. The general feeling was that there would probably be a crowd of round 1300 tomorrow, give or take, and RW believes that Bishop’s Stortford might bring along something approaching a 100 themselves. If the majority of the crowd gets behind Cov, then the team will have a significant advantage from the moment that first whistle is blown.
Having watched all their games, RW believes that other than Blackheath, Bishop’s Stortford will be the best team we have faced so far this season and it will be a good test for Cov. The visitors aren’t dominant in any one area, but are strong across the team and the squad has been together for several seasons now with a effective set of coaches.
They do have plenty of pace in the backs but as the game goes on, if the Cov pack can take control, then this can be negated by ensuring they see little of the ball. I think RW is expecting it to be a lot tougher than perhaps some supporters are and just because they are very much the New Kids On The Block…
…it might very well be a case of ‘Hangin’ Tough’ for a while.
(I was going to add that I can do boy bands as well, but that might not sound quite as it’s meant… 🙂 ).
RW did seem to believe that, as of now, all the injured players other than Tom Poole should be back in the next five to six weeks at most, including Alex Grove. If that is the case (and providing we don’t pick up any more, other than very minor ones), then we should have pretty much a full squad to choose from going into those last five games or so before Christmas. The good news is that Tom should be back by February, which is so much better than it could have been.
Many of the clubs in National One haven’t rotated as we have – for instance Blackheath has played it’s front row for the full 80 minutes of all five games so far this season (and I think RW mentioned that was the case with Plymouth as well). It should mean that as a squad we are far fresher (and fitter) than most of the opposition and either Plymouth or DMP are certain to drop points given that they are going to be playing each other before then.
Whilst he didn’t say as much, it is clear we are masters of our own destiny at the moment. DMP probably have a harder set of fixtures up to Christmas than we do and if we can keep doing what we’re doing, we could find ourselves in a strong position going into the new year. And we’ll need to be with away games at Ampthill and Plymouth still to come.
RW is very pragmatic about Coventry’s chances – he rightly says that there will come a time when we lose a game or two.
The real test of how good we are will be how we react to that first defeat.
One loss isn’t a concern in itself as we would still be very much in the mix. It is very unlikely either Cov or DMP will remain unbeaten this season – what we can’t afford to happen is a situation similar to that of last season when having lost closely to DMP, we then lost against Blackheath, Esher and Rosslyn Park and could only draw at Hull before Christmas. With the experience that we’ve brought in this season in the form of Narraway, Makaafi, Tuitupou, Nilsen and Grove that’s unlikely to happen, but we won’t know for sure until the winning streak of 13 games eventually comes to an end, as it surely will.
Hopefully, it won’t be on Saturday.
And especially if the crowd is in good voice…
I’ve never bought a record of any sort by a boy band, but sadly I have heard one or two and sometimes they have an unfortunate habit of becoming earworms, those songs that stick in the dark recesses of the mind only to reappear every now and again, much to one’s embarrassment.
That said, I did buy ‘I’m In the Mood For Dancing’ by The Nolans for a student party once.
It all started when this girl moved into the room opposite in the Halls of Residence…
For those of you who can summon up the courage…here is New Kid On The Block with ‘Hangin’ Tough’