I left the BPA yesterday evening in no doubt that Coventry are both physically and mentally prepared for the challenge of facing Cambridge at Granchester Road on Saturday.
Having watched a fair few of these sessions over the last 16 months or so, this was probably the most interesting in that for the first time I witnessed a couple of incidents during the final captain’s run where tempers were a little frayed and players resorted to a bit of pushing and shoving,
Nothing much at all and on both occasions it all calmed down very quickly, but it was indicative of the intensity of the training and the competitive nature of the players.
There are certainly no signs of complacency in the Coventry camp after 8 straight wins this season and with several players returning to fitness and pressing for places in the senior side, there’s a plenty of incentive to train hard midweek.
When the opportunity does come, players want to be sure the coaches know they are ready to seize it with both hands and those in possession of the shirt want to make sure it stays that way. Players have points to prove…sometimes the cauldron bubbles over.
Listening to Rowland Winter yesterday, it was clear that this week’s trip to Cambridge doesn’t carry anything like the emotional significance either for him or the players that it did at the back-end of last season, when he and the ex-Cambridge contingent returned to their former club for the first time since their arrival at Cov.
Back then, there were some bragging rights at stake, I guess. RW had steered Cambridge back to National One and had left, on very good terms, to further his career with a bigger club more likely to achieve Championship rugby in the next few seasons.
The decision has obviously been shown to be the right one. Cov sit at the top of National One and are probably the current favourites now for promotion to national rugby’s second tier, whilst Cambridge look to secure a second season in National One and at best most likely a mid-table position come April. Without wishing to appear patronising to Cambridge, both would be a real achievement for the respective clubs.
I remember listening to Rowland Winter as he chatted to supporters before last season’s trip to Cambridge in March. Back them it was evident that he wanted the win against his former club as a matter of personal pride as well as to for the five points at stake.
Nothing wrong with that at all.
Seven months on and last night it was all about momentum and the need to keep the pressure on the opposition.
Business as usual in that sense.
There was no mention of his own feelings this time round and talk of the game was centred purely on selection and what Cov might expect from the opposition on the day.
It didn’t occur to me at the time, but at no point did either Rowland Winter or the supporters (14 in all this week!) make any reference to the potential record run of games that will have been achieved if Cov do come away from Cambridge with the win on Saturday.
Now you would have thought someone would have brought it up at some point in the 25 minutes or so that RW was with us…is it something the players talk about, do you worry that in a close game it could be a problem psychologically, how will the squad celebrate if the current record is broken.. etc etc.
But no mention at all. Nothing.
Odd really, but in retrospect, I think such was RW’s focus on the game itself, the squad and matters related, that any thought of records became entirely superfluous to the main narrative – that of the game itself.
Even before his arrival, no one amongst the supporters had made mention of it in the 50 odd minutes we were together, yet it has been a constant topic of conversation in the build up to the game, even featuring in the official club reviews of the game.
Don’t get me wrong, should Cov win and that record is broken, then there will be plenty of celebrations in the clubhouse afterwards. So much so, in fact, that I hope to goodness both the supporters’ coaches have toilets in them; they might well be occupied for much of the return journey given the number of ageing bladders that will be in attendance.
RW clearly has great respect for the progress that Cambridge are making under Ross Stewart, but everything he said yesterday evening came from the head and not the heart this time around. Coventry will arrive at Cambridge on Saturday seeking the win and a bonus point to boot purely to keep that gap between themselves and the chasing group – for no other reason.
From what he had to say, I think we can expect to see a different type of game from Cambridge than in the past. They have a stronger pack and are much tighter defensively and are probably less inclined to run the ball quite as much as they once did. Their centres remain a real threat though, and indeed it was Albert Portsmouth who was one of the standout players in March when Cambridge staged such a strong comeback in the second half .
There’s plenty of reasons to respect Cambridge. But not fear them. I honestly don’t think this squad fear anybody in the league this season, and on current form, nor should they.
By the sound of it, selection for Saturday wasn’t as difficult as it can sometimes be. In the past, Rowland Winter has talked about rewarding players for good performances and given that we haven’t conceded a single point in the last two (and a half, almost) games, wholesale changes would have been unfair on the players who have performed so well of late.
I’d previously mentioned that I thought Rowland Winter would want to bring the likes of Narraway and Nilsen back into the side for this game, but he is sticking with the same pack that was been so dominant in the games against Fylde and Loughborough. They’re both in the match day squad and doubtless will play a part, but other in games where players need to be rested, it seems the DoR is happy to pick by form rather than experience for the time being.
The plus here, of course, is that the less game time that players like Narraway and Nilsen have at the moment, the fresher they will be when they do eventually return – presumably against teams like Ampthill and Plymouth? Clubs like Blackheath continue to play many of their more senior players every game and, for the most part, in 80 minute shifts. It’s a long, long season and with Coventry’s tendency to rotate in the front row and back rows especially, maybe that is something that will give us an advantage come January and February.
And suddenly some of the players with longer-term injuries look to be close to a return to the senior squad, although with the current side doing so well, it might be a while yet before we see them in the starting XV. Anthony Fenner starts at 10 for the Coventry Development team, Rob Knox is probably only a week away and Pete White is making better than expected progress and could be back in 4 or 5 weeks.
Also, in the Coventry Development side is Waila Setu, making a return to the back row, with Ben Palmer playing at 9. Jubb and Gray start in the second row with Hutchinson moving to 6 and Morley and Jeannot (although he took a knock in training) in the front row. On paper at least, it’s looking a really strong side.
The pack, in particular, would give several current National One sides a pretty testing time – which is exactly as you’d want it to be. With some exciting young backs (including Joe Lane at centre and Max Titchener at full back) behind them to profit on what one would hope to be the lion’s share of the ball, it should be an entertaining game.
A few weeks or so ago, there were a couple of rugby league players at a Thursday night training session, but as they weren’t there last week I’d forgotten all about them. However, I think the two of them are playing for the Development side on Saturday. Both have played at the highest level in the game and at least one has played international rugby.
They will only be here for a few weeks until the league season starts up again in March (or presumably before to allow for pre-season training etc). However, next summer, there is a possibility that a more permanent move could come about depending on their own situations and, of course, which league Cov is competing in.
If that is the case, then the experience they are currently getting now and over the next few weeks could prove invaluable. Both have played union before switching codes in their late teens.
Unfortunately, kick off for the Coventry Development game is 2.30, half an hour before the senior game starts, so it is unlikely that I’ll get to see much, if any of it. Had Coventry been mid-table and the 1st team game not carried quite the significance that it does, then I might have watched the first half and then headed for the main pitch. As it is, I don’t think I could settle to watch it, knowing the other game was also being played.
Probably the most interesting thing to come out of the chat with Rowland Winter yesterday was his response to the comments made by Steve Hill in last week’s The Rugby Paper regarding a proposed expansion of the Championship next season from 12 clubs to 14.
Now I was expecting him to pour cold water on the possibility and move quickly on, but this wasn’t the case at all. Far from dismissing the idea, he confirmed he’s heard it said from several sources and whilst he didn’t know whether it would come about, he was obviously keeping an open mind for the time being. He talked about some of the implications of such a change, both for Cov and for National One generally – but perhaps that’s for another day.
Given the possible importance of such a decision for Cov, I’ll highlight the salient points that came out of the TRP’s article in the next day or two. Wouldn’t it be ironic though if we were to win the league outright only to have a second team promoted along side us?
Mind you – were we to finish second and end up being promoted, I guess I wouldn’t be quite so ungracious then!
All-in-all, it was a really interesting session. Cov looked to be fired up for Saturday’s trip to Cambridge and if they are focused purely on the win and are making nothing of the fact that it’s Cambridge , then I feel that much more confident.
From listening to Rowland Winter yesterday, it’s clear that both he and the players with previous connections to Cambridge RUFC have all moved on. Supporters like me might want to make something of it and there’s clearly time to reminisce after the game, but as far as the team and coaches are concerned, theirs is a professional approach with absolutely no place for sentiment on the pitch.
It’s another example of just how disciplined the Coventry squad is becoming both individually and collectively.
Should be a great day out tomorrow…
It won’t be long before Winter sets in and I’ll be bringing my thermos full of coffee along to training, together with a warm blanket, a bobble hat and matching scarf and gloves.
Sue has exactly the same set and so as to avoid confusion, we’ve had a big HIS or HERS embroidered on our scarves.
For those who haven’t met me, or indeed Sue…
Just think Harry and Hilda from ‘Ever Decreasing Circles’.