It’s Winter and the ice man cometh….
What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of Winter to give it sweetness
John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley
It’s not just Coventry supporters who are excited about the prospect of tomorrow’s visit to Old Elthamians.
Dom Lespierre has also made it clear that he is looking forward to ‘renewing old acquaintances’ when Cov come a-calling, whilst also acknowledging most of those still remaining at Cov will be backroom staff nowadays, with perhaps Rob Knox and Brett Daynes the only players at the club from when he was here.
Dom made 40 starts for Cov and had a decent strike record, scoring 25 in 46 appearances in total. He was a popular player, especially in the 2014/15 season and he looked destined to break all sorts of try-scoring records until he broke his jaw – an injury that saw Dan Rundle come into the side and do so well.
Dom is the sixth highest try scorer for Cov since we’ve been in National One, with Rob Knox currently leading the way with 40 – both Stokes and Tolmie are in 14th place with 16 tries apiece.
In an article on the Old Elthamians website, Dom says:
I’d say I had a good relationship with the Coventry fans – they certainly get behind you especially when things are going well.
which is true for the most part, although there’s perhaps also a suggestion there that maybe we are less so when things get tough.
But that is in the nature of most supporters really and by and large Cov fans wanted Dom to stay on when Rowland Winter first arrived. Dom’s move away from Cov appears to have worked out well for him though, even if he did choose to drop down a league to get back up. Meanwhile, Cov has built up a squad that is good enough to top the league at the moment and has within it three very good wings in tomorrow’s travelling 20, Matoto, Knox and Trimble.
Knox up again Lespierre?
You have to hope so.
Dom’s ability to finish against Rob’s strength and pace. I’d imagine Rob would be happier at the prospect of marking Dom and the other way around…
In the same OE article, Dom falls into the trap that many so many do, namely that:
With the investment, resources and quality of players they have available and a brilliant ground, it would be more of a shock if they weren’t in the position they are currently
Were it that simple, we’d have been promoted long ago, especially if you believe the rumours about Coventry’s past spending. The season Dom was scoring tries for fun at Cov, the squad was arguably the strongest in the league, yet it fell away so badly at the end of the season.
Hopefully, Dom will see Cov’s current success is built on good coaching, good support and a strong squad of players with, crucially, the right mental approach as well.
Ability is important, but attitude counts for so much more, in so many ways.
It will be interesting to see both Dom and Joe Carlisle tomorrow. Cov knows just what to expect from Dom and if he’s given the opportunity he’s more than capable of making Cov pay…but after watching training yesterday, and listening to Rowland Winter as well, Cov will be out to raise its game from the week before and not give OE the time or space afforded to Caldy last weekend.
RW was clearly disappointed in some aspects of Coventry’s performance against Caldy.
Cov didn’t boss the breakdown as they often do and tended to be too concerned with the next phase rather than securing the ball first. They also held back a little bit in defence and rather than pressing and gave Caldy just a little longer than normal to come at them, enabling the opposition to use the ball more effectively.
The coaches have spent time this week looking at the breakdown in particular and if Jack Preece is back, as I’d expect him to be, that clearly gives us a big boost. For me, his contribution to the team when he has played has been outstanding so far this season and we missed his presence out on the pitch against Caldy. He’s such a busy player and his ability to win ball when it goes to ground is as good as good as anyone who has played for Cov since perhaps Eves.
It was clear that Rowland Winter feels that the OE game is a step up from the last four of five and he is expecting a response from his players. I don’t see OE dominating the opening 10 minutes in quite the same way that Caldy did last weekend and from what RW said, we can expect Cov to be fired up from the very first whistle. RW was very respectful of the OE pack, again another big set of forwards who will take a bit of wearing down in the set pieces.
I’m not sure if others would agree, but Cov’s fitness looks to be playing quite a significant part in many games already this season. In previous years, Cov has often had to hold on to leads in the final quarter, with opposition teams coming back into the game. This year, we have finished the stronger of the two teams in almost all games and have conceded less tries in the second half than we have in the first (6 against 8).
In addition, there have been a number of occasions this season when our scrum hasn’t been as dominant in the opening 30 minutes, but it has become increasingly influential in the last 50, with Cov winning more penalties at the scrum and putting the opposition pack under increasing pressure, as they tire and we don’t appear to.
Dom talked about success coming from money, resources and quality players, which of course is part of it. But the pre-season work done by Max Hartman and those who work with him, ably supported by the conditioning team, is having real benefits now. I think Cov will play a tighter, slightly less expansive game early on and there will be plenty of ‘pick up and drives’ as Cov work the ball through the phases…teams can defend the first, second or even third phase, but if Cov retain the ball as well as we know they can, then OE might well be stretched before too long and that’s when the likes of Knox, Matoto and Stokes can cause such damage.
Starved of the ball, often the wide men will go looking for it, causing problems defensively. Exploit that and suddenly the effectiveness of Dom and the other OE flyers is lessened.
Another reason why the intensity within the Cov side might be that much greater tomorrow is that we are building up to the final run into Christmas and that block of five games that could play such an important role in determining just how successful this season is. Whilst all games are important, competition for these five games is going to be particularly fierce. with everyone wanting to be involved.
OE is the last game before Cov meet Plymouth at home and in front of what is likely to be a whopping crowd.
No player wants to miss that.
A good game tomorrow and there’s every chance your name will be on the match day squad list…a poor one and it might be an uncomfortable couple of weeks.
There will be a number of players returning too, with George Oram likely to be fit, together with Phil Boulton and Andy Brown. Contention for places increases as a result and that can only be a good thing for Cov and definitely a bad one for Plymouth. RW mentioned that the way the fixtures have worked out towards the end of the first half of the season is probably in Cov’s favour – with each game a step up in difficulty…Plymouth at home is tough, Rosslyn Park away arguably tougher still. Home again then to Ampthill, second in the league at the moment and another huge game, followed by potentially the hardest of all, Darlington away.
Each game gets that little bit harder and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s better, for instance, than playing top, bottom, middle, bottom and top for instance.
And the final game before Christmas, against Moseley, has that additional emotive element to it and if the new players weren’t aware of the supporters’ rivalry with Mose beforehand, they certainly will be now after the home game back in September.
No real news on injuries at the moment – other than it was really good to see Alex Grove involved in some straight-line running yesterday. Nothing too strenuous, but he seemed to be moving well and was being carefully monitored by Max Hartman. Good also to see Dave Brazier there, with no wrist protector this week, another step in the right direction.
There is a Development game planned for Saturday as well, although there is some doubt at the moment as to whether it will go ahead – doubtless more to follow on that one.
RW confirmed next weekend is a blank one as far as Cov is concerned and the players will be having pretty much the whole week off from training, so there won’t be anything going on next Thursday at the BPA for anyone thinking of going along. A week off is no bad thing and gives everyone the chance to recover from all the inevitable minor aches and pains that go with rugby at this level.
RW indicated that there might yet be another player still to join the club before Christmas, but left us all guessing as to the position and he gave absolutely no hints at all as to the name. One of the many things that has impressed me about Rowland Winter is his ability to bring in quality replacements at next to no notice when required, something that hasn’t always been the case under previous DoRs/Head Coaches. Fraser Dingwall came in for Alex Grove and looks to have settled quickly and after the unfortunate injuries to first Pete White and then Dave Brazier, Tom Kessler’s arrival could be the best of the lot, including those of Willis, James and Howe last season.
We appear to be benefitting greatly from RW’s previous roles as England Counties Divisional Selector, Northampton Academy Coach and obviously his role as DoR at Cambridge. The contacts he made whilst involved in those roles are definitely one of the reasons we are able to recruit as well as we have.
And here’s one final thought to finish off with…
…whilst everyone was immediately impressed with what they saw and heard of Rowland Winter when he was first appointed, there was always that slight worry for some that perhaps the one thing he lacked was experience of working at this level. Young, clearly motivated and ambitious by his own admission, but maybe not quite ready for such a step up from Cambridge to what is a big club in a bigger league
18 months on though, he has a one huge advantage over the other Head Coaches and DoRs of clubs that might also be pushing for promotion along with Cov this season.
He’s done it before.
He’s experienced what the pressures of leading from the front are like when he brought Cambridge up to National One in 2016 – he knows what to expect. He’s proved he can cope with that level of scrutiny, both from within he club and beyond. Other DoRs haven’t had that opportunity so recently, if at all, so all of a sudden it’s his experience that is helping to put him ahead of the pack, rather than a lack of it holding things back.
Whilst I’m sure he’s inwardly not as calm and collected as he appears to be outwardly, he’s shown he can live with that kind of pressure. Expectations at Cov are high, especially from the supporters, but you get the sense that Rowland Winter’s own expectations are that much higher still.
Nerves of steel…
It’s Winter and the ice-man cometh…