Club talk

Championship changes…mental toughness and the need for consistency

You have to learn to pace yourself
(Pressure)
You’re just like everybody else
(Pressure)
You’ve only had to run so far, so good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with pressure
You used to call me paranoid
(Pressure)
But even you cannot avoid
(Pressure)

Billy Joel – Pressure 

It looks like any lingering hopes that two teams could yet be promoted from National One into the Championship next season have been dashed with Nigel Melville’s statement last week that plans to increase national rugby’s second tier have been put on hold for the time being.

Melville, the RFU Rugby Director, had make it clear a few weeks ago that he would be in favour of scrapping the British and Irish Cup and instead increasing the number of Championship fixtures from 22 to 26,

The lack of funding for the beleaguered competition – clubs only receive money for competing in it if they reach the quarter-final stages – means that it hasn’t been taken seriously by most Championship clubs, with sides often containing a host of development squad players and those on the fringe of the senior squads.

According to Melville, the additional 4 Championship games brought about by the increase from 12 to 14 clubs would make more financial sense, with two more home games a season together with a reduction in squad sizes, given the removal of the B & I Cup.

The playoffs have already been discarded.

However, Melville couldn’t get agreement amongst all the Championship sides for his proposals, with several concerned that because the RFU have said there would be no additional funds available until 2020, two more clubs joining them would spread the money even more thinly.

However, whilst this hopefully won’t effect Coventry when we win the league outright this season (!), the plan hasn’t been totally rejected, merely put on hold. Further talks later this month could well look at making such a change in the future, from 2019 onwards.

In a Neale Harvey article in The Rugby Paper last weekend, Melville suggested that:

nothing was off the table

However, there is a change to the Championship next year that could well be of interest to Coventry. According to Neale Harvey:

the unloved British and Irish Cup is to be scrapped and next season replaced by a domestic competition for Championship clubs 

That would potentially be far more  financially viable than the B & I  Cup, given there would be less travel involved, BUT a cup competition that only involves the 12 sides already in the league could lose some appeal – especially if it’s the same format as before, which seems to be what Harvey is suggesting:

The format is likely to involve regionally based pools, potentially with quarter finals, semi-finals and a final, although that has to be confirmed

giphy48Poor Bedford, if we are promoted.

Beaten home and away by Cov in the league next season and then again in the Cup. You can see why it might lose some of its attraction to clubs struggling at the lower end of the table who are playing the same side 4, even 5 times a season and perhaps losing them all.

Melville believes that by having a regional competition first, before the knock out stages, there would be an increase in the number of local derbies –  thereby attracting bigger crowds and increasing revenue streams.  That’s all very well, but you might have some difficulty persuading Cornish Pirates that games against Bristol and perhaps Hartpury are really that local to them.

And as for Jersey…?

Still, the Winners’ Cup would look good in the trophy cabinet alongside the Olney 7s Cup we won in the summer…

Nigel Melville’s motives are honourable in that any changes that come in next season are designed to:

make sure clubs get the right number of home games

Several times in the past, Jon Sharp has made the point that the BPA will never be solvent if it is only ever used for just 15 home games a season.

At the moment, Championship clubs are surviving on just 11, together with the poorly attended British and Irish Cup games.

Something has to give…

One of the reasons Melville cites for abandoning the B & I Cup, other than the travelling, is a lack of enthusiasm for it on the part of the supporters. I have to say, I’m not sure that this will really ignite their imagination if truth be told. It’s a shame that there isn’t space in the National One season  for a cup that would include teams from the Championship and National One – I do think that might have more meaning than what is currently being proposed.

I’m sure a Cov v Nottingham fixture in an FA style knock-out cup would certainly generate a fair degree of interest from Cov supporters and I can’t see Rowland Winter putting out a Development Squad team on the day either.

Ideally, it would be good to include the National Two leagues as well, but my only fear there would be that in terms of fitness and physicality it might prove something of a mismatch if, say, Broadstreet was drawn away to Bristol. It sounds a recipe for injuries to me and DoRs from the lower leagues might well want, understandably, to protect their players. However, more and more National One sides are moving towards a more professional set up, so it should be a far fairer contest.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pure speculation on my part, but I’d imagine that most Championship sides would welcome a club of Coventry’s size back into their league.

At the very least, Cov would bring a full Supporters’ Club coach and a small army of fans by car to each and every away game.

More to Bristol and Bedford, I expect.

If we took 300-350 to Cambridge and probably 150 to Old Elthamians, I’d expect those numbers to increase were we in the Championship, and at £20 (?) a person plus all the food/refreshment sales that go with those sorts of numbers, then that’s some serious money coming into their clubs, something I’m not altogether sure a club the size of Hartpury would necessarily bring with it.

Likewise, I’d hope Cov would also benefit from increased away support at our home games and, unlike some clubs in National One, at least we are equipped to deal with those sorts of numbers. I’m not sure, for instance, how Ampthill would fair with a couple of coach loads of Briz fans turning up at theirs on a cold, wet and miserably Saturday afternoon in January?

And whilst I really enjoyed my day out at Old Elthamians (sounds like some care in the community day-release scheme – which to be fair is pretty much where I’m at these days), the lack of facilities there are already a problem even in our league.

Anyone who is a bit frail, ill or just unsteady on their pins, couldn’t spend a good hour and a half out in the cold watching OE (or Ampthill, Loughborough…not sure about Caldy and Bishop Stortford)…and that’s a shame. I know of a couple of folk who would have gone had there been a stand in which to sit and less of a walk to the pitch.

Should there be a minimum required for ground facilities even in our league?

Should upwards of 500 playing spectators be expected to watch their team play in what could be really unpleasant conditions?

Okay, you get the option not to go, but the British weather is pretty temperamental at the best of times and you could make the journey believing it is going to be pleasant enough, only to find it’s anything but and you’re then faced with the prospect of 90 minutes or so in the some very inhospitable conditions.

Would it be unfair to expect all clubs coming into National One to have some sort of shelter and/or temporary stand when budgets are so tight?

Or is it wrong that there are supporters who won’t go some games because there is no shelter from the elements?

Maybe that’s ones for another day, but there’s certainly a case to be made on both sides…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I was drawn to an article in which Eddie Jones talked about what England need to do in order to the best team in the world and how much of what he said echoed with what we have heard from Rowland Winter and the coaches over the last few weeks.

Under Jones, England has progressed immeasurably from the team that made a humiliating exit in the group stages of the last World Cup to a team that has now won 20 of its last 21 games, the only defeat coming in the Six Nations, against Ireland in the final week of this year’s Championship.

Coventry, are unbeaten in the last 19.

Despite the great run, Jones feels that England has yet to prove itself to be the best team in the world and won’t until its performance show far greater consistency:

While we had periods in the Test series, we weren’t consistent enough and that’s something we need to develop if we’re going to be the number one side in the world….There’s a fair bit of work to go into that.

And that’s something that is true of Coventry, too, albeit at a very different level.

If Cov does want to be the very best in our league, then the same applies – the team has got to show even greater consistency than it is at present. To have won the opening 11 games of the season is remarkable, and certainly a far better start than I had imagined  back in September, but if Coventry is to maintain this form, then it has got to strive to improve even on such a perfect record as this.

There have been moments in most games so far this season where Cov has lacked discipline or focus, where we’ve started too slowly or allowed the opposition back into game because we’ve failed to finish them off. Indeed, in one or two games we’ve just not been at the levels we’ve come to expect from Cov over the past 12 months.

However, Coventry has always done enough to come away with the win and the coaches then worked on ironing out whatever the weaknesses might be.

One of the things that Eddie Jones feels is a real strength in the England squad, and this is also very true of Coventry as well, is its ability to cope under pressure.

We won the last 20 minutes of all three Tests and that’s extraordinary and shows their mental toughness.

It’s when the heat is on and the pressure is on – you’ve got to make those right decisions and that’s what New Zealand (do) 

And it’s an area Cov has made huge strides in since Rowland Winter arrived.
In previous seasons we’ve not coped well under pressure, losing games in the final quarter as teams came back at us – we’ve lack self-belief.
However, even when Cov were being beaten all too easily down in London before Christmas last year, the signs that Coventry were toughening up were already there, with Will Maisey three times winning the game for Cov in the dying minutes following Coventry holding on to the ball, working their way into the opposition 22 and earning themselves the penalty when any loss of discipline would have resulted in us losing the game as well.
Remember the home games last year against Old Albanian and  Moseley?
Jones defines that sort of mental toughness as making the right decisions when the heat is on. The final 10 minutes of the Old Elthamians game last weekend illustrates that perfectly.
We were under real pressure, in or around our own 22 for most of that time and defending against an OE side that had battled back into a game that was their for the taking after 20 minutes or so. Everyone knew their roles, everyone performed not for themselves but for the team. Mentally we were strong and our discipline was immense – no penalties were given away in that final period, no one missed tackles or gave away a set piece under pressure. The usual signs a team is feeling the strain, a misdirected kick, a knock-on, a forward pass or a dropped ball – we saw none of them.
And we’ve seen that several times this season already…against Cambridge in the second half was another good example. We’ve been  beating teams mentally as well as physically.
 Plymouth next Saturday and the four following games will be a big test of Coventry’s mental toughness, as it will be for those teams facing us.
If we can show the sort of consistency that the Cov coaches have been looking for of late, together with the mental toughness that we see every week, then we’ll be extremely competitive, but keeping such high standards week in week out is, as we have already seen, a big ask.
So far, we’ve been better at doing so than any other team in National One…
Hopefully, that will continue after the mini-break.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Sadly, I’ve already used Bowie’s/Queen’s Under Pressure
So here’s Billy Joel instead…

 

7 replies »

  1. When Moseley were in the Championship, it used to be referred to as the Boring & Irrelevant Cup.

    When you are in the Championship, the only really important games are the league games, simply because of the loss of RFU funding should you be relegated. As a consequence, clubs do not put out their strongest teams, and supporters lose interest. A few hardy supporters with deep pockets used to travel to Ireland/Scotland/Wales to see a couple of ‘A’ teams play – would you?

    I obviously can’t comment on the later stages of the competition because we never made it that far!! (Don’t laugh now.)

    Send a full squad away to play in Scotland/Ireland may involve an overnight stop with all the costs that that entails. (I believe the home club keep all gate receipts at least in the early stages although I stand to be corrected on that score). Or you get the chance to travel there and back in a single day……nice.

    It’s probably only hearsay, but speaking to several people ‘in the know’ at Moseley, they were of the opinion that we lost money on the B&I cup.

    Like

    • Hi Martin – hope all is well; we’re definitely missing those video clips this season!
      As I understand it, clubs get no money from the competition until the knockout stages and, as you say, with home clubs keeping the gate receipts, away days become very expensive.
      Hardly surprising clubs don’t want to risk their top players and that supporters don’t enthuse. Losing money is unsustainable so it’s hardly surprising something has to give…increasing the number of teams to 14 would seem a viable alternative, although clubs in National One might lose out a little if, say, Plymouth and Cov both went up.
      Both take a fair amount of away support with them and can make a difference to receipts at home games (gate for Cambridge was 500+ larger than the average which is in effect an extra home game).

      Like

      • All being well you’ll get some highlights from the Moseley game! (Nothing stopping you from volunteering to do your highlights is there?)

        The only way the Championship will ever get expanded to 14, is for the RFU to stump up the central funding for the two additional teams. The current members are never going to vote to share their central funding with two more – would be a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas!

        I wonder what the additional funding would be as a % of current RFU expenditure?

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  2. After being starved of such fixtures, other than pre season friendlies against traditional Welsh sides, it’d be a shame not to get to see Cov play the Irish provinces or Welsh regions next year if we’re promoted. I think there’d be an appetite among Cov fans to travel and attend the home games. Possibly for the nostalgia and/ or novelty after 8 years in the Nat One wilderness. Getting a pass from the wife to go and watch Cov play in Cork would be the stuff of dreams!! So if Nigel doesn’t mind holding out for at least 12 months…

    Like

    • I understand what you’re saying, but if Cov were only to put out a second string side, would supporters splash what is a pretty large amount of cash to travel to see them play…not sure even I would tbh? Would rather wait and see Cov in Europe!”

      Like

      • “Would rather wait and see Cov in Europe”

        One step at a time Tim, one step at a time…….

        Like

  3. Hi Tim re the point on facilities, I still recall vividly going to watch Scott Morgan captain the Ba Bas at Bath, altough seated, with the rain teeming down in an uncovered stand and thinking that a club of this status treats its supporters this way.
    There should be a minimum standard of facilities that we the paying public should be entitled to no matter how old or fit we are.
    Among the essentials should be the minimum flood lighting standard., decent number of toilets and a covered seating area.

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