Saturday’s referee…solutions on the field not off it…Pete White
Some of referee Calum Howard’s reading of the Laws of Rugby certainly bemused the coaches and players last weekend, something that Rowland Winter made an oblique reference to in his post-match interview with John Wilkinson which is now available to read on the official website.
Probably choosing his words rather more carefully than I am, the Coventry DoR referred to:
…some interesting interpretations of the Laws which we didn’t adapt to, so we’ll have to look at that
Whilst Rowland might have found them merely ‘interesting‘, some of the supporters seemed incensed and there were one or too fairly strongly worded tweets on social media challenging Howard’s decisions, especially at the scrum and the breakdown. One or two of the supporters during the game were in fine voice, too.
That said, I don’t know enough to get into the technicalities of whether Calum Howard was right or not, but I’m sure having reviewed the game over the last couple of days, the coaches will have a better idea of just how interpretative he was. However, the reaction was strong enough across so many at the game to suggest that maybe his views were in the minority.
One thing is for sure, the coaches will have analysed those interpretations and filed them away for future reference.
Coventry’s planning is meticulous and just as the coaches go through the opposition’s previous games to plan how best to play them, so do they with the referees, too. Ask Rowland Winter about any of the referees who are regulars on the National One circuit and he’ll be able to point out their strengths and weaknesses and what Cov can and can’t get away with depending on who is officiating.
He knows which referees he can talk to before a game and which are best left well alone and with many he’ll know exactly what his players can do at the breakdown or whether they will need to change their scrummaging slightly to fit in with a particular referee’s approach to the game.
Cov leave nothing to chance and quite often RW will talk to supporters during Thursday night training and be able to pinpoint in advance how that weekend’s referee might impact on the set plays or the allow more advantage than others. I guess it is all part and parcel of the professional game, but I’m still a little in awe of just how much of a stato RW is. However, maybe that willingness to plan in such detail is a key to the team’s current successes.
Such is the level of preparation for games by the coaches that even decisions regarding selection can be determined by the referee officiating.
As well as providing detailed information about players and clubs, Statbunker also provides some interesting statistics about the referees, too.
Below is a screenshot of some, but not all, of the referees who have officiated in National One games so far this season and I believe it is up-to-date as of today, Tuesday 5th December. Apologies that it isn’t as clear as I would like, some of the clarity is lost when downloading onto WordPress.
It would appear that Calum Howard has refereed more National One games than anyone this season so far, a couple or so ahead of the likes of Daniel Collins and Veryan Boscawen. Hardly surprising, therefore, that he has awarded more cards than anyone else – that is only to be expected.
What is perhaps of greater interest is the average number of cards per game that he has awarded, something that provides a far better comparison.
Of those referees who have overseen five or more games this season, Calum Howard is the second most liberal user of cards in the league, with an average of 1.56 per game, which makes him a man to be wary of.
With the average points conceded whilst down to 14 men being apparently 7, at its most simplistic that means that Coventry could potentially be giving away around 10 points a game on average if both cards were to befall Cov – and that is just far too many.
Calum Howard has tended to give more yellow cards out in the second half, a period presumably when the scores are reasonably close and teams are doing all they can to earn themselves the victory in the minutes leading to the final whistle.
In defence of Calum Howard over the sin bins on Saturday, having already spoke to the team it was almost inevitable that there would be a yellow card in the moments leading up to half time. Cov were defending in numbers and Park was within a couple of metres of the line and looking likely to score.
Narraway’s actions did prevent quick ball, giving Howard little option but to award the yellow. With Park only a couple of feet from the line and looking to drive on, it could have been worse.
A calculated risk that paid off, perhaps.
Sammy Tuitupou’s yellow was less clear…in fact it was opaque.Lt looked a fair tackle to me.
In his interview with John Wilkinson this week, Louis Deacon said that he would:
like to see us finding solutions on the field a little bit sooner rather than taking until half-time to find that extra gear
It’s something that RW alluded to at training recently. In order to push on further, one of the things this team must do is ‘self-manage’ (my words, not his) more effectively.
What I mean by ‘self-manage’ is to be able to make the important decisions themselves, without having to rely on the coaches to do it for them. Presumably, LD was a little frustrated on Saturday because it took the half-time talk to put right some of the problems that Cov had been encountering during the first half against Park. Ideally, the players would have been able to regroup during the game itself and quickly identify what needed to be done to counter, for instance, Park’s early dominance in the scrum.
RW has said it is something that the coaches have been working on from early on last season. In order to empower players into making on-field decisions, certainly the senior players (and it might be all) take it in turns to look at a recording of the game the previous week and feedback to the whole squad the key points from it, points that could become a priority during that week’s training. The players are, in effect, taking ownership of their own performance and whilst the coaches have their own input too, as well as ensuring that what the players are highlighting is the correct focus, the players have a greater responsibility in defining the team’s outcomes.
It something that some players have found difficult, especially the feedback to their peers which is never easy if you’re not a confident speaker. However, the ability to spot a problem and then suggest how this could be countered, or what could be done in training to work on it, is important. Players thinking for themselves and, more importantly, having the ability to react as events happen on the pitch and not afterwards with the aid of a recording of the game, is going to set them apart from other teams in this league for sure.
It also enables the coaches to identify the leaders, those players who can determine where the difficulties are, identify the solutions and earn the respect of the players in order to make changes in the context of the game itself.
We’re definitely moving that way and it’s something even the best sides struggle to do.
Bringing in the big name players this season, those with plenty of Championship, Premiership and even International experience behind them, is one of the reasons why we look a far more organised team this season, one not so inclined to hit the panic button if we encounter a difficult spell during a game. Ironically, despite his yellow on Saturday, Luke Narraway’s presence on the pitch has been a real catalyst for this.
Narraway exudes confidence and he has the ability to change the pattern of a game, something we saw way back in September in the opening game over at Hull where we went two tries down in the opening 16 minutes. He began to take the momentum to Hull, keeping the ball tight and in the forwards for a few minutes to calm things down and it didn’t take long for us to gain control, after which we began to score freely. Although he’s not as high profile on the pitch as a Makaafi or a Tuitupou, in many respects his contribution is just as great.
The ability of the players to micro-manage their own game is something the coaches want of this squad of players, especially in games that are close going into the final minutes. Against OE we saw this, with the team all on the same wavelength, able to switch to a defensive game plan in those final minutes when the game demanded it and all knowing exactly what their roles were.
It was good to see Pete White involved in the pre-match warm-up on Saturday, looking more than ready to step into the breach there and then.
It was only back in October that he was being stretchered off against Bishop’s Stortford with what looked like a really serious knee injury, so to see him looking so close to a return was a big bonus.
Pete came and had a chat before the game and everything he said confirmed how eager he was to get back into the senior squad and play competitive rugby once again. He knows he’ll probably be given a game in the Zoo League just to get some game time, but he made it clear that he wants to be involved in the trip to Moseley in the pre-Christmas fixture. He was well aware of the number of supporters who would be there and knows even by the standards of the Cov/Mose fixtures he’s already been involved in, this one is going to be a bit tasty.
Home from home,
What was really evident was how much Pete has bought into what Cov means to the supporters and the importance of the Mose fixture in particular.
I guess as a player you always want to be in the big games, the games that generate that extra excitement.
And here’s the thing …yes, Tom Kessell has been exceptional since he joined us a few weeks ago, and his class is evident in all he does. But for me, in those sorts of games, the local derbies that mean so much to both clubs, despite Tom’s proven ability at a level well above National One I think I’d rather have a Pete White play against Mose. Sign Tom tomorrow and I’d be writing something different, but there are some games where heart and passion are key, and Pete has those in abundance. (He’s also got one of the firmest handshakes – my texting fingers were in real danger on Saturday).
He lives for his rugby; from the moment he was injured he was desperate to get back and to wear the Cov shirt once again. If Tom’s contract ends at the end of December, which is what was said at the Forum, provided he is fit and his form is good enough, then bring back Pete (and Dave Brazier if fit). Tom has done his shift, has arguably been our best player in some games, but he is a Saint at heart. Ampthill and Darlington, fine – Tom’s our man. But in the cauldron that will be Billesley, a ground where Pete represented England Counties so successfully last season, bring him back.
Same with Grove too, although that might be a step too far. And pack the derby day with all the players who have played for Moseley previously, and there are a fair few…Tolmie, Dacres, Oram, Brazier, Preece, Grove to name but 6.
Make it local…
Make it personal…
Make it Cov…