Club talk

Looking ahead to Darlington…the Emperor’s new clothes…Ampthill on Saturday

This is probably very much a me thing, but as the season has progressed, the gap between games appears to getting longer and longer as what stated out a mere possibilities mover ever nearer to becoming probabilities.

The words ‘watched’, ‘kettle’, ‘never’ and ‘boils’ spring to mind…

Time should go quickly when you having fun.

Perhaps this is the exception that proves the rule.

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A week between games seems so much longer now than it did back in September. As the anticipation grows, so does the excitement and at the moment I’m almost as bad as my grandchildren as they count down the days to Christmas.

Only they’ve got an excuse…

It’s just 5 days since the trip down to Rosslyn Park, but in my head we’ve already played Ampthill – we won comfortably in the end, by the way, although not without the compulsory onslaught on our line in the minutes leading up to half time and the three try blitz in the first 10 minutes of the second half.

I’ve now moved on to Darlington Mowden Park, the game that most supporters singled out as being the toughest of the fixtures in the first half of the season when they were first published (with the visit to Plymouth after Christmas perhaps offering the toughest challenge in the second).

And there’s some potentially good news on the Darlington front…

Like most teams, including Cov, DMP has made use of a number of Academy players from their ‘neighbouring’ Premiership side, in their case Newcastle.

Nothing wrong with that, it would be hypocritical to suggest otherwise , although the decision by the RFU to allow National One clubs to field up to 13 players attached to Premiership sides is probably a step too far for me…but that’s a discussion best saved for another day.

Of greater interest, is that on a couple of occasions when Darlington have struggled this season, most recently in their 22 all draw away to Bishop’s Stortford last month, their dual regs weren’t available.

And guess what?

…if I’ve read it right, Newcastle Falcons have an A League fixture on the Sunday after the Cov game, against Worcester Warriors.

17/12/2017 14:00 NC Worcester Cavaliers v Newcastle Falcons Sixways

It’s probably wrong to hope that Newcastle insist on recalling their dual regs for the Worcester game, but what the heck…

…I so hope they do.

Saints also have a game on the Monday, away at Leicester Tigers of all clubs. And, looking at the trade off, I think I’d be happier to lose the likes of Fraser Dingwall and Tom Emery (presuming that at 27, Tom Kessell would remain with us that weekend if required) if it meant that Darlington lost their dual regs as well.

season 9 hbo GIF by Curb Your EnthusiasmI appreciate this makes me a bad person, but with Sam Tuitupou now back and Anthony Matoto seeming to have fitted in so well in midfield, we have more options at 12 and 13 than on recent weeks, so we could manage without Fraser.

And providing Max Trimble and Rob Knox are both available to play out wide, together with the additional options of  James Stokes or Kwaku Asiedu  (with Ben Palmer of even Tony Fenner going to 15 perhaps), I think we would have a far stronger side without our Academy players than Darlington would have without theirs.

Fingers crossed on that one.

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Sue and I are off to Berlin on Monday, me to drink my fill of Glühwein at the Christmas markets and Sue to visit the Reichstag Building, the Brandenburg Gate and probably enjoy an evening with the Berlin Philharmonic…

..in a musical sense, that is.

Brownie points for me and the understanding that although we don’t get back until very late Friday/early Saturday, I’m off to Darlington on the coach first thing in the morning.

Provided the flights work out, it’s win/win.

I might not be my usually sparkling company on the way up to the game, but it’s a small sacrifice to make in the scheme of things…I imagine that Sam, my son, is pleased that he has to miss the Darlington game.

7 hours sitting next to me on the coach might have tested even his patience.

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We’re approaching game three of the five game run-in to Christmas that most believe to be the toughest run of games over the course of the whole season.

And supporters couldn’t have asked for more of the team in the opening two games, with victories against Plymouth and Rosslyn Park proving probably a little more straight forward then we might have imagined back in August. That’s not to say they weren’t tough games, or that we weren’t made to work hard for the wins, it’s just recognition that before the start of the season both games were likely to be two of the toughest.

As the season has unfolded, Park haven’t as yet proved to be the threat some thought they might. Plymouth, my favourites for promotion before the season started, have flattered to deceive and three losses and two draws has meant that they are 16 points behind us already.

I remember early doors in September, Rowland Winter saying something along the lines of a 5 point lead come Christmas and he’d back us to be promoted come April. That wasn’t born of anything but the real belief that Cov will always get stronger as the season progresses.

And that’s hard to argue against given the form Cov displayed from December onwards last season, and I wouldn’t imagine that he’s seen anything in National One this season to make him change his mind.

Even with significant injuries, especially in the backs, we have looked head and shoulders the best team in the league so far, even with the occasional tight game. The difference between Cov and the teams immediately below us is that even when producing a below par performance, we are still better than the opposition.

And with some key players due back in the next few weeks, the squad should have far more depth come January

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We’re nearing the point in the season where we’ll begin to hear the first ‘it’s in our own hands now’

Certainly, bonus point wins against both Ampthill and Darlington would put us 22 and 17 points respectively ahead of both going into the second half of the season. From thereon in, if we show similar form as that of the second half of last season, Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter will have completed what they set out to achieve, only 12 months earlier than originally planned.

Sounds simple put like that, doesn’t it?

If only it were.

There’s still a long, long way to go, with 17 games to play – although 17 sounds a lot less than the 30 as was, back in that first week in September.

There will be those who won’t want talk of promotion mentioned until it is almost upon us, that in some way it’s tempting fate.

I’m afraid I’m not one of them any longer.

1aI want to enjoy this season, to make the most of it as it unfolds game by game.

To deny where we are and the possibilities that are opening up to us is to somehow play down all the hard work and effort the players and coaches, and indeed everyone involved in the club, are expending week-by-week to make the dream a reality.

Many supporters have waited a long time to get where we currently are as we edge ever closer to a promotion winning season.

Not to celebrate, to refuse to allow ourselves to get increasingly excited, and openly so, week by week is a bit like the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes, with supporters failing to acknowledge what is becoming increasingly evident…

giphy57Players and coaches will always talk about taking one game at a time, which is the right and proper thing to do.

They have to remain focused…

But not supporters, surely?

We can be ametropic.

Indeed, should be…

In fact, I’m seeing so far ahead at the moment that I’m positively diplopic – winners of National One this season, top 4 of the Championship next.

It’s no fun if you can’t gaze into your crystal ball every now and then…

One of the great things about  Sunday mornings is opening up the paper to look at the National One table and working out how  far ahead we are and how many games in hand we have. And who doesn’t check the fixture list to see how the end of the season pans out and when our nearest rivals play each other…?

Hands up, I certainly do…

Okay, maybe it is just me, but if that is the case, I’m probably getting far more enjoyment out of the season than those who don’t.

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In a similar development to that at Coventry, this season Ampthill has set up an Academy side that runs alongside the Ist and 2nd XVs.

Ampthill already have a very strong junior and mini section and were one of the first teams to win the RFU’s ‘whole club accreditation’. But whereas they started bottom up, we have approached our community rugby slightly differently, choosing to go the top down route.

According to their website, the intention is:

 that, within two years, the academy programme will provide three players per season capable of playing at National 1 standard.

with the mission statement being:

to assist the development of players aged 18-22 years and to provide a pathway from youth rugby into senior rugby and potentially, a semi-professional contract with Ampthill’s 1st XV currently playing in National 1

I guess the focus is very similar to that of Coventry’s Academy, although presumably if we are promoted and can sustain Championship rugby over a number of seasons, we will be looking to produce youngsters capable of playing in tier 2, rather than 3.

Ampthill also have a team in the Zoo Sports Shield competition and will be playing our Development side prior to the main event, with a 12.30 kick off (and hopefully at the BPA).

However, a word of caution – whilst we play our development side in the Zoo League, according to the official fixture list, Ampthill play their 1881 XV which is their 2nd XV.

That’s standard practice amongst most clubs, and it is one of the reasons why Cov chose to enter the competition in the first place.  Whilst most of our side will fall into the 18-21/22 bracket, opposition teams, more often than not, will consist of players in the senior squad or close to it.

For our lads that means a real step up from the level of rugby they were probably playing just a few months ago and it’s precisely that kind of experience they need.

It might well be that someone like Pete Weightman, who played for Cov a couple of seasons back under Scott Morgan and moved on to Ampthill when Rowland Winer arrived, will be in the Ampthill side to play the DS.  I always rated Pete and was pleased to see him stay in National One.

Pete’s only made three appearances for their senior side so far this season, so if he’s not injured he could well be involved. And if Pete’s typical of the calibre of player Ampthill will be fielding in the Zoo Shield game, it will be a tough match-up for our lads against the side third in the league.

All-in-all, it should be a great day’s rugby.

4 replies »

  1. A bit late now, but a word in defence of Sammy Tuitupou….. I have watched him for the last few years at SALE SHARKs and he was a real favourite there. He was good in his general play and renowned for his tackling, the chant of ‘Sammy’s gonna get you’ was very appropriate! And this is in the PREMIERSHIP. He didn’t get many if any cards to my knowledge, and I think his current run, if that is what it is, is unfortunate. John Butler reported that he felt he had been hard done to, to be given a yellow card in in the Rosslyn Park game….The disciplinary report confirmed my view that he is a good player, very hard, but fair and he seems a nice chap to boot. I think the RED CARD was entirely out of character. Now I hope that isn’t asking for trouble against Ampthill!

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    • Thanks, Kevin.., I’m sure Ampthill will have done their homework on him and seen his record over the last couple of games. Should be interesting to see how it all unfolds out there tomorrow!

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  2. As a former news editor, I was ‘shocked’ to see two difficult words in this blog, Tim! I had to look one of them up!
    Joking aside, I’m still very much worried about the threat from Ampthill.
    Fascinating debate about who starts where in the backs. Matoto has done really well, but I’d still like a distributor in there, such as Fenner. It’s something I’ve advocated and Eddie Jones obviously heard my pleas – and then Gatland.
    As a fly-half/full-back in my day, I saw the game differently to the centres or wings. My job was to create time and space for the fliers to do their thing when I played 10. I’ve no doubt Tuitupou or Matoto can do that with bells on, but I rate Fenner and Stokes has done so well at full-back.
    Ah well, the discussions that are part of rugby.
    Let’s get the win so you really can enjoy your German sojourn.

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    • Hi Mark – the centre pairing is a difficult one – the loss of Groves and Heath has meant we’ve had to play someone out of position most weeks.
      Tuitupou is able to get players running off his shoulder as he creates the breaks and half breaks, but for me his discipline is in question…a red and a yellow in his last couple of games isn’t what’s needed, and with two very important games coming up.
      My guess is the coaches will opt to use him as a ‘finisher’ again on Saturday, he was very effective in that role and start Fenner alongside Matoto…
      Glad to see Jones and Gatland have an ear to your selections. RW next, perhaps!

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