Boxing Day…and back to a bit of normality.
Day 2 of the great unveiling and it’s 11th place in Coventry Most Valuable Player poll that is up for grabs.
And you voted for:
And this, for me at least, is where the poll is already starting to get interesting, as it all depends how you interpret the word ‘valuable’.
Both as a player and as an influence on the team, Phil’s worth to the club is huge, but he isn’t necessarily one of the players in the current squad who would have the greatest monetary value were there a transfer system in operation similar to that of the round ball game. He’s not going to amass points, nor is he a playmaker. He’s an honest grafter and a leader – playing in on of the less sexy positions on a rugby field.
Given the quality of the squad, eleventh place is a pretty decent showing – 20 odd players failed to even make the top 12. But with the improvements that occurred last season after Phil Boulton took over the role of on-field captain, and have continued to do so this season, his importance to the success of the club over the last 12 months shouldn’t be underestimated.
And it has been acknowledged by the supporters, in this poll anyway.
Without wanting to give anything away regarding future announcements, obviously there won’t be too many players from last season who didn’t feature in the 2016 poll but who make into this one. With the addition of a number of quality players into the squad over the summer, the competition for a top 12 place has been that much greater, so for Phil to get this far and yet not be included 12 months ago shows the high regard in which he is held amongst supporters.
And how supporters view his increased importance within the team and the club as a whole.
That’s further evidenced by the fact that Phil has suffered somewhat from injuries this season and has only made 7 starts, with another two appearances off the bench. Not many really, yet here he is, polling heavily in the MVP.
By the Christmas of last season, Coventry had lost six games and drawn one and the shared captaincy of Eoghan Grace and Tom Wheatcroft hadn’t worked as well as might have been hoped given the injuries/loss of form that the pair suffered. Neither Eoghan or Tom featured in the top 12 of the MVP poll last year.
Tom struggled to get back into the side after a number of injuries and when Eoghan injured his hand/wrist at Ampthill (I think?), the coaches turned to Phil to take over as captain. Since then, Cov has lost just three games out of 29 played. An impressive record by any standards.
No, definitely not.
It was evident even from attending games and watching some of the training sessions just what an immediate impact he had and if any proof is needed, then the appointment of Phil as club captain at the start of this season certainly provides it. Some of the players coming into the club over the summer have experience at the highest levels in the game, but it was Phil whom the coaches turned to.
Commenting himself on the role of captain, Phil said that he’d:
had a run as captain after Christmas last year and I think it went quite well, but with the experience that was coming into the squad and building again, it was something I hadn’t really thought about until Rowland phoned
I feel very privileged and honoured to be asked to be captain of such a famous club and to be among the group of illustrious names who have done it before
Will Maisey at 10 is a leader because he’s calling all the shots, and Tony Fenner captained the side from that position last year. Tom Wheatcroft also captained the side last year, Brett Daynes has been captain, Cliffie Hodgson has got a record for most wins as captain, and we’ve added someone like Phil Nilsen coming who was club captain at Yorkshire Carnegie.
Also talking about the appointment back in June, Rowland Winter observed that:
It’s a well-deserved appointment…we thought long and hard about how we approach the captaincy, and Phil has been an outstanding leader for us since the turn of the year both on the field and working among the squad during the week.
He galvanised the group and, credit to him, a lot of the upturn in results probably came in part from his leadership and his ability to bring them together.
To be able to do what he has done clearly shows that he has the respect of the players and, on the evidence of this poll, clearly from the supporters as well.
I have to say, Phil comes across very much as one of the hard men of the team, and I mean that in the nicest possible way…
He has a really professional approach to everything he does and even in training whilst others relax and unwind a little at times, Phil always remains focused. He’s not a great smiler on the training ground, that’s for sure. On more than one occasion, he’s put a fellow squad members in their places with a tackle that was a little harder than was necessary or a shove and a glare and it is fairly obvious he remains in charge out there at all times.
I’ve always liked the way he’s made the team wait for a moment before going out onto the pitch even at the start of the second half, just getting the players together for a moment so that they enter as a team rather than a group of individuals. Last season, at Fylde I think, he held the players back for a couple of seconds at the tunnel entrance before going out on to the pitch for the second half, and telling his team to listen to the Cov supporters who were in full voice even after what had been a poor first 40 means…it wasn’t for show, it was to motivate his players.
It’s what good leaders do.
I happened to go into the club during the pre-season this summer to meet with Hannah about the work she was doing with Birmingham University on concussion injuries and had to wait in RW’s office while she was seeing to something else. It was, as I recall, the week of the Development Squad’s pre-season game against Nuneaton.
Phil came in and asked Rowland where training would be on the day of the game, to which Rowland said the BPA, even though the Development Squad were playing away that evening.
Phil looked at Rowland and simply said something to the effect that the ‘boys want to watch the game’.
I arrived at Nuneaton to see the senior squad training on the same pitch as the Development Squad were warming up on.
It’s only a small thing, but it is an example of Phil being a:
…tough, no-nonsense leader, and he is well aware of what part he plays within the club’s progression.
He’s well respected among the players, he says the right things at the right time but doesn’t say too much, and that’s what we want from a leader.
(Rowland Winter in an article in June by John Wilkinson)
Phil is also a very useful tight head prop and after a season and a half and 37 appearances for Coventry already, its worth remembering that he had already made over 200 appearances for Championship side Bedford.
Much of Coventry’s success over the last couple of seasons has been based on a rock solid scrum and at tight-head, Phil’s role has been as important as anyone’s. He made 28 appearances last season, missing out on just 2 games which is pretty impressive for any player, let alone a tight-head.
If we are to return to the Championship next season, Phil’s experience could be invaluable should he feel he wants another crack at it – after all, he will only be 32ish (which means he’d have a good 10 years left t Ampthill…).
So there we have it…Phil Boulton in at number 11.
Which means there are some pretty interesting selections above him
The Third Day of Christmas tomorrow…
…so who’s your money on?