Day 5 of the Coventry’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) 2017 poll results and this time it’s 8th place that’s up for grabs.
And you voted for:
It’s not often that news of players joining Coventry Rugby Club make Sky News’ rugby headlines, but that’s exactly what happened when the story of Sam’s move to Coventry first broke publicly on the 25th April 2017:
Sam Tuitupou leaving Sale Sharks to join Coventry
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 25/04/17 12:04pm
It even created interest over in New Zealand and such was the surprise over there that, on hearing that Sam was leaving the Premiership, the newswire over there must have presumed it could only have been to drop by just the one division such is the respect in which he is still held over there:
Former All Blacks back Sam Tuitupou is leaving English Premiership club Sale to join second-tier outfit Coventry.
4pm NZ Newswire
or maybe they just knew that with Sam in the side Cov would be a second-tier side before the year was out…
I have to say, I was somewhat taken aback to find Sam as low down in the poll as 8th, but whatever the reasons for the way people have voted, it does highlight just how strong the current squad is if 7 players are ahead of Sam in the final reckoning.
In fairness, he has only made 8 starts, barely half the number of games played this season, although that is based on Statbunker which isn’t necessarily the most accurate of sources – as can be illustrated by the two yellows against his name and the obvious absence of the red against Cambridge.
Once again, a player’s value to the club is somewhat subjective and non-quantifiable and purely on the contribution on the pitch, maybe a position of 8th is about right given the performances over the first half of the season of some of those still to appear. However, for me (and I totally accept that this is purely my own opinions on the line here) he has brought so much more than just his presence on the pitch.
The news of Sam’s imminent arrival produced plenty of interest in the club even before he set foot on the pitch and I know of a number of supporters who have visited Cov this season purely to see how Sam and one or two of the other Galaticos have been faring. Pre-season sales of Coventry’s season tickets were up considerably on the previous season and part of that must have been down to the Sam factor – a name like Tuitupou is always going to add plenty of interest before the season starts.
Rowland Winter said as recently as a couple of weeks ago at a training session that his name alone could be a decisive factor in players opting to come to Cov in the future.
It might well be that they have never heard of Rowland Winter before, especially if they have been playing Premiership or Championship rugby, but a quick search of the squad list would bring up the name Tuitupou and there won’t be a player in the two leagues above who won’t know of him. And when you see his name there alongside some of the other big name signings, you know Cov is a club that means business.
In terms of Coventry’s recruitment, it might not be a USP but it could be an important factor in whether a player shows an initial interest in the club or not.
It’s also true that opposition teams have to prepare differently when Sam is likely to play – for instance, when attacking he’ll draw in two or three defenders in a bid to stop him and that frees up those around him to make use of the space he creates. I think it’s fair to say that Cov weren’t overly keen to make it known when Sam would be returning to the team after his recent ban just to keep the opposition guessing.
In the last couple of games he has made a number of decisive line breaks and whilst he might not have quite the pace to finish them these days, more often than not there is someone on his shoulder to take the pass that leads to a Coventry score.
He’s not tall, no more than 5′ 9/10″ I would guess, but he has a very low centre of gravity and is exceptionally hard to put down, and his strength both in his upper body and in his legs allows him to break most first tackles.
But it’s his defence for which he is perhaps best known. Only three seasons ago, the Sale coach at the time, Steve Diamond, said on signing Sam that he:
is the best close-tackling No 12 in the country…For him to agree for another two years is massive for us…
Now I’m not for a minute suggesting he is the reason why Coventry’s defence this season has been quite as niggardly as it has been – another summer signing, Luke Narraway, together with the coaches under Nick Walshe have to take a lot of credit for that. But that said, I’m struggling to recall a single missed Tuitupou tackle in the games he’s played and when players are tackled by Sam, they rarely get up. Such is the power he hits players with (legally, that is!), they are also prone to lose the ball in contact.
It’s no coincidence that this season we have the best points difference of any team in the league as well as conceding fewer points per game than any other team. Clearly, that’s not down to Sam alone, of course it’s not, but it does need players with the skills of a Sam Tuitupou to be able to carry out a game plan.
In citing his reasons for joining Cov, RW mentioned that a couple of the factors involved were that Sam:
was looking for the right opportunity to develop his business interests alongside playing, as well as beginning the transition over the next couple of years towards becoming a coach
Certainly at training I’ve witnessed Sam talking tactics with the other backs and his influence on some of the younger players must be a huge positive for the club. Whilst he might well be developing his business interests, another real positive is that Sam has been really committed to the cause and seems to enjoy being part of Project Cov, as do his family.
That said, I have noticed that as the afternoons have got that little bit colder, so Sam has tended to come out of the changing room that little bit later, often in tracksuit bottoms – after all the seasons he’s been playing in the UK, I still don’t think he’s grown used to the cold weather.
As far as Cov’s reasons for bringing Sam to Cov, well they were always straightforward enough:
Sam is well known for being a hard-hitting, powerful midfielder and I have no doubt that he will add further quality to our back line…Our intention has been to add more experience to our young squad with players who understand what we are building and trying to create, and who add value to our club.
Sam will bring experience and leadership, both on and off the pitch and that will be a huge advantage for us.
And that’s clearly been the case…the quality Sam possesses even in this, the twilight of his career, is obvious to see and he’s had a big impact in all the games he’s played.
One of the things that perhaps hasn’t been mentioned a great deal but applies very much to the likes of Sam Tuitupou and Luke Narraway is that those involved in bringing them to the club must also take plenty of credit for being brave enough to take the risk.
And selling the club to someone like Sam, who surely must have had a number of other offers from both Premiership and Championship clubs, and probably more lucrative ones at that, must have been challenging.
You can only guess at the conversation Rowland Winter and Chairman Jon Sharp must have had when Sam’s name was first mentioned – nine caps for the All Blacks, a Premiership legend and looking for another two years…
There will be many Cov supporters who can still remember the arrival at Coventry of Zinzan Brooke. Now Zinzan was on a different level even to Sam as far as being one of the greats of the game, but with hand on heart, whilst Zinzan produced some amazing individual skills, including drop goals and America football style passes, his impact on the team was probably a good deal less than Sam’s, from the outside looking in anyway. Zinzan also missed a fair few games due to commentating commitments, too.
This might sound like heresy to some, but in a season where there is a real chance of Coventry being promoted, given they both joined Cov at similar stages in their careers, I’d have a Tuitupou over a Brooke anytime.
And on that note, I’ll duck back down into the trenches….
Current standings – Coventry Rugby Club MVP poll 2017:
Day 1 – Anthony Mototo (12th)
Day 2 – Phil Boulton (11th)
Day 3 – Heath Stevens (10th)
Day 4 – George Oram (9th)
Day 5 – Sam Tuitupou (8th)
And here’s the trophy that the winner of the poll will receive – no expense has been spared to purchase this lovely epoxy resin 9″ tall monster of a prize , suitably engraved with the legend:
Coventry Rugby Club
Most Valuable Player 2017
(Awarded by the Cov Blog)