Just a brief word before the main post to wish everyone reading this a very, very happy New Year both on a personal level and as a Coventry Rugby Club supporter.
These are exciting times for the club and, for its long-suffering supporters, hope is now turning to belief.
For all those involved in Coventry’s success – the players, the coaches, those who work in the office and around the ground, as well as on the Board – here’s to a successful 2018.
And finally, a huge thank you must go to everyone who follows the blog, whether as something just to dip into or on a more regular basis. For me, the writing of it is purely a selfish act from which I get great enjoyment. That others read it too is very humbling and to everyone who has taken the time to come up and say hello at the rugby or write comments on the blog, I just want to say publicly that I am hugely grateful to you for your support.
Happy New Year
Day 8 of the Coventry’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) 2017 poll results and this time it is 5th place that is up for grabs.
And you voted for:
If defence wins matches as is often suggested, then as defence coach alone, Luke Narraway’s value to the club this season is arguably as great as anyone’s.
Coventry has conceded less than 14 points a game on average this season compared to nearly 25 points a game last season and if that continues over the remaining games then, as likely as not, it won’t be just matches Cov’s defence wins, it will be league titles as well.
I accept it’s far too simplistic to put Coventry’s improved defensive record simply down to the influence of one person, but Luke Narraway came to Cov because Rowland Winter believed his experience would be invaluable on and off the pitch and the club was prepared to support him in his desire to move into coaching after his playing days are over. As he said when Luke’s imminent arrival was announced:
Luke will be a great addition to Coventry. He brings a huge amount of experience and quality from the highest level. He understands what we are building at Coventry and his signing demonstrates our ambition to challenge the clubs at the top of the league. We are committed to supporting Luke’s transition into coaching over the next couple of years, and we look forward to welcoming him to Coventry this summer.
Luke came here in a dual role of player and defensive coach, itself an interesting move in that two of the three previous player-coaches didn’t really prove to be anything like the success that the club must have hoped for, with Brendon Snyman and James Pritchard both leaving before Christmas, albeit it for rather different reasons.
And whilst some of the players drafted in over the summer made a fairly immediate impact, with the likes of Makaafi, Preece and Tuitupou all very prominent from the moment they first put on the Cov shirt, Luke took a while to win over some Coventry fans who needed a little longer to appreciate the influence he has on the pitch and who hadn’t seen his involvement in training sessions over the pre-season.
But as this poll evidences, win them over he has.
Luke Narraway isn’t the rampaging, marauding no 8 that I think some expected him to be at this level. Capped at a relatively young age for England and having played Premiership rugby for much of his career, I think the expectations were that he would be far more of a ball-carrying, game changing no 8 than he actually is and it took a while for some to see just how effective he is on the pitch, even without the ball.
And he is extremely effective.
That said, Luke’s great positional sense often enables him to find space and he’s not short of pace either and he is a difficult man to put down once he gets up a head of steam.
He also does a lot of great work at the back of the lineout, rather like Darrel Dyer did last season. He has also stolen opposition ball too, making him a real nuisance should they decide to go long. Luke is an option that Cov often turn to in the lineout but he seldom gets the recognition in that area I think he deserves.
Cov is blessed with several leaders in the senior squad this season and whilst Phil Boulton has done a fantastic job as skipper, Luke Narraway has also had a big input. He’s an organiser, someone who is constantly shouting out instructions to players, especially when the opposition have the ball. He’s rarely found out of position and in the last few games he’s played it’s hard to recall an unforced error from him. He does the simple things really well and seldom gets the credit he deserves because he doesn’t make the big breaks or score the tries that tend to get players noticed.
Luke has made 11 starts so far this season, as well as a further 3 appearances from off the bench and of those 11 starts, according to Statbunker, he has only had to play the full 80 minutes for just 6 of them. His influence though has been there to see in every game, whether he’s on the pitch or in the technical area. He extremely vocal from the sidelines and you only have to watch him for 5 minutes to see how committed he is to the club and to his role as defensive coach.
He’s another of the senior players in the squad whom Rowland Winter has managed carefully in terms of the amount of rugby that he’s currently playing and whereas many of the clubs around us are having to play their better players every game, and in some instances every minute of every game, Luke hasn’t had to do that so he should last the season out far better than most. With some important games coming up at the back end of the season, if we are still in contention then and need to secure a couple of wins from the likes of Darlington and Plymouth, a fit Luke Narraway could be a real asset.
It’s only 12 months ago that James Prichard’s position as defence coach was terminated with immediate effect following the 42 points we conceded at home to Old Albanian, a game we won, but only just, with another Will Maisey last minute penalty ensuring the points.
At the time Rowland Winter commented:
There are few teams within the league who have scored more points than us, and whilst we have lots of fine-tuning to do, we are in a good place with our attack. In contrast, our defence has not been up to the standard we require and whilst we have seen some improvements, it has not been consistent enough. We need to improve in this area and it’s important that we continue to build.
Cov responded quickly following Pritchard’s departure and brought in Craig Newby to work with the club on a part-time basis until the end of the season and things improved, with only a couple of poor defensive performances against Fylde and Hartpury, both away.
But Luke’s arrival this season has heralded a far greater defensive resilience and there have been times when we might well have come undone in previous seasons, especially against Old Albanian, Bishop Stortford and Old Elthamians.
Indeed, the OE game exemplified the progress the team has made this season defensively – in the final minutes of the game, played almost exclusively in our 22, everyone knew their role and under immense pressure no mistakes were made, no penalties conceded and it was reminiscent of the 20-20 draw at home against Richmond a few seasons back now when league leaders Richmond went through 35 plus phases of possession but just couldn’t break us down.
The only difference between then and now was that for much of the rest of the season our defence was a shocker.
Not so this time round.
Not only that, for almost 5 consecutive hours of rugby spread across 4 games, we didn’t concede a single point, nilling two sides in the process (Fylde and Loughborough).
That’s some record.
Luke seems to be a leader, someone who is able to get the best from his players. Only last season he was captaining London Irish back into the Premiership and in conversation with John Wilkinson a few weeks back, he observed that:
The boys have taken to the principles that I’ve brought in like a duck to water, to be honest. They’ve learnt really quickly, the foundation is in place, and now we can start adding on to that and hopefully developing our defence into something that can be a real asset for us moving forward.
No successful side was ever based on a poor, leaky defence – it’s something that we needed to address for this year, and obviously Rowland Winter has had some faith in me coming in and delivering that.
And delivered it he has.
He clearly takes his coaching seriously and according to the same JW article, Luke already has qualified as a Level Two coach as well as having recently completed a degree in management and leadership.
When Rowland Winter stated back at the end of last season that the club was supporting Luke in his desire to move into coaching, it never occurred to me that his influence would be so great after such a short time with us.
That said, I remember going to one of the very early pre-season training sessions over at Summerhill Lane and being somewhat surprised that Luke was already leading one of the sessions with the senior squad and it was evident straight away that he would make a difference, a positive difference, from day one.
When we travelled up to Hull for our opening game in national One this season and promptly went two tries down in the first 15 minutes, it was Luke Narraway who galvanised the players, leading by example and taking the game to the opposition. After than initial wobble we went on to score 60 plus points and haven’t really looked back since.
Asked by John Wilkinson about the differences between the Championship and National One just after the first home game against Moseley, Luke observed that:
There is some difference in the physicality – some boys are a lot bigger in the Championship and Premiership because of the time they can spend in the gym. But, for instance, the start of the Moseley game was pretty physical and I imagine the perceived top five teams will be direct like that…That’s something we’ve got to pride ourselves on.
Our physicality wasn’t where we expected it to be against OAs, especially after giving a pretty good account of ourselves against Moseley when it was exceptional. We just have to make sure we don’t yo-yo in terms of our physicality and our collisions. I had a great day here against Moseley, the crowd was fantastic, and obviously Blackheath are undefeated, as we are, and with a very tight defence.
A couple of things stand out from that. Firstly, the question of physicality. Max Hartman said something very similar in his presentation at the Fans’ Forum and much to the club’s credit it is already being addressed with the building of the gym at the railway end of the ground. That should give us an edge in the final few games if it is up and running in January as is the plan and should we be promoted in April, the four months before the first game in the Championship ought to enable the players to really work on beginning to bulk up.
Secondly, Luke’s comment about Blackheath and their much vaunted defence at the time. Their Head Coach had made a bold statement prior to the Coventry game about his side having the best defence in the league – never the most sensible thing to say publicly so early on in the season. Luke was clearly aware of Blackheath’s defensive record and he must have been delighted when we promptly put 37 points on the board against them. Proud too, I should imagine.
For me, Luke is right up there in terms of his value to the club given his contributions off the pitch as well as on and I’m really pleased to see him featuring so highly, especially when some big names have already appeared and there are others who will be notable by their absence…
And on that bombshell….
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)
Day 6 – Latu Makaafi (7th)
Day 7 – Nile Dacres (6th)
Day 8 – Luke Narraway (5th)