Day 11 of the Coventry’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) 2017 poll results and this time it is 2nd place that is up for grabs.
And you voted for:
So last year’s winner James Stokes just misses out on retaining the 2017 Most Valuable Player award.
And it was close.
But sadly…no cigar this time.
One of the benefits of having access to John Coles’ fantastic match day photos is that you get to see things that you just can’t pick up from sitting in the main stand. Take James Stokes for instance…
…he definitely has a ‘scoring’ face.
With a little more thought I probably could have come up with something rather less likely to be misinterpreted, but you’ll understand better when you see the photos below, all of them taken as James is in the act of scoring, so-to-speak:
There are plenty of others, all showing a big grin across James’ face, often before he’s even crossed the line.
His scoring face…
James appears to enjoy his rugby and that shows in the way he plays the game…he’s one of those rare charismatic players who has ability to change the mood of a crowd in seconds. In training and before a game he’s always relaxed and if he does get nerves before a game, then he certainly doesn’t show them.
Enjoying the game is clearly what is it all about for the 26 year-old and in enjoying his own game, he makes watching Cov that much more enjoyable for the supporters, too.
All you can do is play rugby and play well, so if I’m doing those and just happen to go up through the leagues, that will be great. But I’m happy just to keep playing rugby and enjoying myself, that’s fine as well and all I really want to do
James is a crowd pleaser, someone who when he gets the ball will create that sense of excitement that something special might just be about to happen.
How many times this season have we seen Stokesy pick up the ball deep in his own half and, for a second or two, just jog forward as he looks for the gap, perhaps searching for the props who have strayed out of position or the defender caught on his own. And then there’s that searing pace as he accelerates, usually having taken his weight on the one leg to make it seem as if he’s going in the one direction, only to propel himself off in the other, completely wrong-footing the defender in the process.
Few players have in this league have that ability to create something from seemingly out of nowhere, but for me the thing that is most striking is that he’s not a player to takes risks.
If he sees a chance for the counter he seldom, if ever, puts his team mates under pressure and he seems to have the ability to quickly calculate the risks, ensuring that he’s never left isolated.
James has already scored 11 tries this season, 1 behind Lespierre. I’d be really interested to see the number of ‘assists’ he has compared to the former Cov winger. Dom is a great finisher, but James Stokes is so much more than just a try scorer and that’s where his he really becomes such a valuable asset – he’s a creator of tries as well.
Other than in the 2013/14 season, before Rowland Winter brought his more expansive game to Cov, we tended to indulge in far too much kicking which seemed aimless at times, literally so more often than not, and it sometimes resulted in a game of rugby ping-pong with full backs or fly halves taking in turns to hoof the ball backwards and forwards to each other, by-passing the remaining 28 players on the pitch.
It didn’t make for the greatest of spectacles, that’s for sure.
Now, however, with Coventry defending so high up these days and invariably putting so much pressure on the opposition in and around their own 22, they’re forced to kick…
…or at least I’m hoping they will be because you know full well that James will have positioned himself in the right place to take the catch. He usually jumps into the ball and turns away from the chaser, and he is probably the best catcher of a high ball I’ve seen in a Cov shirt. Period. He is fearless and if the chasers aren’t up quickly enough, James will be off on another of those runs that sets the crowd alight.
I can’t remember James dropping too many high balls, in fact the only one that stands out was when James had probably his least effective game in a Cov shirt away against one of the London sides last season – Rosslyn Park probably.
The team were losing, and losing badly and James misjudged a catch from a high kick and knocked on. He was evidently disgusted with himself and kicked the ball away in frustration and it wasn’t long before he was substituted (how often does that happen?)…I think he was carrying a knock at the time and the team just hadn’t got off the coach to be honest. You could see that day just what it meant to him to fall below his own high standards.
But he is also strong defensively and it’s an area of his game that sometimes gets overlooked given so much talk is about what he can do with ball in hand. Just like his catching of the high ball under pressure, he’s fearless in the tackle too and seldom lets an attacker slip through his grass.
James apparently started life off as something of a round ball player and didn’t play any rugby until he was 13 or 14, but he soon got hooked on the game and having been spotted by Rowland Winter he played representational rugby for Midlands U20s and England Counties Under 20s.
After a rapid rise through the junior clubs, James ended up at Nottingham in the Championship but he didn’t progress as much as he would have hoped and, despite two seasons there, he only made a couple of British and Irish Cup appearances, a paltry return for someone of his ability. Their loss and in the end Coventry’s gain I have to say.
By James’ own admission he ‘lost it a bit’ only f0r Rowland Winter to rescue his career by bringing him to Cambridge where he’s continued to excel:
I’ve got some regrets that I didn’t progress as I wanted to there, but it gave me a stepping stone to Cambridge which was a bit of a drop down but made me fall back in love with rugby.
It was far from a straight forward decision to leave Cambridge and join Coventry when RW moved on. Speaking to John Wilkinson for an article on the club website, James admitted:
I was given a life by Cambridge, they got me a job, a lot of which was down to Rowland and the old boys and people behind the scenes you don’t really know about but who did so much for me, so it was a massive decision to leave.
But I’m really glad I made the move.
I have to say, there are one or two Cov fans who are pretty pleased he did, too. And the nice thing about James is he’ll always say a hello and seems genuinely appreciative of the supporters. He has a really positive take on his life as a professional rugby player:
I believe that if you’re enjoying your rugby it kind of reflects in your performances. I’ll just keep working hard:
It’s a very positive view to take and no matter what you’re job, if you enjoy it and work hard at it, well it stands to reason you’re going to get more out of it. As players like James go into schools in and around the Coventry area, you kind of hope that’s one of the messages they are able to get across to the youngsters they meet.
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched any Championship rugby and the standards will no doubt have improved somewhat since Cov were last in the second tier of English rugby, but I can’t help but feel that a player of James Stokes’ ability will thrive in that environment and he deserves the opportunity to prove himself again; he’s earned it.
There are any number of reasons why it would be good to get back into the Championship, one of which is the chance for players like James to show some of these current Championship sides exactly what they left slip through their fingers.
Given what we saw of Rotherham and Jersey during the pre-season, I don’t think he and many of the other players in the current squad (not to mention those still to come in) would look too out-of-place and we could be fairly competitive certainly in the bottom half of the Championship.
But before that, there’s a job still to be done this season and hopefully James’ form will continue over the remainder of the season and he’ll be the league’s top try scorer come April (along side Scott Tolmie, Max Trimble, Rob Knox etc etc).
The current triumvirate at the back of Trimble, Knox and Stokes is so entertaining to watch these days and if the three of them can keep fit, then they are going to score a hatful of tries over the remainder of the season and it will be interesting to see if either of the two current wings can catch James in terms of the number of tries scored.
Well done, James!
And so to the announcement of the winner tomorrow…
Apologies to anyone who received a very rough draft of half of this post yesterday! Sue was out yesterday afternoon, so I decided I’d take advantage and get the post done whilst she was out instead of when she’d gone to bed. Big mistake!
Nothing went to plan and I ended up pressing the publish button instead of the preview! Off it went to Twitter and to everyone who subscribes via email.
It disappeared from my screen and it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out what I’d done – by which time it would have been seen by a good few! Never mind, I deleted it and hopefully not too much damage was done in the end.
It’s a good job I was on my own – I did vent my spleen somewhat!
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)
Day 9 – Will Maisey (4th)
Day 10 – Scott Tolmie (3rd)
Day 11 – James Stokes (2nd)