In doing a bit of background reading on the players who featured in the MVP over the last week, a common trait amongst most is the overwhelming desire to play Championship rugby.
For some it would be a return, for other’s their first experience of rugby at the next level up.
Not so, of course, for those who have dropped down from higher leagues to end their careers at Cov and begin new ones, but for those still with time enough to do so, it was a recurring theme.
And that’s as it should be.
Ambition, if channelled correctly, is a real motivator and that is what Cov needs at the moment – players driven to test themselves at a higher level.
Which is why retaining players relatively early, presumably in the final few weeks preceding Christmas given the announcement this week, could well work very much in Cov’s favour.
Many of those featuring in the poll mentioned in their discussions with John Wilkinson at various times over the last 12 months or so that one of the reasons they signed for Coventry was the belief that as a club, Coventry itself is ambitious and the direction it is currently travelling in was very much the right one for them.
And still is by the sound of it, as we know at least 17 or 18 of the current squad have re-signed and a further five or more will soon follow, although it’s not clear whether that includes those players who are in the first year of a two year contract. These players have presumably committed themselves to the club in the belief that they will be playing Championship rugby in the near future; if not this season then next.
You’d hope given that there is clear daylight between Cov and the chasing pack that for most it wasn’t too hard a decision to make, other than perhaps agreeing personal terms.
And here’s the thing…having committed themselves so early, they are going to do their damnedest to make sure Cov is promoted to avoid another season in National One, especially in view of the present uncertainty over ring-fencing. Jon Sharp has said openly it is the reason why Cov recruited so strongly last summer and it’s a threat that hasn’t yet gone away.
Other players in other clubs, with ambitions just as strong to play in the Championship, must look at where Cov are presently and wonder what it will take to knock us off the top of the table. And, more importantly, question whether they can commit themselves to another season or two with their clubs given Coventry’s chances of promotion. However committed to their club they are, players in clubs below Cov must be having to contemplate life in National One for at least another season.
Whilst Coventry players have re-signed, maybe it will become a case of those in the chasing clubs soon just becoming resigned to the most likely scenario…Coventry winning the league? The more we win, the more likely that is to happen.
Will their key players be prepared to re-sign to their current clubs knowing that the promotion/relegation system currently in operation could yet change in 2018/19 and that next season there will be a relegated Championship side in National One as well, which won’t make promotion any easier?
Does that gives us a slight psychological edge…?
I would argue it probably does, especially as both Darlington and Plymouth aren’t playing this weekend following the postponement of their respective games.
If Cov win today, and that’s by no means guaranteed, even with games in hand a gap of possibly 18 and 22 points between us and the teams most likely to be our closest rivals begins to look huge.
Points in hand or games in hand?
Points every time.
There are only three free weekends left before the end of the season and the way they are spread out, it looks as if Darlington won’t now have a blank Saturday until 31st March – and that’s presuming the weather doesn’t result in the postponement of another fixture between now and then.
That’s going to be a tough old slog for them and there will be players who will feel the effects of that, especially as Darlington aren’t able to rotate their team quite as much as we can. A Cov win today and that 18 points is in effect a four game lead, near enough, and that presumes Darlington don’t drop any more points between now and the end of the season.
It’s more for Plymouth…
Their players will play their hearts out, of course they will, but in a game of percentages, if they do dwell for too long on Cov’s unbeaten record so far and what it will take to catch us, then even if it impacts slightly on their self-belief, then that’s a huge bonus for us.
And if the better players in the chasing teams are indeed holding off re-signing because they want a shot at the Championship and if it’s not with the team they are currently at, then they’ll have to move on – well that creates a bit of additional uncertainty.
And anyone who follows sport at this sort of level and above knows how uncertainty can impact on performance.
Can, not will…
But I would certainly argue that once again things have worked out in our favour…before the break we saw so many of the key fixtures involving the chasing pack end in the results we wanted. Lady Luck was with us then, and I would argue she has remained faithful this first week back.
Cov must continue to make their own luck, too, by winning 11 of the last 15 games, 12 at most. We are already three ahead, even before the stagger starts to come into effect and I can’t see any of the teams below us going through the remainder of the season unbeaten.
With so many players now committing their futures to Cov for at least another season, we can be sure that when they put on the Cov shirt they’ll be 100% focused and certainly won’t have to be worrying about how other clubs are faring week in, week out. For the other sides below us that just isn’t the case and if we win our next few games, then that starts to become increasing demoralising. The fewer games left to catch us, the more the pressure builds.
The coaches won’t be taking anything for granted and the planning and preparation for every game will remain just as focused as it has for every game so far this season. 18 months ago Cov set out to become professional in all that it does and that has to be reflected in the way the players approach these next few games.
We know that promotion is now very much a reality, but it will take all involved in the club to play their part, from players to supporters and everyone in between.
The club really is now the master of its own destiny and having worked so hard to get itself into this position, I can’t see it doing anything to jeopardise it.
As for the game today, well it’s another of those infamous banana skins…a side with only 3 wins so far in the league this season, playing away from home against what many of the other clubs in our league are now calling the champions-elect.
For a change, OAs have opted for some consistency in their selection, something that even the club’s match previewer notes with a slight hint of self-mockery:
It will take plenty of effort to ensure this lack of manpower changes (so unlike any other week of this season!) will not unsettle an Albanian side used to starting an outing with a welcoming ceremony for those players who have not yet been introduced to their peers!
Good on him (or her)…
But in a rather more Churchillian tone adds:
Albanians need not worry about this match since it could be said they have nothing to lose, playing against this most fancied of sides. Well there is plenty to lose, the foremost of which is self-respect and no player will take the field at Butts Park without optimism and firm belief in the art of the possible.
…kind of reinforces the point I made earlier.
Strong belief or a hint of insecurity…?
We’ll find out in a few hours time, but the memory of what OAs nearly achieved over at their ground in September will still loom large for Cov and if I were a gambling man, I’d expect to see a fired up Coventry come at the opposition hard in the opening quarter, backed hopefully by a loud and vociferous crowd.
A few key changes as well on the Cov side, with highly rated Luc Jeannot making a well-earned debut alongside Phil Nilsen and Titchard-jones. Good luck to Luc in particular, hopefully the first of many Cov starts for the youngster.
Brett Daynes, alongside Olly Povoas and Latu Makaafi makes for an interesting back row and certainly one that will prove a handful for any side in our division. Brett has had a great first half of the season and must have played more games than even he might have expected, whilst Olly probably has been a little unlucky with the quality ahead of him in his position.
RW hinted that he’s certainly one of the players who will be with us next year when he said that he’ll be have a big part to play for Cov over the next few seasons and it’s worth remembering that for all his experience, he’s still younger than many in the Development Squad. He was one of the standout players in the second half of the last season and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he is so again today.
It certainly won’t get any easier for OAs as the game goes on with the bench looking as strong as it’s looked all season. Off goes perhaps Latu and on comes Jack Preece, or Fenner’s exit heralds the arrival of Will Maisey, or Nilsen’s departure brings on Tolmie.
There is always the danger of complacency, if not within the team then amongst the supporters. That said, from what we know of the likes of Louis Deacon, Nick Walshe and Rowland Winter, I really can’t see that creeping in amongst the squad…especially when so much is at stake.
Here’s hoping Cov can put in an 80 minute performance similar to that of the first 40 against Moseley. If we do, then you’d hope Coventry supporters will be leaving the ground happy come 4.45pm.
If they don’t, then Darlington and Plymouth might just get the pick me up they are so much in need of…
Up the Cov.
I’m not even going to try and guestimate the size of the crowd today. I suppose it all depends on whether the momentum that Cov had in terms of support before Christmas remains after the festive break (it’s a month since the last home game, if you exclude the Moseley fixture of course!).
As always, I’ll be tweeting updates from the first team game this afternoon.
Cov has its own match day Twitter feed (@CoventryRugby), although mostly just the scores and the main moments in the game (I’m not sure about OAs – I did look but couldn’t find one).
If you’re interested for something slightly different, then I try and give a sense of the atmosphere as well and tend to tweet far more, a lot more in fact, so if you’re at home and just surfing the net trying to find out anything you can about the game, this might be a different option.
The tweets, when combined, make a crude ‘commentary’ of sorts.
Be warned though, you might get well over a 130 plus tweets during the course of the game – so if that is too much, mute me and use the club’s official feed.
Please bear in mind, I am a bit one-eyed when I tweet. I’ll certainly be fairly emotive I imagine, so be warned if you are tuned in!
I’m on @Cowshedtim
Apologies in advance for some of the typos that appear. For some though, deciphering the tweets adds to the occasion.
If you aren’t familiar with Twitter or don’t have an account, then on the homepage of this blog (www.coventryrfc.me) all the tweets will appear in real time on the far right of the page, towards the top end. Click on it to increase its size.
Albanians need not worry about this match since it could be said they have nothing to lose, playing against this most fancied of sides. Well there is plenty to lose, the foremost of which is self respect and no player will take the field at Butts Park without optimism and firm belief in the art of the possible.Albanians need not worry about this match since it could be said they have nothing to lose, playing against this most fancied of sides. Well there is plenty to lose, the foremost of which is self respect and no player will take the field at Butts Park without optimism and firm belief in the art of the possible.