I’m a little worried about John Wilkinson .
John is usually Captain Sensible, the voice of reason and someone who never expresses in his writing anything other than good sense and prudence, erring more often on the side of caution than confidence.
So I almost choked on my low-in-sodium, high-in-fibre bran flakes last Sunday morning when I read JW’s report of the Old Albanian game in The Rugby Paper.
All was fine to begin with. The report opened with a single sentence that summed up the nature of Cov’s win ( Cov ‘eased’ to victory as Old Albion were ‘outgunned’) and then went on to detail the key moments of the game including the scores and scorers.
The bran flakes had seldom tasted better.
But the penultimate paragraph was most un-John-like, suggesting as it did that Cov are on their way to remaining unbeaten for the entire season:
With 14 matches still to play, Coventry are now a remarkable 18 points ahead of second-placed Darlington Mowden Park and look set to make it a second successive season with the National One league champions winning every match of the campaign
Now I don’t know John at all, other than through his writings, but this does strike me as being unusually optimistic, especially with so many games still to play. If that’s the angle John’s taking, then things are even better than they look on paper. I have to say, though, that even I’m not quite so confident in my forecasts and whilst I do believe that Coventry will still be heading the table after the final round of games in April, I think the likelihood of us winning every game from now until the end of the season is low, even after such a strong first half to the campaign.
Cov have some incredibly tough games coming up, with tomorrow’s visit to Blackheath being the first of four really tricky away fixtures. John is a far better reader of both the club and the league than most and he won’t have made that comment lightly, but I just can’t see that happening myself. We’ve been run close in three games already this season, and not necessarily against the sides we might have expected to cause us such difficulties – Old Albanian (a), Bishop’s Stortford (h) and Old Elthamians (a).
Are we likely to beat Ampthill, Plymouth Albion, Darlington and Blackheath on our travels as well as Darlington again at home in the next 12 weeks, whilst also playing a number of clubs all of which are capable of springing a surprise? I’m not convinced, although I accept that is a possibility.
However, despite my innate belief that things can always go belly up without the slightest warning, John will have a far better handle on the mood of the Cov camp and have the ears of the senior coaches and so his judgement is a far more reasoned than that of your average supporter of which I am very much one, albeit it one with rather too much time on my hands.
Reading John’s interview with RW on the website (‘An excellent mid-term report!‘), it’s not hard to see why he and others might well be fast-coming to the conclusion that this Cov side could remain undefeated, although there are still too many unknowns for me to be that confident.
7 away games, 7 home games yet to play.
From all that I’ve seen this season, we’re the best side in the division, but we are fallible as the performances in some of the games have shown””””.
As a straight bet, in each of those 14 games we’d be favourites, and with the exceptions of perhaps Plymouth and Darlington, by some distance. But that’s taking away the context. Teams will be very fired up when they play us, we are the scalp everyone wants…
And there is an argument to say that actually Cov need to lose a game or two at some point before the season ends just to see how the players, and indeed coaches, react to a defeat. In the ‘Mid-term’ article on the official website, RW highlighted the fact that two of the coaches, Louis Deacon and Luke Narraway, have yet to lose since their arrival at Cov and the same applies to the likes of Dacres, Nilsen, Oram, Narraway, Preece, Brazier, Grove, Tuitupou and so on. With such a fantastic start to the season, it must all seem a bit surreal for them.
I know from listening to RW at training in the past, it’s important for the coaches to see how the players react to defeat. To go unbeaten all season would be fantastic, but that not going to happen next season if we are promoted and if our first lost isn’t until the Championship, then the players won’t ever have had to regroup the following week and get back into a winning psyche. To do that against Championship opposition for the first time, no matter how experienced the squad is, well that would seem to me to be a tough thing to do.
So whilst everyone is rooting for an unbeaten season, a loss or two here and there wouldn’t be such a bad thing.
Except having typed it out and then read it back, it seems just that…
…hopefully, you’ll get the intention behind it though.
If Cov are to prepare thoroughly for the Championship, then not having to react to a loss during the entire National 2017/18 campaign wouldn’t necessarily be is ideal. That said, no one wants to see the club beaten, least of all me. Something of Catch-22 really.
However, if John Wilkinson proves to be correct in his belief that Cov do look set to go through the remainder of the season unbeaten, then any discussions as too how Cov might react to a defeat, especially against one of the chasing pack, will prove somewhat academic.
Still, of all the worries you could have as a director of rugby, it’s not the worst by any means, is it?
The first players retained for next season have now been released, with both Dacres and Stokes with us for another two seasons. In addition, Rowland Winter has stated that:
At the moment we have about 18 players signed on for next season, at least four or five more will be retained in the next month, and we are down the line with five or six more new recruits who will add to our squad and bring a different level of quality.
The games against both Jersey and Rotherham during the pre-season showed that we were competitive with the two Championship sides even then and I’d like to think we have probably become an even more effective side since then, both in attack and defence. However, as RW has highlighted, there are still areas of the squad that need strengthening. As supporters, it’s always tempting to second-guess where the coaches might feel those areas are – what positions within the current squad are probably more vulnerable against Championship opposition?
Clearly one of the problems in attempting something like this is that we don’t know who will be departing from the BPA at the end of the season, although from what RW has said it would seem that at least 22 or 23 of the current squad will remain with us. If the squad is expected to be full-time, as presumably the coaches would want it to be, will those players who currently fit their rugby around their job be able to continue at Cov – there are half a dozen or so in that position I believe.
However, let’s imagine the squad goes up as it is, I don’t think there will be too many significant changes, especially amongst the senior players within the squad, many of whom are on two year contracts anyway…
As Cov’s Director of Rugby, which positions within the team would you strengthen by bringing in 5 or 6 new players, all of whom would be of at least Championship quality. Six players isn’t that many in actual fact and with 10 positions to cover (prop, hooker, second row, no 8, flanker, scrum half, fly half, centre, wing and full back), some positions will remain filled by players already in the current squad.
There’s plenty to ponder…
- do we need another full back to cover James Stokes?
- are there 3/4 wings of Championship standard?
- do the centres need boosting with another player who might double up as a utility back or are we unlikely to be hit by the injuries we’ve suffered in this position this season?
- are Tony Fenner and Will Maisey going to be able to control a game so effectively the next level up?
- ditto with White and Brazier…do we need a Tom Kessell
- Will No 8 Luke Narraway be able to play in most of the 22 Championship games or do we need cover
- Ditto Latu Makaafi, and will Povoas, Preece and Daynes (job permitting) be sufficient to cover for injuries
- Are the 4 second rowers already here, together with Cameron Gray possibly promoted into the senior squad, enough – is the quality there to compete with the best that the Championship has to offer?
- Tolmie, Nilsen and perhaps Will Priestley – yes, no, maybe?
- Litchfield, Boulton, Titchard-jones, Higgins and perhaps Luc Jeannot – certainly depth but is it asking too much of Luc Jeannot to be playing in the Championship quite so soon. Are the others good enough, or good enough but still covered required. Remember Phil B has already made 200 appearances in the Championship for Bedford.
If you’ve decided that every area needs strengthening then as DoR you’ve got a problem. Remember 6 players to come in at the moment – so where are your priorities?
And just to see if there is any sort of consensus I’ve turned it into a poll. The usual way of recording your choices is required, just click on the circle against the chosen position – you have up to six choices and once you’re decided, just scroll down to the vote button and click on that.
Remember, based your judgement on our current squad, not the players you think will be here next season. I’ve had a go at it myself and found it just about the hardest of all the polls that have appeared in the blog so far. But that’s exactly what the coaches are having to do, so there’s no harm in trying it yourself.
I’ll publish the results probably on Sunday.
Please do give it a go. There’s no right or wrong answer and it will be interesting to see how your choices marry up to those of the coaches should Cov earn the promotion that they certainly deserve on the basis of the first 16 games of the season so far.
Many thanks in advance for taking part and also to everyone who has commented on the blog over the last two or three days – it’s been really interesting to follow the discussions and there ‘s such a range of ideas and suggestions there that it’s clear that the supporters are a source of ideas that as yet remains untapped.
Up the Cov!