Tom Kessell – when the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts…
The man has put us together now
You ought to make it stick together
Come on, come on, let’s stick together
You know we made a vow to leave one another never
But now you never miss your water ’til your well runs dry
Come on now baby give our love a try
Let’s stick together, c’mon c’mon let’s stick together
You know we made a vow to leave one another never
Canned Head – Let’s Work Together
Delighted as I am that Tom Kessell is a back with us and with us for two years on a full-time contract, I’m not sure I share quite the same degree of euphoria about his arrival as has been expressed elsewhere.
He’s a known quantity, having played 6 times for Cov on loan and impressing everyone whilst with us. He did a great job covering for injuries to Pete White and Dave Brazier and he left an indelible impression on many supporters in the short time he was here, so much so that many have been calling for his return ever since he returned to Northampton back in early December.
Looking back, two of his attributes that stood out for me were the height and accuracy of his box kicks and the speed of his pass and there’s no doubt that he quickly adapted to Coventry’s style of play last season and became an instant success.
The squad is all the stronger for his presence.
However, good as he is, for me he is just another piece in the jigsaw, one of a number of players whom Rowland Winter has brought in to make the squad competitive in the Championship. Like several others now, he is a player with Premiership experience, although he is hardly proven at that level, having made just 22 appearances in three full seasons with Northampton.
He comes in as first choice scrum-half and deservedly so, but in Pete White and Dave Brazier we have two scrum-halves who would have been more than capable of sharing Championship duties had Kessell decided that his future lay somewhere other than Butts Park Arena.
But he didn’t, although presumably had offers come in from other Premiership clubs or the likes of Ealing and Irish, well maybe he would have been sorely tempted.
Hypothetical it may be, but an interesting question to ponder on is whether or not the coaches would have looked beyond White and Brazier had Tom Kessell not been available this season? Pure speculation on my part, but I’m sure another scrum half would have been brought in given every other position seems to have been added to over the close season. But maybe as support for, rather than in preference to, Pete White.
I only say that because I believe RW declined to keep Kessell at Cov post-Christmas because he had complete faith in White and Brazier on their return. His loyalty to the two 9s already at the club outweighed any ‘need’ to have Kessell remain – a decision which was entirely vindicated once Kessell returned to Northampton.
I accept that the Championship is a very different proposition to National One, but even so…
I’m a big Pete White fan and despite having been won over by Kessell when he was drafted in to cover the 9 shirt, I do think we’ll see Pete fairly regularly over the coming season, admittedly for the most part coming off the bench rather than starting.
Kessell is in his prime, White is still a few years behind him but I do think we’ll see Pete develop his game further in the Championship and the gap between the two in 12 months time won’t be as apparent as many believe is the case now.
The same might well be true of Dave Brazier, it’s just that I’ve seen a lot less of him to be able to make a judgement, informed or otherwise.
On his return following his 8 weeks (ish) enforced absence following damage to his ankle/knee ligaments, I thought Pete’s game improved noticeably and he indeed silenced some of his critics, especially those who felt he kicked the ball away needlessly at times, or at least ineffectively. having Tom at the club seemed to be the incentive Pete needed and perhaps he’s the sort of player who thrives under that sort of pressure.
Pete’s strength for me, is his willingness to move the ball quickly and he’s something of a terrier at times, snapping and yapping at the heels of the opposition scrum-half and always on the look out for a quickly taken penalty or free kick. His support play, too, is strong and several times over the last couple of seasons he’s been there to receive the final pass – with a swan dive to celebrate. And for a little guy he can certainly tackle.
I remember Rowland Winter saying 12 months ago that the coming season (2017/18) could probably be Pete White’s last at the club. He had persuaded him to stay on another 12 months but after that he knew Pete would want to test himself in the Championship, something he felt Pete was good enough to do. If Cov didn’t go up themselves, then as likely as not Pete would move on.
And whenever Pete has played against Championship opposition, against the likes of Jersey, Rotherham and London Welsh, he certainly hasn’t looked out-of-place and Cov are very fortunate to have players of the ability of Kessell, White and Brazier all competing for the same shirt.
And let’s not forget Nick Walshe, Cov’s Head Coach, also knows a thing or two about ‘scrum-halfing’ having proudly worn the 9 shirt for his country and he’s worked with Pete closely and knows his game as well as anyone.
Yes, I’d rather have Tom Kessell playing for us and not against us and I’m sure he’ll produce one or two match winning performances over the course of the season (as will be the case with others in the squad), but I’m not as yet convinced that he is going to have quite the influence that some are suggesting.
He is but one player in a very competitive league.
It looks to me very much as if Rowland Winter and the coaches continue to believe in the principle that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts and that perhaps, unlike last season when the club brought in the likes of Sam Tuitupou, Luke Narraway and Latu Makaafi, there are no ‘big’ names this time round.
Although David Halaifonou does contain 15 letters.
The strength in the team is not in any one individual. Good as Kessell is, he’s no better relatively than many of his peers.
Whereas in Winter’s first season we saw a very young and relatively inexperienced squad, two years on those younger members of that first cohort who still remain are now themselves far more seasoned and are playing alongside some real pros with hundreds of games behind them at Championship level and above.
For me, that is what will make the difference this coming season.
I’m sure the likes of Kessell, Jake Sharp, David Halaifanou and Ben Nutley (a good friend of Kessell’s by all accounts) will all have prominent parts to play over the coming months, but it will be on the back of some really strong team performances as well.
And players White, and Brazier will play their part too.
So well done Cov for bringing Tom Kessell back to Coventry, but let’s not place too much significance on his arrival. Doing so only puts unnecessary pressure on the player as well as perhaps alienating some of the other players who have just as big a part to play.
I’ve seen it written elsewhere that White and Brazier won’t be too happy about the arrival of Tom Kessell, but I don’t subscribe to that view.
Kessell’s possible arrival has been talked about openly in and around the clubhouse since the turn of the year, well before either of the present incumbents had decided to agree to new contracts.
When signing on the dotted line they will have known of the probable return of Kessell and the likelihood that they would be relegated to second/third choice scrum halves. His recruitment won’t have come as a great surprise and if they hadn’t have been okay with it, then surely they would have opted to move somewhere where they felt they were going to get more game time?
As I understand it, when a contract is signed, players know pretty much what they can expect from the following season in terms of playing time and just where they are in the relative pecking order for that position.
We saw last season how quickly things can change and with 7 replacements, the chances are there’s always going to be a scum-half included on the bench. It only takes an injury to, say, Kessell or White and suddenly Brazier is a man very much in demand.
At fly-half the situation is even more complex, with poor Ben Palmer likely to be 4th choice behind Maisey, Fenner and Sharp. Yet Ben was happy to commit himself to the club for another 12 months when he could have been competing for a starting place in half a dozen National One sides.
Rowland Winter seems to be able to man-manage his players exceptionally well, with only perhaps Jimmy Litchfield from the first team squad leaving because of a lack of opportunity. Winter’s proven he can keep players happy even when they’re not playing first team rugby regularly so it’s not something that overly worries me, although I appreciate it is a concern elsewhere.
Anyway, the squad is almost complete now and on paper it looks a competitive one. There are still 2-3 players to come in and I don’t think my previous guess of a prop, second row and another 8/back row will be too wide of the mark having chatted to a few people in the know down at Olney on Saturday.
Whilst I’m not going to be undertaking any post-match polls this season, or indeed the MVP poll at Christmas, I will have a punt at a ‘Where do you think we’ll finish?’ poll nearer to September and the start of the season proper…
I’ll wait to see how we do in the pre-season friendlies before making any predictions myself though.
Problems concerning a lack of communication between the club and its supporters seem to be a thing of the past these days.
Coventry’s use of social media, and Twitter in particular, to circulate information regarding next season’s fixtures and pre-season friendlies has been impressive to say the least and a far cry from the bad old days of having to log onto other clubs’ websites to find the information in advance of a Coventry release.
Tom Branston’s fingers must have been on fire yesterday as tweet after tweet issued forth from the club about all manner of Cov-related news.
The final pre-season friendly, against Leinster, caught me somewhat by surprise – but nowhere near as much as Sue’s response when I mentioned Cov were playing them over in Dublin.
Less than 5 minutes later she came out into the garden having already booked flights and wanting to know where the ground was in relation to the city centre so she could find a suitable hostelry somewhere nearby.
I am truly blessed.
That’s Moseley, Wasps and now Leinster she’s looking at going to during the pre-season – three in a month against probably only three in the last two years.
And if Sue’s response is replicated elsewhere, as well it might, attendances might well be on the increase this season.
Could well be the theme of many a team talk this season
The team is always more than the sum of its parts – so let’s work together:
Before when things go wrong, as they sometimes will
And the road that you travel, it stays all up hill
Let’s work together, come on, come on, let’s work together
Now now people, you know together we will stand
Every boy, girl, woman and a man …
Canned Heat – a favourite of my brother back in the early ’70s although I was too young to appreciate blues back then.
Bob Hite died far too young as so many do…
So much better than Roxy Music’s version.