Bears’ ‘Cool Runnings’ too hot for Cougars
But then all they know is how to put you down
When you’re there, they’re your friend
But then when you’re not around…
Well they mean, they’re just jealous
Because they never do the things
That they wish that they could do so well
Razorlight – Golden Touch
Yesterday I was privileged to watch history in the making when Coventry Bears beat Keighley Cougars 30-20, the first time the Bears have beaten one of the established northern clubs in its 20 year history.
An historic win indeed and one filled with emotion for those connected with the Bears, be it players, managers or supporters.
And in this instance, context is everything.
As recently as May of this season, the Bears had travelled up to Keighley and duly lost 98-6 in what Mike Shires in yesterday’s match day programme somewhat euphemistically termed ‘a good old shellacking‘.
It must have been humiliating for both the players and coaches alike and mentally a tough result to get over.
It must have been pretty hard-going on the travelling supporters as well.
And yet here we are, just 9 games on, and the Bears have turned things around completely, this despite the loss yesterday of 10 players on student international duty at the University 4 Nations.
Okay, Keighley haven’t been without difficulties themselves, with the club recently changing ownership and the loss of a couple or so players, too.
Make no mistake, though, the odds were still very much on an away win in the build up to yesterday’s encounter.
I certainly arrived at the ground yesterday knowing that the game against Keighley Cougars would be a good test of just how much the Bears have improved in recent weeks, but still fearing the worst.
And it wasn’t the most auspicious of starts when I found the turnstiles unmanned and locked with just under 100 minutes to go before kick off.
It didn’t bode well, I have to say.
I sat in the car park and savoured my Tesco Meal Deal ( a gourmet cheese and ham sarnie, crisps and a drink). Me, I know how to feast in style.
It was either that or a return to Istanbul’s for a burger.
Discretion won in the end.
Maybe that has to be part of the routine from now on…
For the Bears to end the game with a win, and such a well-deserved one at that, was something of a surprise. That’s probably a little unfair to the coaches and players who must surely go into each and every game believing they can win it…
…but for someone who had only watched a handful of Bears’ games this season, four of which had resulted in them conceding 50 or more points, well I wasn’t expecting anything really other than perhaps another honourable defeat somewhat in the mould of the one against the Bulls.
Even the Bears’ performance in the win against struggling Hemel Stags last week wasn’t convincing by any means, so inevitably hopes weren’t that high.
I should have had greater faith in the coaches and team but having only relatively recently been bitten by the Bears’ bug and knowing little, if anything, about the team’s resilience then I guess that’s understandable.
The trouble now is, of course, that new standards have been set with the bar raised to an almost ridiculously high level. There’s also a greatly increased baseline fromwhich to compare the remaining performances this season…
…tough going lads!
Yesterday’s attendance was probably no more than 275-300, but such is the importance attached to the win that doubtless when it eventually becomes written into the annals of Bears’ folklore, as it surely will, those who claim to have witnessed it will number in their thousands.
Those Bear’s fans present (there was a decent number of Keighley fans in among them, too) experienced a whole gamut of emotions as the Cougars came back strongly at the end of the first half only for the Bears to pull away again midway through the second before the Cougars again moved to within just a score of taking the lead in the final minutes of the game.
Knowing just how important the win was for the Bears, and indeed how unlikely it had been before kick off, heightened the tension yet further. Come the last 10 minutes, it transcended the norms of a typical sporting encounter and became something akin to pure theatre.
I was completely drawn into it, far more so than I would be had it been a Cov game.
Even the win against DMP back in February, a win that wasn’t so unexpected even if the manner of it was, didn’t create that sort of pressure, that gut-wrenching fear that even in the dying minutes of a game in which the Bears’ had performed such heroics, all could yet be lost.
I was a nervous wreck in the final moments, one eye constantly either on the clock or the bench looking for some indication as to just how long was left. I even starting texting a commentary of the play as I have tended to do at Cov games just to concentrate on something, anything, other than the other possible outcomes. In fact, so absorbed was I by the events unfolding around me that at one point I even shouted out ‘Come on Cov’, much to the amusement of one or two around me.
And if it meant that much to me, someone whose loyalties really lie elsewhere, how must it have been for those supporters who have followed the Bears for a number of years and experienced all the highs and the lows in that time?
And over and above the supporters, what of the coaches and of ‘Mr Coventry Bears’ himself, Alan Robinson?
I spoke briefly to AR after the game, the first time I’ve done so other than through social media and to say he was somewhat overcome by emotion would hardly do it justice.
Had I looked at him a little more closely, I swear I’d have seen a tear or two and it was clear that he was overjoyed not just by the result itself but also at the message it sent out to the knockers and detractors who had scoffed somewhat at the idea of expansion clubs being allowed a place alongside the nation’s elite.
The cock had been well and truly snooped.
And not before time some would say.
AR’s vision and his belief in the Bears and all it represents, not just for the club itself but for the long-term future of the game as well, suddenly took on even greater significance on that final whistle.
Those promoting the game at the highest level will have been forced to accept that in many respects the Bears’ win yesterday is something of a game-changer, that those clubs outside of the great north corridor not only can compete, but compete successfully.
Some of the Tweets following the game from those involved show just how much the win meant to everyone involved in:
Alan Robinson (Owner and CEO):
Very proud of @CoventryBearsRL today a fantastic 30-20 win v @Cougarmania Hugely satisfying to get our first win v a big northern club especially with 10 players playing in the @UniversityRL 4 nations great effort by the lads and coaches we really are #inthistogether pic.twitter.com/qojMFj7nDd
— Alan Robinson (@CoventryBear) July 21, 2018
Tom Tsang (Head Coach):
Most important win in our history. Couldnt be prouder to be a part of this club https://t.co/5n7lKeOa8h
— Tom Tsang (@tomtsang13) July 21, 2018
James Geurtjens (Player):
To lose by 92 points to a team and then come back a few months later and turn them over at home with 10 of our players out on international duties, best win I've had in the 4 years I've been over here. So proud of the boys! pic.twitter.com/YHqLrxLDgZ
— James Geurtjens (@JGeurtjens) July 21, 2018
For me, it was one of the best sporting moments I’ve ever watched live – it was really that special.
Indeed, up there with watching Botham hit 150 against the Aussies at Headingley or Willis taking 8-43 the next day, or Higgins winning the world championship at the Crucible. Certainly on a par, if not better than, the Newcastle game (great atmosphere but the result, though in doubt, was certainly not as unexpected).
This was the Bears’ own version of Cool Runnings, a group of unfancied guys coming together to take on some of the sports’ best at this level…only this time the result was very much the one everyone hoped for.
And how the Bears’ win yesterday was deserved.
This was no rear-guard action, there wasn’t a bus parked anywhere in sight – the Bears played some adventurous, creative rugby and took the game very much to a Cougar’s side which having gone two tries down in the opening 10 minutes, was always trailing from thereon in.
Perhaps they were a little over-confident following that first encounter up at theirs, but that in no way should take anything away from what was a totally committed performance from the Bears.
And they played some hugely entertaining rugby and I’m guessing that if you took the top 10 attacking passages of play, at least 8 of them would involve the Bears who were able to break the gain line and attack from distance on occasions, something the Cougars just didn’t seem capable of doing.
It was good to actually meet up with Martin Watson again yesterday, especially as this time each knew who the other was! Amongst other things, Martin videos the Bears’ games and often, as is the case this weekend, releases highlights of the game’s key moments via social media.
I’ve used Martin’s clips in the past in posts connected with Cov so I’m hoping he won’t mind me copying his tweet that includes the Bears’ tries into this one (I did try and message him via Twitter but then realised I wasn’t following him – much to my embarrassment. Sorry Martin!).
As you can see, the Bears’ tries all involved unlocking the Cougars defence rather than relying on brute strength from a couple of metres out. Such play clearly has its place but the open, running rugby the home side displayed yesterday made the win that much more enjoyable.
In fairness, Keighley made life difficult at times and I was hugely impressed that even when they looked as if they were coming right back into the game, the Bears were able to raise their own levels of performance, defend strongly on their line and show a degree of discipline and teamwork that was lacking in long spells against sides like Oldham and York just a few weeks back.
It was a really mature performance with far fewer unforced errors than we’d seen against Hemel the week before, although the pressure began to tell on both sides in the closing minutes. As the clock counted down in those final moments and the Bears held a narrow 4 and then 6 point advantage, it was tough viewing and that sense of relief as the hooter sounded and the Bears were in possession was almost palpable.
As the Bears’ supporters celebrated in the main stand, rather than kicking the ball into touch, Dante Moreley Samuels had the presence of mind to keep hold of the ball and as the Cougars’ players briefly lost concentration, he carried on his run, making space for Mikey Russell to eventually dot down…the perfect end to what was pretty much the perfect result.
And the smiles on the faces of the players said it all. As they walked across to the main stand the home supporters rose as one in appreciation of a team that has now won its last three games…with the Cougars result standing well above above either of the other two in terms of its overall significance.
I have to say from being simply an interested observer at the first couple of Bears’ games, I have since become something of a fan and with only three or four home games left now, I’ll certainly miss watching them once the league season ends, that despite Cov’s pre-season starting up in just a couple of weeks’ time.
The Bears have another home game on Wednesday, a re-arranged one against West Wales Raiders who currently sit at the foot of Befred League 1. Yesterday’s game shows that no result is guaranteed, but you’d hope the Bears’ new found confidence and self-belief should make them favourites for what will still be a tough encounter.
I’m intrigued to see whether an evening kick off will change the atmosphere at all; I’m not even sure if floodlights will be needed given that the game probably won’t finish until after 9.00 pm. Despite it being the holiday season, the hope must be that there will be a few able to make the game on a weekday who would be otherwise employed on a weekend – the Bears certainly deserve a bigger audience on the back of their recent form.
The Bears’ fans are a really friendly lot and the players extremely appreciative of their support. Hopefully, news of the Bears’ latest win will have created some additional interest in and around the city and a few more will pop over to see what all the excitement is about.
I’m sure they won’t be disappointed if that is the case.
Anyone who reads the blog with any regularity will know I often try to choose a song that has some association with that particular post.
Razorlight’s Golden Touch appears in this one as according to ‘The Frontline’ (a regular feature in the Bears’ match day programme), it’s the song Tom Tsang, the Bears’ Head Coach, would choose as a ‘try-scoring tune’.
So in deference to Tom and all those involved in the Bears’ fantastic achievement yesterday, here’s Golden Touch: