Saturday’s performance asks questions of everyone…

24Sep - by Tim - 12 - In Club talk

Well I see the thousands screaming rushing for the cliffs
Just like lemmings into the sea, Well well well
Who waves his mighty hand and breaks the precious rules?
Well the same one must understand who wasted all these fools.

Hey Lord don’t ask me questions, Hey Lord don’t ask me questions
Hey Lord don’t ask me questions please!

Graham Parker – Don’t Ask Me Questions

Saturday game was one that threw up more questions than answers, although Rowland Winter certainly did his best to answer the most pressing ones raised by supporters before the coach headed back to Coventry after the game.

Not unsurprisingly, those that were asked of Winter were primarily concerned about the game and about the performance of players, or a player, to be more accurate.

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RANT WARNINGApologies for this, I just felt it needed saying:

I’ve been really disappointed by a couple of comments that have been made elsewhere relating to Jake Sharp. I know there are others who are of the same opinion, too.

The player has come here, perhaps sold the club partly on the basis of just how good the support is at Cov, had a couple of off games has been vilified publicly, accused of just being here for the money and apparently lazy with it.

None of which, unsurprisingly, happen to be true.

Settling into a new club takes some players longer than others and that we aren’t actually allowing him the courtesy of a few games to find his form really saddens me. I thought Cov fans were better than that. Far better to get behind him and encourage him rather than break his confidence further.

It’s shocking…supporters should support; the clue is in the name. Some of what I’ve read recently is anything but…

And if these comments are hearsay or second hand as is suggested, then all the more reason to keep quiet. It’s akin to a character assassination by proxy. The really sad thing is that I understand Sharp is aware of what has been said…you’d have thought we could have welcomed him to Cov with a little more grace.

And those of us who have spent time talking and listening to RW will know that before he signs anyone, he meets with them several times, including often a home visit, to make sure they’ll fit in as both a player and as a person. Jake Sharp is a quality player, and a quality bloke – just 26 and already with over 200 Championship games under his belt and  yet he’s being targeted by one or two who should, but really don’t, know better.

‘Boots’, ‘lace’, and ‘not fit to’, spring to mind.

 It’s insulting  to both Jake and indeed the coaches and Rowland Winter, too.

Those who went down to London for the games against Esher, Rosslyn Park and Blackheath in RW’s first season saw just how much a defeat hurt RW – in fact, it’s the only time I’ve seen him really angry. He takes defeats personally – in 64 games, he’s lost just 14.

These comments reflect equally on him, the person directly responsible for bringing Jake to Cov and I imagine if he’s seen some of the comments he’ll feel both  angry and let down.

It’s not been a great week if you’re a genuine Cov supporter – some of what’s been said and done certainly hasn’t made me overly proud to be a Cov supporter right now.

It’s time to get behind the players and the coaches and show just why other teams in this league were so happy to see us promoted back into the Championship.

If those involved in making or reporting such comments want to come back at me, then please do, provided it is done so respectfully…question his form, but not his ability and certainly not his character.

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 36 hours on and with time to reflect on everything’s that been written about the game, whilst I totally agree with the comments made about this being very much a learning curve for the players, the same must also be true of the management too.

On Saturday discussions were very much about the players needing more time to find their feet in the Championship, but perhaps the same is true of Rowland Winter and the coaches, too.

That’s no meant as a criticism at all, just a recognition that whilst the focus immediately post-game was very much on what the players needed to do, maybe a good question to have asked RW might have been in retrospect what, if anything, he and the coaches might have done differently in the build up to the game and what lessons they’ve learned.

Everyone has to reflect on their roles, win or lose.

Louis Deacon and Nick Walshe in the background watch on – Ross Stewart is in the forefront…

This is very much a learning curve for Rowland Winter, Nick Walshe, Louis Deacon and co just as much as it is for the players . And indeed us supporters. All three are already very experienced but the Championship is new to them, although of course,  Nick Walshe  spent a couple of years in the Premiership with Gloucester.

That Gloucester link will probably have heightened the disappointment of Coventry’s defeat to Hartpury for Walshe, given their very open relationship with their near neighbours and his comments on the official website back in January of last year:

Obviously I was full-time at Gloucester, but for whichever reason I had to leave that role – it was my decision – and I was a bit disillusioned at one point, but being at this club I’ve got my love back for the game, I really have

A win yesterday I’m sure would have felt all the sweeter for Coventrys Head Coach who has helped transform Cov into a side worthy of the Championship.

Rowland Winter has  plenty of experience having worked with Premiership sides at a junior level, as well as county sides and beyond and Louis Deacon has successfully coached England U20s.  Nick Walsh was also involved with the U20s too, and was Head Coach of England’s Junior World Champions side on 2013, winning a national coaching award as well.

Plenty of pedigree then but the Championship still  represents a real challenge to them as well and just as we must give time to the players to acclimatise to these new heights, so must we do the same for them.

We accept the players are going to make mistakes on the pitch, but so too are the coaches off it. Take Saturday for instance – was the game plan the right one, was there a plan B and if so was it executed as it was intended, was the selection spot on…?

Or, it might well be that the coaches felt they’d covered all the bases and the result was very much down to the players inability to get it right on the day – that wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened, certainly.

Just as the supporters were under the spotlight earlier in the week (and will be for some time as well), and the players were exposed to some tough criticisms immediately after the game, I also think it is fair to ask questions of the coaches too. Whilst they tend not to respond publicly when such questions are aired, their reply will come in the next couple of games when the performances pick up again and everyone is left wondering what all the worry had been about after the Hartpury game.

And I, for one, despite being hugely disappointed by the team’s performance on Saturday, believe that we’ll see a big improvement over the next couple of weeks. It took 8 weeks for Coventry in National One under RW to settle and begin consistently to play to something approaching their potential. It will almost certainly take until Christmas for Cov to put together regular performances of the quality of the one we saw against Bedford.

Rowland Winter said as much pre-season, so why the angst…?

I just don’t get it.

Winter is without doubt the most upfront DoR Coventry Rugby Club has had since I’ve been supporting them and he has always dealt with difficult situations head on. I’m sure that when Matt Harland is ploughing through all the player performance data from Saturday, so Rowland Winter will also be looking to see what could have been done differently in terms of the preparation and build up.

There’s no harm in challenging yourself and those around you so long as it is done with the best of intentions; self-appraisal and external review give a degree of accountability that makes us all better at what we do.

I do think that Cov are struggling to come to terms with the some of the referees’ expectations at times  – the penalty count has been far too high in the last three games and that was one of the factors in our defeat on Saturday. We conceded far too much territory as a result and once Cozens had kicked us back into our 22, Hartpury’s forwards had more than enough guile and ability to keep possession and make it really difficult for us to work our back up the pitcht.

As John Butler said to me on Saturday in passing, ‘You don’t win games by spending 20 minutes in your own 22‘.

Hard to argue with that one…

I think Phil Boulton’s ban on Saturday was also a factor, not just because the scrum creaked a little right from the start, but also because he has grown into his leadership role over the last 12 months and maybe I’m being unfair here, but there didn’t appear to be anyone able to take control of the game in his absence.

It was obvious that the ‘rugby tennis’ that we saw so much of was working very much in Hartpury’s favour, especially as they were far more accurate when they kicked than when we did, yet when we picked up the tempo and worked the ball wide, we seemed to worry them far more. So why didn’t we try and control the game by running at the opposition rather than kicking the ball back to them, especially when we seldom put pressure on the receiver? That’s not Sharp’s fault, he would have played to instructions, surely?

Luke Narraway’s departure to foreign shores might yet prove to be a bigger blow than it first seemed – he, too, is a natural leader and whilst defensively we’ve been pretty sound in three of the four games at least this season, his presence on the pitch on Saturday I’m sure would have made a difference.

Charlie Beech might have picked up a rib injury on Saturday

The scrum too hasn’t been quite the force that we might have hoped and with Boulton on an enforced absence and  Charlie Beech probably struggling to be fit for next week if he has indeed injured a rib, there’s a lot of added pressure on the likes of Luc Jeannot and Nathanael Titchard-Jones now. Luc suffered an eye injury when he came on, by all accounts purely accidental, but nevertheless somewhat incapacitating. Nothing major, but he looked to be in a bit of discomfort after the game.

A half day a week with Boris is undoubtedly going to improve things, but at this level against some very seasoned and experienced players, is that going to be enough? We’ve seen how effective Hartpury were using pretty much a 10 man game and at times they completely starved us of ball – we’ve got to be prepared to do something similar at times, too. That’s more Deacon than Stankovich but it’s sill a concern.

I read Mark Forster’s review of the game on the Messageboard and although I certainly haven’t been  anywhere near as positive as he has about the game and about how things will pan out, a record of won 2 lost 2 is one that I definitely would have settled for before the season started. Victories against Jersey and Bedford have shown that when we are playing to our strengths, we are a match for most teams in this league.

However, Saturday’s game has certainly brought my confidence down a peg or two and maybe offered a glimpse of just what life will be like in the Winter  (no pun intended) months when it’s wet and cold and we’re playing sides who are effective at closing the game down so that we aren’t able to play the more expansive game that  we’re best suited to at the moment.

We probably needed a reality check after such a good start; someone was always going to come along and burst our bubble and fair play to Hartpury for doing just that. London Irish in just 6 days time is going to be something special, but in such situations Coventry seldom fail to deliver – few would forecast another home win BUT I think we all expect to see a performance that is considerably improved on this weekend and it is by that that the club will be judged, hopefully.

A good Coventry performance is essential if Cov are too maintain gates above 2000. A few supporters might already be ‘umming and arring’ about coming along on the back of this latest performance, and the comments that have followed, especially when the favourites for the Championship are the visitors. There’s bound to be a much larger than usual crowd next weekend, but another performance similar to that against Hartpury and there might well be a knock-on effect in the next couple of home fixtures.

I’m confident we’ll see a significantly improved performance; not necessarily a win, that’s a big ask, but a game in which we are competitive and ask questions of what might well be the best team in the league even at this early stage. Perform at a level approaching something like our best and I’ll be happy.

Just for the record, a crowd of 953 braved the weather to watch the game on Saturday, somewhat bigger than it looked on the day and 80 odd up on their first home game of the season. Amongst them were a considerable number of Cov supporters and whilst on the basis of the attendance quoted above, we must have been in the minority, all the noise came from the blue ‘n whites.

It was great to be part of that.

The appointment of Paul Smith to replace Tom Branston is an excellent one and he’ll do a great job of promoting Coventry in the local press and beyond. Cov could really do with overdosing on advertising the game, thus ratcheting up the levels of excitement to almost fever pitch before Saturday.

Many of us remember the Newcastle game back in Nov ’96. Whilst Saturday’s clash with Irish doesn’t carry quite the same significance, a 7000 plus crowd did its bit to help Cov defeat what was back then a star-studded Newcastle side against all the odds. And later that season it was, somewhat ironically, Irish who beat us comfortably in the second leg of the play-offs to deny us a place in the Premiership.

If there are any clips around of that, there’s a starting point…

Whilst revenge is not something to be harboured, it is said that when it is, it is always best served cold.

22 years on and it should be so cold its frozen.

A win is possible. Stranger things have happened and I’ve no doubt that those involved in the game on Saturday will be desperate to put things right following the defeat against Hartpury.

And what an opportunity it is, so soon after…

The post-match huddle lasted a long, long time on Saturday

One final point worth mentioning – I think the post-match huddle at the end of Hartpury game was the longest I’ve seen from Cov. Ever. It lasted several minutes and carried on a good while after Winter had walked away from it to give his interview to Paul Smith. Plenty appeared to be said and if that’s anything to go by, then training this week should be intense…

The players were hurting at the end of the game on Saturday, physically of course, but also mentally.

Expect a big response.

Saturday’s performance asked questions of everyone…hopefully we’ll find out a few more of the answers next weekend.

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One of my most prized possessions in my student days was my limited edition 12″ Pink Parker EP.  The A side was Parker’s excellent version of Hold Back The Night, with White Honey and (Let Me) Get Sweet On You on the reverse, I think..

As the name suggests, it was on a vivid pink vinyl and was the record that started off my rather self-indulgent collection of coloured vinyls – there are a fair few of them and I had pretty much all of Squeeze’s first dozen or so singles in various colours in amongst them.

Sadly, I sold them on when I married, for all the wrong reasons (selling them that is :)!)

Second time around and I so wish I hadn’t…

Anyway…Graham Parker has appeared before in the blog…I’ve probably seen him live more times than anyone, other than Costello . Another great singer/song-writer who was never as commercially popular as he probably deserved.

And as this post is all about asking questions of one another…

…here’s the man himself.

.

 

 

12 thoughts on “Saturday’s performance asks questions of everyone…”

  1. Hi Tim. I take on board your defence of Jake Sharp, and I agree with most of what you have posted. Personally, I admit I was critical of certain decisions he made in the Bedford game, but some of what BTR said about him was truly out of line. I mentioned before I was impressed with his speed of thought regarding some quick passes he made, but I was disappointed with his kicking game. Having met you, I will be honest and say I have never known you post in such a way before, but I find it refreshing you have supported a player who was getting a lot of stick. I hope Jake does become a valued member of the team, but for me, he does look a little out of shape, and I think a week off and time spent working on his conditioning would be of more benefit to him and the squad, but this is just my opinion, and not a personal attack on the player. Anyway, I hope you and your family are well, and I look forward to seeing you at The Butts very soon

    1. Hi Tim, good to hear from you. In fairness, it wasn’t one of my finest moments in terms of the blog, but in my defence I was incensed at some of the comments of a personal nature directed at Jake Sharp…he had a poor game, especially as you mentioned, with his kicking game, but he wasn’t alone and after just two games in a Cov shirt he deserves a chance to prove himself.
      RW will stand by Jake I’m sure and I’d put money on him having a part to play in Saturday’s game – and probably in the starting XV.

      Anyway, all good here – hope the same is true of you and yours!

      Speak soon…

  2. Well said Tim. It’s one thing criticising the team but this public slating of a player after two games, one of which we won, isn’t something we should support.

    I remember similar rumblings of discontent when both Danny Cipriani and then Willy Le Roux struggled to hit their stride when they arrived at Wasps. Dai Young kept faith in them and they both went on to become a major part of Wasps recent success.

    If Jake plays on Saturday I hope he gets some true Cov encouragement.

    1. Hi Rob;yes, agreed, although it is the character assassination that got to me, I think. RW seems very loyal to his players more so than us fickle fans for sure. I really hope Jake does start and has a stonker of a game. He’s polarised supporters, many of whom really warm to Will M, a local lad who has returned to his former club and featured in some of the biggest moments of rugby under RW’s tenure. Jake could have a couple of blinders and there would still be those calling for Will. It’s not going to be easy for Jake but I do believe he’ll come good.

  3. Another good article Tim, absolutely agree expressing opinions is one thing spreading rumour is another.. Saturday was just frustrating. We were poor on so many fronts, but could of still won. It is probably good we didn’t. It was frustrating that we started to cause them problems running the ball, then reverted back to kicking away possession against a team who could keep possession. A real opportunity missed and those dropped points might make a difference in coming weeks with harder opposition on the horizon. Fans can’t keep blaming referees when our penalty is so bad week to week, we must be doing something wrong. I thought we tackled our hearts out which was a real positive and most were taking the legs.

    1. HI Alan…absolutely…there’s no place for rumours of a personal kind. Some of the questions aimed to RW on the coach were just borne of frustration having watched a game we still could have won despite playing so poorly. I agree about the tackling, apart from when we were down to 14, I thought we looked pretty solid and there was again no lack of effort there, what we really seemed to lack was some leadership at times.

  4. Tim, spot on. Rowland has not let us down yet, and if he thinks Jake Sharp is the guy for us, then I bet that he is. It will take time for everyone to bed in, but what I’ve seen and heard so far, I think we’ll be ok come the end of the season. Some of the things that didn’t come off on Saturday only need to go to hand, like that spell against Bedford, and we’ll all be happy again. Need supporters to get back supporting, let players play, coaches coach and let’s see where we are after Xmas, not after 4 games.

    1. Hi Roger…yep, we all knew this was going to be a rough ride to begin with and it won’t be helped by us getting on the backs of the players. We’ve got to play the long game…and as supporters, and here I include myself, maybe we have to show a bit more solidarity, especially in public. A rant from me or personal comments about players from elsewhere are two ends of the same spectrum…we all need to think about that. Cov have made a good start…a win last Sat, which was possible, would have made it a great one. Early days but most of us would settle for our current points total.

  5. Hi Tim
    Your rant is spot on, I read these same comments on Sunday with some dismay, “my brothers wife’s uncles nephew said”! Type of thing.
    If there is an issue then we have to accept that it will be dealt with by the appropriate people and not a lynch mob.

    1. Thanks, Phil…you set the tone on Saturday really…criticism is fine but not to when it’s so disrespectful…to be fair I don’t think the person concerned thought it through and hadn’t intended such a response. As he suggested later, some things are best left unsaid. Hopefully, the lad will get a great ovation when he next appears at the PBA

  6. So agree Tim on the JAke Sharp comments… it’s always be a pet hate of mine. Players must hear personel comments from the croud. They do not intend to go on that pitch and play bad… and usually when it goes wrong it unfortunately gets worse.
    So come on coventry supports are players need respect and encouragement. Are supporters are better than this… Unless of course they could get on the pitch and show everyone else how to do it. ..that I’d love to see.
    Pauline Smith

    1. Hi, Pauline…yes, I think perhaps there’s a line to be drawn really. We’re critical of player performance, that seems fair to me…but a player’s basic honesty and integrity is a step too far, for me any way. Hopefully, he’ll put some of the doubters to bed when he next plays. Having said our bit, time for the supporters to get behind Jake now.

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