Looking ahead…

27Sep - by Tim - 2 - In Club talk

But sometimes it comes back to getcha
And when love grows
It grows like a flower or grows like a tumour
Love shows that God has a sense of humour

Life goes on, ever immune to prediction
And life can be strange
But love can be stranger than fiction
Only love can be stranger than fiction

Joe Jackson – Stranger Than Fiction

And so on to London Irish – and in just two days’ time.

London Irish – the favourites for the Championship title with a season in the Premiership behind them and unbeaten in their first three outings.

As tests go, they don’t come bigger than this.

Yes, we faced Leinster and Wasps pre-season, but both sides bore no comparison to the starting XVs proper and despite some promising performances pre-season, we all knew that sterner tests would come in the Championship.

And so they did.

Until the Hartpury performance I’d been really encouraged by what I’d seen and heard. Even last weekend when playing poorly given the high standards we’ve become used to under this current management team, we still earned ourselves a bonus point, albeit against a side tipped to be one of three or four teams battling against the drop by many pundits outside of the club.

Along with ourselves.

Wins against Bedford and Jersey, though, have shown we can compete with teams the likely to be in the top half of the table next April and even the Pirates result was creditable given they now sit atop of the league with the highest ‘Points For’ tally of any team. As it stands, even if London Irish were to win their game in hand, they would still trail Pirates, having already dropped a point away to Ealing. So plenty to be encouraged about…

But a London Irish team playing to its strengths is going to be up another level or three and it’s one of those games where you’d expect that if both teams played their best rugby, London Irish would win comfortably. But it is rare for both sides to do so, so with home advantage and a large and expectant crowd willing them on, Cov could well spring a surprise or two.

A surprise doesn’t necessarily mean a win, but I’d like to think we can push Irish all the way and if we can get a point from the game, I think I’d be leaving the BPA fairly pleased.

So not that uber-optimistic then.

Whilst it’s nowhere in the same league as the Coventry v Newcastle fixture back in 1996, there is that sense that the occasion could be another one to remember, as big as anything we’ve experienced at the BPA in goodness knows how many seasons. And I wouldn’t mind a similar result either as the one against Rob Andrew and co.

Or even a repeat of the first leg of the play-off that season when we narrowly beat Irish before succumbing to them down at Sunbury.

Last season in the Premiership, Irish won just three games in total and after a win in their opening game against Harlequins they then lost 14 games on the trot, although relegation wasn’t decided until well into April. However, they’ve managed to keep a good percentage of their squad together, as well as bring in a few big name players as well.

Rowland Winter’s confirmation today that all but two of the squad will be available for selection on Saturday is a big lift for the club and provides the DoR with plenty of options, on top of which he seems to be contemplating adding the four new players, confirmed earlier in the week, into the mix sooner rather than later, although not quite as soon as Saturday I imagine..

With another four players coming in,  he’s probably still to work out just what his best team is, but his should be a happier place to be in terms of selection than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Arguably, of greater significance than the Irish game this weekend is the one the following Saturday, when Cov travel down to London to play another of the teams thought to be a relegation contender, Richmond.

It’s another potential ‘8 or10 pointer’, something of a sporting cliché admittedly, but  the value of picking up four points at least against  Richmond whilst denying them the same, shouldn’t be underestimated even so early in the season. Richmond are currently 6 points behind us – if the difference were to remain the same before next week’s game, then a good win would put just a bit of daylight between us already.

On the other hand it could be just the one point.

Which makes selection for this Saturday even more interesting.

Do you put out what you believe to be your strongest side and risk an injury or two, or do you hold back one or two possibly key players who might be the difference between the two sides the following weekend?

I’m not sure what the answer is and it’s very much wait and see time, but  part of me hopes that we put out our strongest side against Irish and give it a go.

But that begs a question of course as to what team the coaches will opt for this Saturday. I’ve had contact with one or two people connected with the club over the last couple of days and they’ve all said the same thing – training has been extremely focused and the players are all up for the challenges Irish will bring to the BPA on Saturday.

Whoever plays, I’m sure we can expect a response after what was a disappointing performance against Hartpury.

It might be a case of what has been referred to as the ‘Sky Team approach’ – a case of small incremental changes being far more effective than wholesale dramatic shifts and that would seem to be very much the way to go forward with Cov – a tweak here and there is probably all that is needed. We’ve seen how competitive Cov can be at this level, so a knee-jerk reaction isn’t required…

And talking of knee-jerk reactions…whilst perhaps the tone of my comments post Hartpury weren’t quite in keeping with my usual way, I do stand by what I wrote regarding Jake Sharp, other than  the ‘boots’ remark which BTR was right to pick me up on and for which I did apologise in private; it wasn’t one of my finest moments. That apart, the rest I wouldn’t change.

It wasn’t a rant, I was being self-mocking there – there was no lengthy tirade by any means – I think I’ve only ever  properly ‘ranted’ twice in the blog (thanks, Rhys!), both in its first year and one of them I’ve since removed :).

I think it’s important to say from the onset, that simply because you’ve not been involved in something shouldn’t preclude you from sharing you thoughts and opinions on it – if that were the case I wouldn’t be the only one barred from commenting about Cov. I’ve always said that I’ve never played the game beyond schoolboy level, and my only involvement in the club is simply the 57 years of watching them. 

Anyway, BTR rightly made the point later on that the coaches will put things right if needed and RW wouldn’t tolerate a player showing the kind of attitude that has been rumoured of Jake Sharp. He just wouldn’t and Sharp certainly wouldn’t have been playing in the Cov XV on consecutive weekends had that been the case..

If he does play this weekend, in what will probably be the biggest home game of the season (and certainly is to date), and I see the rumour is that he will, that kind of puts to bed any argument about Jake Sharp’s attitude. Not necessarily whether he or Will should be playing, but certainly issues with regard to attitude.

I do feel some sympathy for Jake Sharp, and indeed Will Maisey. Sharp’s arrival seems to have polarised supporters in a way that we haven’t seen for some time.

Photo courtesy of John Coles

Will Maisey has been one of the mainstays of Coventry’s success in the last two seasons, the man with nerves of steel who converted those three injury time penalties in the first half of 2016 to win us important games – remember Plymouth…? An attacking fly-half whose maintained his form to the extent that Tony Fenner has played far less over the past two seasons at 10, irrespective of his injuries, than most might have imagined would be the case when he first arrived.

Will is something of a prodigal son, returning to Cov having first made his début for the club as an 18 year-old before leaving for Nottingham in the Championship and then Ampthill in National One. A local lad made good. And he’s also comes across as a genuinely nice guy…even stopping to offer me a lift one day on the way back from training. A small gesture but one that has always stayed with me…

He’s won the Supporters’ Player of the Season and (I think?) the Players’ Player, too, so hardly surprising that he so popular among the Cov faithful.

We always knew that the squad would be strengthened on promotion, and by bringing in a player with 200 plus Championship games under his belt, the coaches have done just that.

On paper it seemed likely that Will was initially going to be the second choice 10 to begin with anyway, even if he was the holder of the shirt and was given the starting berth for that first game when Jake was apparently injured pre-season.

But Jake was always going to be given a run early on and I thought he played well against Bedford, kicking aside, but didn’t have the greatest game at Hartpury, although he wasn’t alone.

Competition for places can only be a good thing and you’d hope that Will’s game will develop still further alongside Sharp, as of course will Jake’s.

Tolmie and Nilsen, Ram and Preece, Kessell and White – in almost every position there are two players at least competing for the one spot.

Sharp has a proven track record and is someone who needs a bit more game time. It’s not a case of being uber-positive here really, I just  think the lad deserves more of a chance than he’s been given in some quarters, that’s all. But Will is a quality player who more than deserves his chance in the Championship second time round too and I imagine both he and Jake will share the shirt over the course of the season, together with appearances from Dan Lewis later in the season.

The game is a fantastic opportunity for the club to really make a statement against Irish and a win on Saturday would open up the league for a number of teams, especially Ealing and Pirates. It is exactly what the Championship needs so early in the season and whilst the odds might be stacked in favour of the Exiles, stranger things have happened. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do to them what Blackheath, Rosslyn Park and Esher did to us that first season under RW when we went down there probably as favourites only to be turned over all too easily?

Stranger things have happened.

Whatever the team selected, again the performance is almost as important as the result – the chance to test ourselves against opposition of the quality of London Irish is what we all wanted when we were talking about promotion last season.

The supporters, I’m sure, will do our bit and help make it another BPA day to remember for all the right reasons..

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Joe Jackson has featured a couple of time already in the blog – a singer songwriter who has had a number of Grammy nominations and is far more than the two-hit wonder some might remember him for (Is She Really Going Out With Him? and It’s Different For Girls).

Let’s hope it really is a case of :

Life goes on, ever immune to prediction
And love can be stranger than fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 thoughts on “Looking ahead…”

  1. ” I think I’ve only ever properly ‘ranted’ twice in the bog”

    Agree Tim, I do most of my best thinking in the bog as well.

    Another good, thought provoking piece there though, thank you.

    1. OMG! I can’t believe I did that…I wish I could say that had been deliberate but sadly that’s not the case! Many thanks for your support Rhys, it is really, really appreciated!

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