Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths
William Shakespeare – Richard III
In his post-match comments to Alec Blackman immediately after watching Cov lose Richmond on Saturday, Rowland Winter talked of a number of players failing ‘to do justice to either the shirt or the team‘.
And in answering AB’s question as to what Cov must do now in preparation for next week’s crucial game at home against London Scottish, Winter’s response was typically frank – you pick ‘15 players with the balls to play‘.
Such interviews so close to the final whistle are often good indicators of the real depth of feeling beneath what is often a more reserved, dispassionate persona. Without time to rationalise and reflect, they reveal the rawness of the emotions that go with the role of coach, manager or in this case, Director of Rugby.
From previous comments he has made, I know RW to be a big fan of Murinho’s passion and this was very much a Murinho-esque response in many respects. The team underperformed and underperformed big time and rather than couch the defeat in terms of the normal platitudes and excuses that we so often hear, Winter said it as it is, rightly describing the performance as ‘rubbish‘, plain and simple.
Some of what he said might have been best left behind closed doors, but Winter is a man of the people, or at least of the supporters, and he understands the disappointment and frustrations that result from watching such uncharacteristically poor displays as the one we suffered on Saturday.
He was only externalising what many of the fans leaving the ground were thinking…
At that moment he was very much the ‘Winter of our discontent’.
And whilst further comparison to Shakespeare’s own eponymous malefactor would be totally wrong, Winter did show that he is happy to be the villain of the peace, stirring up feelings in a way we have seldom seem before, prepared to bring to an end ‘the idle pleasures of these days‘.
Six games into the Championship and the honeymoon period is well and truly over.
And that’s something the players will be all too aware of now, with Heath Stevens acknowledging in his interview which followed Winter that there will be a few ‘home truths‘ said on Monday morning. He added that Cov have been too ‘soft on themselves‘ and you get the clear impression that training this week will not be for the faint-hearted.
Winter is someone I definitely wouldn’t want to interview after such a poor performance as that against Richmond. He takes defeat far more personally than even some of the most long-standing Cov supporters I know and can tell you exactly how many games he was been involved in as a coach/DoR and his win/loss ratio. He is a perfectionist and he’ll have been poor company over the weekend I imagine, anxious to get with the players to begin to address some of the concerns he expressed live on radio after the game. (The full interview is available on Coventry’s Facebook page).
I well remember the story he told during a Thursday evening training session last season. After a particularly disappointing Cov display, his wife had banished him from the house one Sunday and he ended up driving all the way back to Coventry, spending the rest of the day pouring over the game in preparation for Monday’s debriefing.
Fair play to Alec Blackman though.
Having listened to RW’s fairly terse comment about selecting ‘15 players with the balls to play‘ in response to his question as to what next, most of us would have ended the interview there and then. AB had got his strapline and Rowland Winter definitely wasn’t showing any great willingness to carry the interview on much longer.
But Alec is nothing if not resilient.
No….he took the bull very much by the proverbial horns and asked ‘Have you got 15 players who can do that?‘
Reporters always earn my respect – war reporters in particular, putting their lives at constant risk as they do to report on conflicts worldwide.
On Saturday for those few minutes post-match, Alec Blackman was up there with Lyse Doucet, Andrew Harding, Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin.
Fortunately, RW reigned himself in a bit, suggesting that there are plenty of players who are desperate to wear the shirt and who’d relish such an opportunity.
It’s way too early to read anything into that, but if there really is a belief among the coaches that the handful of players on whom the team normally relies ‘were really quite poor today‘, and that there are plenty of other options, then we might expect to see a few changes at the weekend.
Maybe when things have calmed down a little and the coaches have had time to analyse the footage of the game, then things will be different, but if they were selecting the team this morning and not in five days time, I wonder just how much difference there would be?
I’m sure part of Winter’s reaction was because he is a proud man and to watch a team that has his name stamped all over it produce a performance lacking that very quality must have hurt him a great deal.
If I were to be a critical, and yes I am going to be, then whilst it’s fine to blame the players in that situation, presumably he and the coaches must also be at fault somewhere a long the line, too. Even if it only at a minor level. And even if they aren’t, a shared responsibility is always preferable.
As a teacher, if I had a group of pupils who underachieved for any reason in a test of some sort, the fault would always lie in part with me, too, whether it be in the planning, preparation or delivery of lessons…
However, that’s a minor observation really. He was hurting and that came out above all else.
Winter’s post match interview was in stark contrast to Nick Walshe’s far more measured comments to supporters before they left on the Supporters’ Club coach an hour later. His opening comment was an apology for the team’s performance and he repeatedly emphasised that what he just witnessed against Richmond was ‘totally unacceptable’; everyone involved would work hard to put it right.
Everyone – players and coaches.
The views of the Director of Rugby and the Head Coach complemented each other well, something that wasn’t planned or pre-arranged but which highlighted the more personal response of Winter against Nick Walshe’s more restrained and pragmatic approach.
Walshe maintained that the coaches genuinely thought that the team was ‘in a good place‘ going into the game after a good week’s training in which everyone was focused. A poor start had put pressure on the players and they hadn’t seem to believe in themselves. Whilst the discipline was poor again, it was slightly improved on recent weeks.
Interestingly, Walshe alluded to something I’ve mentioned on here before, namely that after six games in the Championship. there is now possibly a perception amongst referees that we infringe in certain areas and they are perhaps looking more closely at us for that reason. It’s becoming something of an historical problem.
However, he rightly said that we can’t keep using the same excuses and a team that wins at home and wins convincingly but loses away just isn’t good enough.
He mentioned that the players even arrived early before the game and mealed together in a hotel in order to be as professional as possible. NW also expressed gratitude for the support and acknowledged the time and expense that was involved in travelling to away games. It wasn’t something anyone took for granted and without saying as much, he clearly was very genuine in his thanks.
Underlying his comments that everyone would work hard to ensure things were right for Saturday was a steelier side to the Coventry Head Coach that I hadn’t seen before.
In short, what Rowland Winter didn’t voice on air when interviewed by Alec Blackman, Nick Walshe mentioned to supporters. We didn’t know at the time exactly what Rowland Winter had said, but having now seen the clip of AB’s interview with RW, I thought between them, the two of them said everything that needed to be said.
But as always, it’s actions rather than words which count and the coaches and players will be judged not by what was said after the game but by their response over the next couple of weeks. There’s no escaping that…
It wasn’t just Nick Walshe who came onto the coach before it departed from the Athletic Ground. Sammy Tuitupou also spoke a few words which was much appreciated and whether or not it was Sammy’s own idea or he was asked to do it, it was a very sensible move.
Sammy recognised the anger and frustration that supporters would be feeling and re-emphasised what Nick Walshe had said, namely that they would work hard to sort it out. It was a recognition on his part, and therefore as the senior pro on behalf of all the players too, that it had been a poor performance and one that the players as well as coaches felt was unacceptable.
It was very evident that the mood of the coach on the way back to Coventrry was very different to that following the Hartpury game. Despite what was for me a considerably poorer performance against Richmond and despite what Sammy had said, there wasn’t the same degree of anger at all.
Against Hartpury, we all knew we could and should have won the game, but after the defeat against Richmond there was a general acceptance that we were the poorer of two poor sides, and by a distance, and actually the scoreline probably flattered us somewhat. What there was, was worry and concern that on this form we look set for a decidedly uncomfortable few months fighting somewhere near the foot of the table. We were that poor on Saturday.
Following the Hartpury game, much of the angst was, wrongly in my opinion, directed at just the one player, whereas on Saturday rather as Winter had suggested earlier, the defeat was down to the whole team underperforming. That said, I do think there were two or three players who came out of the game relatively unscathed. but that’s all.
Maybe more on that tomorrow.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, Heath Stevens also spoke to Alec Blackman immediately after the game and he was clearly just as angry about the performance. He mentioned how the players had talked about the need to make the most of playing in wet conditions but that they’d not appeared to learn anything and with the Winter weather approaching, the players needed to learn and to do so quickly.
In criticising his own team’s performance, Stevens also rightly paid tribute to a Richmond side who deserved the win, talking about them in terms of their being a ‘close unit‘. Sam and I were having our customary walk around the pitch as Richmond came for their Captain’s Run before kick-off and we were both struck by how relaxed their players seemed. They were laughing and joking with each other, a big contrast to Coventry who seemed far more focused, so much so that I saw it as very much a plus in the Cov box in the build up to the game.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Stevens mentioned that after next week’s training, the team will go into the game against London Scottish with ‘all guns blazing‘ and I certainly felt that he meant every word of what he said. The Stevens’ smile that can so light up an occasion was missing throughout the interview and his whole demeanour suggested he was well aware of just how poor that performance was.
He did mention the need for the team to create it’s own energy and atmosphere, presumably with the help of the travelling support which was again something special on Saturday. In front of a crowd of 3000 and against a team expected to win the Championship as was the case last week that’s not a problem, in front of less than 700 then that’s very different. (Although there were three Championship games still to be played on Sunday, the highest attendance in either the Championship or National One on Saturday was just 837, at Plymouth. That must be a concern.).
Again, Heath Stevens said all the things I wanted to hear. Just how successful he and his teammates are in achieving the right outcomes won’t be clear until next Saturday at the earliest and probably not until the following weekend when we travel down to Ealing.
And that really will be a test.
One thing I did notice that hasn’t been commented on elsewhere is that as the referee blew for half-time with Cov 0-8 down, Heath Stevens quickly got the players into a huddle just before entering the players’ tunnel. He spoke for perhaps 45 seconds at the most, and he looked animated. It isn’t something I’ve seen Cov do before.
It was probably just the captain advising his players to look out for any low-flying hair dryers.
Not a great weekend for Coventry, but the immediate response of the coaches and players has been what you’d hope for and Rowland Winter in particular articulated what most Cov supporters there to witness the game were themselves thinking.
He was the very Winter of our discontent…
There have been some incredible adaptations of King Richard III in the past. I was lucky enough to see Branagh at Sheffield in the late ’90s and the film with McKellen playing him was all the more powerful for his portrayal of Richard as a fascist leader of the mid-1900s.
But Olivier’s Richard III was always the one that I always showed to sixth formers and even though it was filmed as long ago as 1955, well before I was even born, for me it still sets the standards by which all others versions are compared.
Whilst Shakespeare might not be your thing, the five minute clip below is well worth a watch. You really don’t have to appreciate Shakespeare to understand just how good a performance Olivier’s is…