Honesty is such a lonely word
Everyone is so untrue
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
But I don’t want some pretty face
To tell me pretty lies
All I want is someone to believe
Billy Joel – Honesty
Whatever the result I’ve only ever enjoyed watching Cov, be it home or away.
Some games make for easy viewing, others less so.
Saturday’s was definitely in the ‘less so’ category.
Cov’s performance would certainly rank as one of the poorest I’ve seen under Rowland Winter’s stewardship. It’s unfortunate in some respects that it came so soon after the London Irish game as it only serves to heighten the difference between a Coventry side full of pace and purpose at home and one that looks to be lacking in confidence and self-belief on its travels.
The side was barely recognisable from the one that arguably should have beaten London Irish the week before even though there were just three changes to the starting XV.
It’s that inconsistency that makes Saturday’s game so much harder to stomach, but at the same time it’s important to remember just how good Cov have been on occasions already this season…
The omens weren’t good.
The rain hadn’t eased off for the entire length of the journey down from Cov and although it wasn’t heavy by any stretch of the imagination, it was persistent and it was surprisingly cold down in Richmond.
The beanie hat was out far earlier this season than last.
The long journey down had seemed even longer on account of a series of delays along the way and we didn’t reach the ground until 2.15 pm, although given the weather that wasn’t too much of a concern.
The conditions weren’t ideal for sure, but I do think too much has been made of them really. The rain wasn’t heavy, there was no wind to speak off and although it can’t have been pleasant out there, conditions will certainly get far worse over the coming weeks and months.
The video below gives an idea of what it was like; there is some pooling of rainwater to the side of the pitch but the grass looked in really good condition. Yes, it was greasy which made handling a little more difficult, but not excessively so.
Whilst I expect the Athletic Ground is something of a sun trap in the summer months, its open nature makes it exposed on two sides when the weather isn’t quite so inclement and with spectators understandably preferring to sit in the stand rather than brave the rain, the atmosphere was a little hollow at times.
A crowd of under 700, of which a good hundred plus were visiting supporters, watched the game but all the noise until the last 10 minutes or so came from the Coventry fans. Many of the blue ‘n whites were congregated in one area to the right of the press box.
With 10 minutes to go, a couple of Richmond supporters sat next to us, unaware they were flanked on all sides by expectant Coventry fans. As Coventry jogged off the field and a crescendo of noise erupted from the Coventry faithful, they looked at each other obviously surprised not just by the volume, but also the passion of the away support.
I have to admit, I did feel a sense of pride at being in the midst of such support; it was something special. Everywhere we go we tend to be louder and more ardent that the home fans are used to.
It’s a great feeling. But after pride there often comes a fall…
And on Saturday, it was from a great height, too.
Cov were well beaten on the day but I thought both sides were pretty ordinary, it’s just that we were more ordinary than Richmond.
What told in the end was Richmond’s experience at this level. What they did do, and did well, was to capitalise on our errors and indiscretions. By and large, they retained the ball far better than we did and on the occasions we were penalised, Richmond kicked the ball into our 22 where it stayed for long periods.
From what Rowland Winter said in his post-match interview, Cov either lost possession or Richmond stole our ball some twenty times over the course of the game. That’s a staggering figure and one that goes some way to explain just how poor we were. That’s not down to the conditions; it’s the result of a lack of discipline and game management. You can’t expect to win beat Championship opposition on the back of those sorts of statistics.
Territorially, Richmond had the lion’s share of the game territorially and although we saw a decent amount of the ball, try as they might, Coventry struggled to break through the Richmond defence which was the strongest aspect of their overall game. Their defensive line was up quickly and there were always two or three players to make the first tackle and as a result we seldom made any ground.
On occasions we were actually driven backwards and under that sort of pressure Cov made too many unforced errors.
Their forwards tackled their hearts out and whilst it was something of a surprise when the PA announced that the whole of their pack was awarded the ‘Man of the Match’, it was a decision that met without any argument from either set of supporters.
To be fair no lack of effort either from the Cov players from where we were sitting, none at all, just an inability to change things or take the game to the opposition. We kicked far too much ball away and whilst against Irish the chasers had been up quickly, on Saturday we either kicked too long or failed to put enough height on the ball, giving the Richmond receivers far too much time and space.
Richmond kicked too, overly so, but we didn’t make use of the ball and the absence of Stokes made us look less of a threat on the counter. Halaifonua did little wrong but he was well marked and was given little space to run.
The pairing of Kessell and Maisey didn’t fire at all on Saturday and even when we looked to be a little more expansive, the quality of the passing and handling among the backs was anything but Championship quality.
I appreciate that the team ratings as shown in The Rugby Paper should be treated with caution, but when Richmond’s half backs Damant and Jones receive a 7 and 8 respectively and Maisey and Kessel two 5s, then that tells a story on its own.
The 10 shirt for Cov seems to be jinxed this season. With Jake Sharp rested, here was a golden opportunity for Will Maisey to make a statement to the coaches along the lines that he was very much the man for the occasion.
Sadly, it didn’t happen for him and both he and Tom Kessell both looked out of sorts. Will even had an off day with the boot, missing three kicks that he would have kicked comfortably last season. One, a penalty 45 metres out and in front of the posts, was well short and the Richmond player who fielded it then proceeded to return it a good 15 metres behind where the kick was originally taken. He kicks those with his eyes closed in the warm up…
It was that sort of day.
It was wet, the ball would have been greasy, but that didn’t excuse some of the errors. When we did eventually try and get the ball moving wide, players were often almost static, passes inaccurate, hands unreliable.
I thought Sam Tuitupou’s experienced shone out at times. He still looks class at this level and he made two or three line breaks (there were few others), but he no longer the pace he once had and without anyone on his shoulder, he was quickly run down.
Rob Knox was the other back who I thought was more prominent than most. In the end he had to come off his wing to look for the ball, but as he always does, he ran at the opposition and he tried to make things happen.
Richmond’s early try did nothing to settle the nerves and we really looked a shadow of the side we see play with so much heart and spirit at the BPA. As a team they didn’t look confident and although I’m sure Heath Stevens was doing everything a captain should do in those circumstances, the situation looked to be crying out a couple of Cov players to take the game by the scruff of the neck and do something a bit different to change the course of the game.
After 30 minutes it all became a little too predictable and even when we did score during one of the few occasions we put together several phases of play, we then contrived to get a player yellow carded. Having been awarded a penalty, the intervention of the touch judge saw the decision reversed and James Gibbons receive a yellow card.
The lineout, so often a strength this season, stuttered and we lost five lineouts on our own throw, to Richmond’s one. Yes, we had Dan Faleata making his debut in the second row, but that wasn’t something that was down to him, although I’m sure that made things a little more difficult. Even the ball we did win often wasn’t clean and we were tapping the ball rather than catching it cleanly, putting Kessell under unnecessary pressure at times.
Charlie Beech seemed to pick up a should injury (?) and the scrum had looked in trouble in the scrums preceding his departure after 25 minutes or so. Luc Jeannot’s arrival into the game seemed to steady things a little, but overall the Cov scrum wobbled more than it has done at any time this season.
Those around where I was sitting felt Tom Jubb had been prominent and certainly hadn’t disgraced himself. The lineout hadn’t been as secure as it normally is, but he put himself about round the park and he seemed to be one of the few forwards who tried to take the game to the opposition, although RW clearly disagreed!
As a one-off, the Richmond game would have been extremely disappointing but no more. But in the context of the Hartpury game, it has to take on a greater significance and Heath Stevens voiced what everyone else was thinking after the game. Namely, that the lessons from just two weeks ago hadn’t been learned.
And that’s the difficulty for the coaches. No matter how good the mid-week training sessions appear to be, the only real test is under the intense pressure of a competitive game…and on Saturday we failed it.
Yesterday’s debriefing by the coaches and senior players would have been an interesting one to have listened in to – the ‘home truths’ that Stevens mentioned will have needed to be aired and doubtless even the senior pros in the squad will not have been devoid of some criticism.
Saturday is another big game for Cov – as important as any so far.
We’ve already played the two teams away from home that we probably would have targeted at the start of the season as being the most beatable and lost both, so we have to win against Scottish on Saturday if we’re to take little of the pressure off us when we travel down to Ealing the following Saturday and then face Yorkshire Carnegie back at the Butts the week after.
How the players react to criticism from both within their own numbers and from supporters will be crucial. Other than a couple of comments I’ve read, most supporters have been fair and realistic in their assessment of the game and of where we find ourselves with nearly a third of the season now completed.
We’ve enjoyed a good deal of success in the last 18 months and we were always going to find the first half of this season hard going. It’s only the performances in the last two away games that have really caused concern but we’ve seen plenty from this Coventry squad to be reasonably optimistic about the future.
Weeks like the one coming up are where the coaches really show their worth; there will be one or two players who’ll need picking up after the Richmond game and it is as much about their ability to motivate as it is about the players’ ability to sort out the issues with the more technical aspects of their game.
It’s still early days and whilst there are clearly elements of Cov’s game that aren’t yet where we’d like them to be, especially away from home, there’s enough experience and ability in the squad to ensure that in the second half of the season, performances are far more consistent away from home as well.
There will be some tough decisions to be made before then and I expect there to be one or two players still to come in and a few more who are already in the squad who we won’t see play too often from now on, other than in cup games.
In the past couple of season, Rowland Winter has reduced his squad to a more manageable number by Christmas to around 25 or 26 in National One. Maybe we’ll see something similar this year, although perhaps nearer the 30 mark given the larger match day squads.
The coaches will have seen enough by then to identify those whom they feel best-suited to the second half of the Championship campaign; the rest will either be loaned out or released – at least that will be the case if the last couple of seasons are anything to go by.
Heath Stevens rightly highlighted the need for a few home truths…
…a few away ones wouldn’t go amiss too.
Home truths mean a good dose of ‘Honesty’.
Honesty is hardly ever heard
And mostly what I need from you
Cue Billy Joel…