Nottingham tomorrow (running for home)…a new concern surfacing?

23Nov - by Tim - 0 - In Club talk

Run for home run as fast as I can
Oh-oh running man running for home
Run for home run as fast as I can
Oh-oh running man running for home
I’ve seen all the frowns
On the faces of the clowns
And the downs that they take just to be free

Lindisfarne – Run For Home

Three wins should put us in a qualifying position

So said Rowland Winter earlier this week.

On that basis, Coventry’s victory against Carnegie last week means we might now need only another two wins from these last four rounds.

But with Cov still relying very much on their home form, realistically tomorrow’s game against Nottingham looks to be a vitally important one if we are to harbour genuine hopes of making it into the semis in late February. And from everything I seen and heard, the club remain determined to go on a decent cup run in this, the competition’s inaugural season.

Whilst the coaches have experimented a little with their selection for the Cup games, they’ve still managed to put out two strong sides, indeed far stronger than some of the other teams involved, so far anyway.

I wonder whether we’ll see a different approach to selection once clubs reach the knockout stages?

Nottingham’s side again bears little resemblance to those selected for the Championship games, although it is also very different from the side that lost to Doncaster last week, with Head Coach, Neil Fowkes, commenting that the Cup competition:

has given us an opportunity to play all of our squad as well as keep our game improving and moving forward

Included in the Nottingham side this week are three players on loan…from Wasps no less. This is very much in contrast to Coventry who so far have resisted the temptation, despite comments from RW during pre-season that Cov might themselves call on some dual-reg/loanees should the need arise.

Whilst I’ve never been against the use of Premiership academy players coming in to strengthen the squad when needed, the success of the club’s own Development Academy has meant that so far this season the coaches have been able to call up youngsters from within the club.

The likes of Willis, Howe and James certainly made a big impact when they joined us from Wasps before Christmas 2016, but it’s been so much more enjoyable to see players like Jeannot, Gray, Hutchinson, and now Lewis and Flinn, come through the ranks and begin to establish their own positions in the senior squad. In some respects, that almost as big a success story in these first few months than our encouraging start in the Championship itself.

a1
The Championship Cup tables as they stand after the Carnegie game

That Cov can still give the likes of Flinn and Lewis the opportunity of first team experience within what is still a very competitive match day squad, even without a number of key players who have yet to return from injury, speaks volumes about the size and strength of the senior squad.

Nottingham appear to have made wholesale changes in their opening two games in the Cup competition and as a result they find themselves embedded at the foot of Pool 1, despite an impressive start to the Championship itself.

Whilst it is admirable to give so many of their squad an opportunity of playing in the competition, I can’t help but think Cov has the better approach. Blooding one or two of the youngsters from the Development Academy, those currently showing good form at their feeder clubs, alongside some of the more experienced players from the senior squad, strikes me as the right way of introducing youngsters to the next step in their rugby careers.

There are plenty of others still knocking on the door of the senior squad, the likes of Roach, Lane, Titchener, the McNultys et all, but their time will come and in the meantime they can gain valuable experience at the appropriate national level.

In tomorrow’s match day squad, young Dan Lewis will be playing in a back division made up of Pete White, Will Maisey, Max Trimble, Tony Fenner, Rob Knox and Junior Bulumakau and, even without Stevens, Tuitupou and Sharp, there’s an argument to say on current form that is not far off a first choice line-up anyway.

And with the obvious exception of Will Flinn, the bench looks a strong as any Cov have fielded all season, or indeed at any time in the last 8 or 9 seasons: Nilsen, Beech, Boulton, Nutley, Ram and Stokes would grace any starting XV surely? To have the three front rowers come on for Titchard-Jones, Darren Dawidiuk and Biyi Alo as the opposition pack begins to tire is a big bonus – if you were the opposition coaches you’d be praying that the first choice front row stay on as long as possible.

I’ll be really interested to see how the midfield pairing of Tony Fenner and Rob Knox get on tomorrow. Last week I thought they looked really promising and created plenty of problems for Carnegie. The backs again look to be a very attacking unit and if the forwards can provide them with plenty of quick ball, there’s every chance they could exploit a Nottingham side that has yet to impress in the Cup competition.

Run for home run as fast as I can
Oh-oh running man running for home

Whilst Sam Tuitupou has been exceptional this season and has played a far bigger role in the opening 9 Championship games than many imagined he would back in September, for me his partnership along side Heath Stevens hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders.

Stronger performances from both Fenner and Stevens this week will put further pressure on both Tuitupou and Stevens, as well as Andy Bulumakau, and although RW has said all three will be back for next Friday’s game, again against Nottingham up at Meadow Lane, Fenner and Knox in particular could make selection for the restart of the Championship campaign something of a headache for Winter next month.

Celebration

Rob Knox seems to have got his mojo back  – he’s always appeared something of a confidence player to me and hopefully scoring his first try of the season in a competitive game at Championship level will doubtless have done Rob a power of good.  Alongside him, Tony Fenner is such a consummate footballer – just the kind of player to bring the best out of Knox whose physicality complements Fenner creativity and vision so well. It’s an exciting pairing and if Will Maisey can control the game as well as he did against Yorkshire Carnegie, it should make for a running, expansive game.

I’m pleased to see Jack Preece start as well. As good as Jack Ram is, and he is very good, Preece has had an impact whenever he’s come on and he’ll be sure to put pressure on Nottingham at the breakdown, winning the odd steal in the process. It’s definitely an area of the game we’ve not had all our own way so far this season and it will be interesting to see if Jack Preece can address the balance a little.

After a steady start, I thought Ben Adams did really well last weekend and even without Peters, Faleata or Nutley, the starting back row looks formidable with some exceptionally powerful runners in the pack.

Given some decent possession, Jubb, Oram, Voss, Preece and Adams will run at Nottingham all afternoon and with Nutley and Ram to come on off the bench,  it all looks very positive.

I’m really enjoying this Cup competition. Despite the result, the Darlington game was exciting enough and last weekend’s contest against Carnegie made for compelling viewing, even if we did make it a little harder on ourselves than perhaps we should have done.

Last week’s home crowd of 1904 was the second biggest of the day, behind an impressive 2143 at Bedford to watch the home side power their way past Hartpury. Despite the continuing apathy towards the cup elsewhere among some Cov supporters, at least the  attendance at Cov’s first home game didn’t appear unduly affected – it was actually 5 up on Cov’s lowest Championship attendance for the season.

These games are so important for the financial well-being of the club; hopefully, we’ll see another decent crowd tomorrow.

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

It appears that the club has been given the green light to start laying its synthetic pitch this coming April. Two away games at the end of the season mean the club is able to begin work a good couple of weeks earlier than  it might otherwise have done, so with a bit of luck the pitch might be ready for the start of the 2019/20 campaign.

Maybe it’s only me, but even though I totally understand the reasons why an artificial surface is so important to the long-term financial future of the club, there are some short-term on the field considerations that do worry me a little.

Cov’s encouraging start to this season is attributable almost entirely to the team’s strength at home.

On grass.

We’ve won 4 out of five games and got a losing bonus point, against London Irish, in the other. It’s a home record that is comparable to most other teams in the Championship so far:

0511-0809-1401-2848_Full_House_Poker_Hand_Clip_Art_clipart_image.jpg
Coventry’s home record this season

But it’s needed to be.

Away from home has, of course, been an entirely different story, with Cov losing all four games in a run that puts us very much into the relegation zone purely on away results:

a
Coventry’s away record this season

The worry for me is that it will obviously take some time for Coventry to adapt to playing on a different surface next season and it would be perhaps unwise to expect that next season we can rely on the same sort of dominance at home as we’ve enjoyed over the last three seasons under Rowland Winter.

The DoR has said before that playing on a surface other than grass requires different players, with different attributes, especially in the forwards, so it’s likely that we’ll witness a bigger turnover of players next summer than we’ve seen in the last couple of seasons. And they’ll also take time to bed in.

RW has said he prefers playing on grass and I imagine it will also take the coaches time to adapt their own skill sets to a different playing surface  – both of which make a similar start next season at home a little less likely. And without such a strong home record, for me that would be a worry at the moment…

Presumably, even though we’re not yet half way through the season, the coaches are planning ahead. Recruitment will have been targeted at players who are best suited to a synthetic surface and I imagine (but don’t know) that there are plans afoot to include training seasons this season on an artificial pitch as well in order to prepare fully for next season. It would certainly make sense and might give us a slight edge going into next year’s pre-season.

It’s becoming increasingly important that Cov get into the winning habit away from home as well, not just to ensure a decent final league position this season, but also as a springboard to next season which will come with its own unique problems early on.

We’ve seen how Rowland Winter is a man for all seasons…

…the question now is whether he is a man for all surfaces as well?

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

As before, I’ll be tweeting during the game, so anyone unable to get to the BPA, then the usual info applies.

A reminder that Cov now has its own match day Twitter feed (@CoventryRugby) – mostly just the scores and the main moments in the game, although always informative and of interest.

I should also add that Nottingham has its own too (@NottinghamRugby ) which provides a very similar service to Cov’s.

However, if you are interested in something slightly different, then I do try and give a sense of the atmosphere/occasion as well providing rather more tweets than from other accounts.

A lot more in fact, so if you’re at home and just surfing the net trying to find out anything you can about the game, this might be a different option. The tweets, when combined, make a crude ‘commentary’ of sorts and it will be rather more personalised than the Coventry feed – the two might work well together.

Be warned though, you might get well over a 130 plus tweets during the course of the game – so if that is too much, mute me and use the club’s official feed. Remember to switch me back on at the end though, please!

Do bear in mind, I am a bit one-eyed when I tweet. I’ll certainly be fairly emotive I imagine, so be warned if you are following me. A balanced viewpoint isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get.

I’m on @Cowshedtim

Apologies in advance, as always, for some of the typos that appear, it does get a bit frenetic at times and my fingers and thumbs are showing a few signs of wear these days. For some though, the deciphering of the tweets adds to the occasion.

If you aren’t familiar with Twitter or don’t have an account, then on the homepage of this blog (www.coventryrfc.me) my Twitter feed can be found on the right hand side. Just click on it to expand the size.

You don’t need a Twitter account to follow it.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, have a great afternoon.

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

Here’s hoping it’s an entertaining game again and Coventry show the same sort of intent as they did last week to run the ball…

…running for home.

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