The best form of attack is defence…?

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down
I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down

Chumbawamba – Tubthumping

cropped-badge.pngIt might well be that the old adage ‘The best form of attack is defence’ rings true for some clubs in our league…

…but this wasn’t exactly the case for Coventry last season.

There were at least 5 or 6 games where the losing margin was less than 9 points.

One or two of them could, and should, have been won but for just one or two lapses in concentration which allowed the opposition to take the lead against the run of play. We were a little naïve defensively at times; understandably so given it was our first season in the Championship.

In fairness though, a couple of those games we also deserved to lose.

And because most teams were better defensively than us (we conceded more points than any other Championship side), we just couldn’t break them down. They did what we needed to do and as a result they closed out games which possibly Cov should have won.

  • Cov 31 – 32 Notts
  • London Scottish 15 – 14 Coventry  
  • Bedford 53 – 52 Coventry
  • Coventry 17 – 23 Doncaster 
  • Notts 15 – 15 Coventry
  • Cov 17 – 21 London Irish  

Equally though, several of those could have resulted in a Cov win had we been just a bit tighter. Just a bit more canny and streetwise.

Over the course of the season you could well argue we also had one or two games in which we did exceptionally well to hold on to the win in tight situations,  but it shouldn’t be simply down to the law of averages and things evening themselves out.

No, it should be about us being confident in our ability to get in front and stay there even in those last few minutes when the opposition throw everything at us and even the kitchen sink makes an appearance on the touchline in readiness for the final play.

2019 table

If Cov are to finish in or around the top half of the table this season (and for me 5th place really has to be a challenging but attainable target ), then they have to reduce the deficit in that ‘points for and against’ column.

Last season, we conceded 140 more points than we scored, the kind of differential that is always going to put teams into the bottom six in the Championship. Admittedly, the home and away games against Ealing and the visit to London Irish proved particularly humbling and skewed the totals somewhat, but if Cov are to break into the top 6, then they have to be rather more parsimonious defensively  across the season as a whole.

The first of the teams  to achieve a positive points score was Cornish Pirates and they finished a very handy 5th. Looking back over previous seasons, teams consistently needed to have a positive points difference to be 5th (and sometimes 6th). It’s not always been the case and there are one or two anomalies as you’d expect, but you can pretty much guarantee that if we score more than we concede this season we’ll finish two or three places above where we did back in April.

When I chatted to Nick Walshe last Friday, he made the point that the coaches had been under a lot of pressure  last season as they were having to double up roles. I’m sure the sudden, and late, departure of Luke Narraway can’t have helped and although Nick was far too diplomatic to say so, it must have disrupted their run into the pre-season pretty dramatically.

I thought Narraway looked to have tightened things up no end the season before  so to lose him as late as they did can’t have helped.

Anthony Allen
Anthony Allen

NW did say that he was far happier this year being able to leave organising the defence to the newest member of the coaching staff, Anthony Allen.  This has freed him up to concentrate on attack – presumably  an area that Cov will  also be eager to further develop given the promise of a more expansive style of play now we have the artificial surface at the BPA.

 

Although having retired as recently as 2015, Allen looks to have made a really impressive start to his coaching career (from the Tigers official website):

As academy head coach, Allen has guided Leicester to back-to-back Premiership Rugby Under-18 League titles and was part of the England Under-20 coaching team in 2017/18 when the team reached the final of the World Rugby Championship.

He has also experienced coaching at the highest level as part of Geordan Murphy’s coaching team this season.

And on the Official Leicester Tigers Forum, supporters seemed genuinely disappointed that he was leaving, which suggests that he’d already had a major impact on the coaching in his three years there:

That he retired too early as a player is cause for great regret as he marshalled the back line with a considerable rugby brain.

This seems the right time for him to try his arm at coaching away from Tigers for which I wish him the best of luck.

and:

I don’t think we’ve managed to replace him in the team yet either, Toomua for a season maybe. Shows how important he was.

Other than perhaps James Pritchard, Rowland Winter has shown he has the ability to attract either top quality coaches, or those with the potential to be, and with Deacon and Walshe looking settled at Coventry, perhaps Allen’s  appearance will have just as much an impact on the team off the pitch as did the signings of players like Tuitupou, Makaafi and Nilsen on it.

Allen’s arrival is but one more piece of the promotion jigsaw. We’re no further than perhaps seeing little more than the edging in place, but as Winter strengthens the playing squad and brings in yet more quality amongst the backroom/support staff, then the bigger picture really is starting to emerge.

There are some real leaders on the pitch now too, players like Ryan Burrows have been recruited because of their experience and their ability to control a game.

With Allen now working alongside the more senior players, the hope must surely be that some of those games last year,  tight affairs but ones we ended up winning, could this season be turned into just as tight wins.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

It won’t have gone unnoticed that World Rugby has approved a number of law changes to be trialled in various countries over the coming years and, if approved, it is likely they will be put  in place before the next World Cup.

Banning tackles above the waist is the most high profile and the one many people have voiced opinions on, and rightly so given the current very real concerns over player safety. However, there is another that has sneaked under the radar a little, one that could have a huge impact on the attraction of rugby as a spectator sport.

The plan is to trial a ’50-22′ kick in an attempt to open games up and allow more space for the attacking side. In short, this means the team in possession will get the throw-in at a line-out if they kick the ball out of play from within their own half and it bounces inside the opposition’s 22. At the moment it would be a throw-in to the defending team.

My initial reaction was that it would simply increase the amount of kicking in a game that is already dominated by the seemingly ubiquitous aerial bombardments. However, having read the reasons behind the change to the law, I do now at least understand the rationale.

The threat of attacking sides kicking deep from within their own half means that defending sides will be forced into dropping two, even three, players back to guard against a possible 50-22, thus creating more space for the attacking side to run into.

Thus it leaves the defending team in something of a quandary, stay up or drop back?

It’s not too dissimilar to the ’40-20′ kick in Rugby League which seems to have been well-received since its introduction a good few years ago now.

It’s a change that I’d like to see trialled.

Whether it achieves its intention of creating a more expansive game is as yet conjecture, but at least World Rugby are prepared to give it a go.

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Chumbawamba – okay, perhaps not musical giant deserving to sit alongside The Stones, The Beatles and Elvis Costello in the pantheon of musical gods. but in the context of pub anthems, ‘Tubthumping‘ is up there with the best.

I get knocked down, but I get up again
You are never gonna keep me down

is precisely what Cov have to do, defensively, this season. Every time they get knocked down in the tackle or in a ruck or maul, up they have to get in readiness to hit the next man, and the next, for 80 long minutes.

giphy20That said, I am hoping Anthony Allen has a bit more strategy to his defensive options than just this…:). Mine, I admit, are somewhat limited.

With 10 weeks of fitness/ball work work behind them and the coaches having had the opportunity to work closely with the squad, the first game can’t come quickly enough for everyone involved with the club – and that includes spectators as well!

By all accounts the Leinster game will be very different from the one 12 months ago when Cov played a side made up mostly of talented, but very inexperienced, youngsters from their U20s squad.

12 months ago the game  wasn’t even advertised on their website.

NW believes this time round it will be pretty much their Pro-14 side but  without their internationals, so a huge step up for Cov and a really good test early on in the build up to the competitive games which begin in earnest in September.

And the game is already on their website:

a1

Hard to think of a tougher pre-season opener in recent years…

He drinks a Whiskey drink, he drinks a Vodka drink
He drinks a Lager drink, he drinks a Cider drink
He sings the songs that remind him of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him of the better times

Are these the better times which we’ll be singing about in years to come? I hope not. Or if they are, then only the start of them…

 

 

 

Author: Tim

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