On the 7th Day of Christmas…

Day 7 of the Cov Blog’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) 2019 poll results.

And this time it’s 6th place that’s up for grabs.

And today you voted for:

Will Maisey and Rory Jennings.

A first for the MVP poll then; two players not just sharing the same percentage vote but also receiving an identical number of votes, too. They just couldn’t be separated so they share 6th place.

Congratulations to both Rory and Will.

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Coventry Rugby announced the capture of Rory Jennings from Championship rivals London Scottish back in March of this year. The failure of Jake Sharp to live up to expectations the previous season meant that some spectators, and I include myself here, weren’t as excited as perhaps we might otherwise have been about his arrival, despite Rory having represented his country at U16, U18 levels and U20 levels, culminating in appearances in the 2015 World Cup, including the final in which England lost to New Zealand.

But it soon became apparent the Rory Jennings was everything that we’d hoped Jake Sharp would prove to be and his performances have been as consistent as anyone’s in the current squad.

The Rugby Paper Average Ratings (above) show that in the 10 Cup and League games rated, only Luc Jeannot and Henry Purdy are above Rory, and they have played far fewer games.  Only one player, Phil Boulton, has played in more games this season, but no player has started as many…

A player, then, in whom the coaches have complete faith.

And many supporters too, judging by this result.

Rory Jennings on the charge against Ealing (Photo courtesy of John Coles)

Injuries, particularly in midfield, have meant that Rory Jennings has ended up playing more games at 12 than at 10 and even when players have returned, the coaches have kept faith with him at centre, partly of course because of the excellent form of Will Maisey.

Prior to completing a bit of background reading in preparation for this post, I hadn’t realised that Rory Jennings was another player in the Tony Fenner mould, versatile across several positions along the three-quarters. Commenting at the time of his arrival, Rowland Winter made it clear that Cov had recruited a player who wasn’t just competing for the 10 shirt:

‘Rory has signed a two-year contract to join us from the end of the current season (2018/19). He has been one of the stand-out fly halves in the Championship this season, and at 23 is still very young for someone who has so much good experience with England at age-group level and at Bath.

We were looking for someone to come in, grow with the club and give us a different point of attack alongside Will Maisey and Dan Lewis now that Tony Fenner is more of a centre.

In Rory we believe we have a fast-footed attacking player with a good goal-kicking percentage and the ability to also play other positions. We like the balance in his game and at 23 he has further room for improvement, so we believe he will be a real asset for us.’

Rory Jennings scores against Ealing (Photo courtesy of John Coles)

That balance in his game, that ability to play outside of the 10 shirt has been a real asset already, allowing the coaches plenty of options at times when selection would otherwise have been difficult. And whilst Jennings is very much a player for the present, he is also one for the future too. When Rowland Winter first came to Cov back in 2016, he brought with him a number of talented youngsters, players who would form the body of his squad for several seasons – Maisey, Trimble, White, Knox, Stokes, Fenner (ish at 26) and Dacres the following season .

Maybe Jennings is another such acquisition, a player good enough for the Championship already but someone brought in with the Premiership in mind? If Nick Walshe can bring out the best in Rory Jennings as he has Will Maisey, then we’re going to see a lot more from Rory Jennings.

Defensively, Jennings is as solid as any in the back line, including Heath Stevens who I think is really underrated as a defender. Jennings isn’t a big man by any means, but he is fearsome, and fearless, in the tackle and must be technically very strong in this area as he seldom gets injured despite the ferocity of some of the hits he puts in. He also likes to keep the ball available and seems to know exactly where the receiver is instinctively.

We’ve seen plenty already from Jennings to suggest that he is a class act – if I had to choose one moment that sums up what a talented player he is, it would be his cross kick in the dying moments of the League fixture against Ealing. Trailing 28-21, RJ had the vision to spot an unmarked David Halaifonua on the far touchline and the ability to find his man with the most accurate of kicks to bring Cov to within two points of a thoroughly deserved draw against one of the favourites for the league title.

All it needed was someone with nerves of steel to convert the try from wide out and level the scores.

And up stepped Will Maisey…

Will is the first player (maybe the only player, we shall soon see) to have appeared in all three Cov Blog MVP polls.

In 2016 he was 6th, in 2017 4th and now in 2019 6th again.

Some record that for a player who struggled to gain a regular first team spot in his first spell at Coventry. I remember him back then as a rather tall, rangy fly half who played intermittently over the 3 seasons he was with us. To be fair, I always thought that when he did get the chance he impressed, always looking to get the backs running and even back then being a better distributor of the ball than most in the league at that time. His kicking out of hand was probably the weakest part of his game, lacking distance in particular, something he seems to have worked on a great deal whilst he was at Nottingham and Ampthill.

Will Maisey is always one of the first players out pre-match, whether starting or as a replacement, and he’ll spend a good 30 minutes taking kicks from all angles to get to grips with the pitch and the weather conditions. When we were able to watch the players train back in the day, Will was always one of the last to leave the pitch, well after training had officially ended, putting in the hours of practise that have made him one of the most accurate of Cov kickers in recent times.

Will gets his backs moving against Moseley (Photo from the Internet, apologies for the quality)

He never really got a decent run though back in that first spell, making only 21 starts and a further 8 appearances off the bench in the three seasons he was here. And try getting your head around this – in those first three seasons under Phil Maynard, Will scored just 24 points in total.

In just over three seasons under Nick Walshe and Rowland Winter, Will has amassed an incredible 726. The current Cov coaches obviously saw something in Will that Phil Maynard and co didn’t back in 2011. And boy has he repaid their confidence in him.

Such success doesn’t come without plenty of hard graft. It’s taken years of dedication to reach the level he’s now at, but along with all that hard work he also seems blessed with what appears to be nerves of steel as well.

For most of the last three years, Will has played in a team that has shunned the opportunity to kick the points, more often than not kicking for position and attacking from a lineout instead. How many more points would he have scored had we been less expansive and rather more defensive in our approach to games?

Will bags another two points against Ealing (Photo courtesy of John Coles)

He also understudied Tony Fenner in the opening few games of 2016 season as he has Rory Jennings on occasions this season. But time and time again, Will has converted the most difficult of kicks at times when a Cov result depended on his nerves and his skill as a kicker – remember the games against Plymouth Albion, Old Albanian and Birmingham at home back in National One or, as mentioned above, that touchline conversion to share the spoils against Ealing this season (the best of the bunch for me)?

By concentrating on Will’s kicking, I’ve done him a slight disservice for as good as his kicking is, there’s so much more to his game. Granted it’s what most supporters will focus on initially because it has won us so many games in the past three seasons, but what makes Will such an exciting player to watch is that he is always looking to get his backs running and he’s one of the best distributors of the ball in a Cov shirt that we’ve had for a good long while. I was a massive fan of Matt Jones when he was at Cov, but Will certainly has the edge on him in terms of his distribution and he always seems to be able to open up spaces through judicious use of a range of passes he has in his repertoire. His vision is such that he seldom gets intercepted, even though sometimes he throws the ball out ridiculously wide .

Another area of Will’s game that has improved immeasurably over the last three seasons is his defence. He misses very few tackles these days and for a tall man he manages to avoid the high tackle far better than most.

I think every Cov supporters has at some stage in the last three of seasons worried that, given the time Will takes in his run-up to reach the ball, at some point he’ll get chased down by one of the opposition wingers, keen to win a lucrative bet with his team mates.

You know he won’t, or at least you think he won’t, but that doesn’t stop you fearing the worst. As Will himself says:

‘I get stick from a few guys that I walk too slowly to the ball and take too much time, but I quite like the way I do it – it adds to the excitement!’

I still hold my breath on occasions.

And one of the nicest aspects about Will’s success is that he’s a local lad made good, a player who loves the city and above all the club. In an interview in 2017, when asked about a return to the Championship, Will said:

‘I’d really like to get back there and it would be amazing if it was with Coventry – it’s the first club I was really part of, it’s my local team and the one I want to see doing well.’

You can’t help but love the guy when he comes out with sentiments like these…

Will Maisey remains on fire, na na na na na na na na na na na.

If you’ve heard Wigan Athletic’s ‘Will Grigg’s on Fire’, the terrace chant that caught the imagination of the nation three years ago, it’s hard not to replace Will Grigg’s name with that of our own Will Maisey. I used this in a blog a couple of years ago and I know others have had the same thought since as it’s been sung on the Supporters’ Coach on the way back from games in the past, too.

It might not be the greatest of tunes, but for those who know the tune, it’s hard not to think of Will:

He will score points, Will will score just more and more
He will score points, he will score them all..
He will score points, he will just score more and more.
He will score points, that’s what we signed him for.
Will Maisey’s on fire, your defence is terrified…
Will Maisey’s on fire, na na na na na na na na na na na

 

Congratulations then to both Rory and Will…

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It’s the 8th Day of Christmas tomorrow and the top 5 places are still to be settled.

Here’s how it’s gone so far:

Day 7 – Rory Jennings and Will Maisey (6th)

Day 6 – Pete White (7th)

Day 5 – Tony Fenner (8th)

Day 4 – Luke Wallace (9th)

Day 3 – Henry Purdy (10th)

Day 2 – Adam Peters (11th)

Day 1 – Senitiki Nayalo (12th)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Tim

3 thoughts on “On the 7th Day of Christmas…

  1. Hi Mick, Happy New Year to you and yours…looking forward to seeing you shortly at the BPA

  2. Praise to Rowland Winter in selecting versatile players. Another valid point that has occurred many times in his tenure at Coventry.

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