It’s so funny how we don’t talk anymore
It’s so funny, why we don’t talk anymore?
But I ain’t losing sleep and I ain’t counting sheep
It’s so funny how we don’t talk anymore
Oh, we don’t talk, ooh
Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore
Unfortunately, the build up, or lack thereof, to Coventry Rugby’s game against The Army on Saturday has probably taken a little of the gloss away from what was a really impressive display by a pretty much a scratch Cov team.
And against a very experienced Army side , too – part of their build up to the Army v Navy showdown at Twickenham in May.
The Cov 22 for the game was made up of just 7 senior squad players, the rest being selected from the Academy for the most part. I’m presuming that those not down as Academy players on the official website are from the U18s, although with still no details, even just names, of the official U18 squad available it’s a bit of a guess on my part.
SQ – Senior Squad
A – Academy
15 Louis Brown (SQ); 14 James Martin (A) , 13 Heath Stevens (SQ), 12 Paul Wells (A), 11 Morgan Dayes (A); 10 Dan Lewis (SQ), 9 Will Flinn (SQ); 1 Ed Prowse (A), 2 Sam McNulty (A), 3 David Langley (A), 4 Kalius Hutchinson (A), 5 Fred Betteridge (A), 6 Scott Tolmie (SQ), 7 Jack Ram (SQ), 8 Ben Adams (SQ)
16 Shaun Allsopp (A), 18 George Parker (A), 19 Aaron Clifford (U18?), 20 Fin Creighton (A), 21 Evan Mitchell (U18? – just released by Wasps)
I say 22, but in the end Cov’s match day squad was made up of just 20 players in total, perhaps an indication of the difficulties Cov had experienced in getting a side together at all – although unless we’re told that, it’s all open to speculation.
And of the 7 senior squad players, really only Heath Stevens and Scott Tolmie have been regulars this season, with Jack Ram coming back from injury, Louis Brown new to the club, Dan Lewis being eased into the side, Will Flinn very much on the fringes still and Ben Adams playing most of his rugby at Cambridge for the moment.
Not only that, but there were several forced late changes and in the end Scott Tolmie played at 6 for the whole game and Sam McNulty was moved from the back row to start at hooker, following the late withdrawal of Darren Dawidiuk.
One of the benefits of being fully professional is that many of the Academy players can train with the senior squad during the day before travelling to their loan clubs for mid-week evening sessions. I imagine this was one of the reasons why the gelled as quickly as they did.
Before going on, I should add that for me, the standout performance on the night was from another Coventry player, playing though for the opposition. Senitiki Nayalo was prominent in much of The Army’s attacking play and he broke the Cov defence on a number of occasions, often offloading to enable the move to continue. His pace and power was one of the standout features of the game and on that sort of form he must be in contention for a starting place against Doncaster, although he’d be hard pushed to oust Burrows at 8.
That said, Cov were extremely competitive. Even when The Army pulled back to within a point and it looked like the visitor’s experience and fitness might pay off in the final quarter, Cov were exceptionally composed, forcing The Army to play the last few minutes in their own 22, giving them little to no opportunity of getting into any sort of attacking position of note.
Cov controlled the game at that point and whilst problems at the breakdown and general game management have been a concern for the 1st XV of late, the youngsters out on the pitch on Saturday showed a degree of experience that belied their age.
If it is Rowland Winter’s intention to reduce the age of the squad a little next season (or even something necessitated by the RFU’s cuts to funding next season) , then he might well not need to look too far afield for players to call upon, with many of the academy youngsters on Saturday proving they can compete at this level.
Just as we’ve seen the likes of Jeannot, Flinn, Lewis and co promoted into the senior squad from the Academy in the last couple of seasons, so we can expect one or two of the current crop to make the leap in the next couple of seasons.
The starting front 5 were all current Academy players and all excelled against a very big, physical Army pack, with Titchard-Jones prominent for them. The scrum held its own for the most part, winning several penalties whilst also conceding a couple in the process and I thought both Langley and McNulty were industrious in the loose. Lineouts too appeared to function reasonably well given the relative lack of preparation – with Hutchinson and Betteridge putting the Army throw under considerable pressure. Hutchinson was particularly impressive – his versatility is a real bonus having (like McNulty) played also in the back row.
The Flinn/Lewis pairing at half back was always going to be under a great deal of scrutiny. Both are now senior squad players and with the possibility of some of the more established players in both positions moving on at the end of the season given the current financial climate, RW could yet choose to turn to one or both of them to take over the mantle.
And if this was a test of sorts, well, I thought they both passed it fairly comfortably. Flinn was very keen to keep play moving and his pass is quick enough to give Lewis just that little bit more room to pull the strings.
Which is exactly what he did…
Lewis controlled much of the Coventry play with a variety of passes, mixed up with a kicking game that was equally varied. He ensured the backs got quick ball and wasn’t afraid to throw long passes out wide to give the speedsters a little more room in which to work. Paul Wells and Heath Stevens also worked exceptionally hard and Stevens led the team well. James Martin and Morgan Dayes out wide are both big, strong runners.
Martin impressed again for me, as he has done every time I’ve seen him – he brings a degree of physicality to his running which reminds me a little of Rob Knox and he looks like he enjoys his defensive duties too.
Louis Brown had another strong game. There’s not a lot of flesh on him, but he seems able to break the tackle , or if not is always looking for the offload. He is an elusive runner and caused The Army problems all game. The loss of Stokes seemed a real blow at the time, but in Brown we have a player who looks just as threatening in attack and is defensively very solid – he didn’t miss a tackle, and a couple at last were try saving. He also has a strong boot on him, too – if he remains fit I can’t see anyone in the current squad a better fit for the 15 shirt next season.
A quick shout out for the replacement Coventry hooker, Shaun Allsopp – although not on for long, he was immense in defence late on and put in a number of crunching tackles.
Cov have been in the fortunate position in the last couple of seasons of being able to spend relatively big (in Championship terms) to get in players with experience of Premiership rugby – the likes of Halaifonua, Kessell, Wallace, Nutley and so on. If players of the calibre of Lewis and Brown, to name but two, can live up to expectations (well, mine anyway) maybe there is a better alternative.
There was a lot of good things happening out on the pitch on Saturday, but the overall mood around the ground before kick off lacked the same degree of positivity and in truth the team probably did the club a big favour by putting in such a strong performance – had that not been the case, far more questions might have been asked in the bar or on social media afterwards.
Anyone reading the blog with any regularity will know I’m very pro the Club and 95% plus of what I write is in support of what is currently happening in and around the BPA. However, I do think Cov haven’t realised just how frustrated many of Cov supporters feel over the way The Army fixture has been handled.
The lack of communication with fans over this, and other aspects of club news of late, has caused plenty of disappointment, especially as communication between club and supporters general seems to have dropped down the club’s list of priorities in recent weeks. Updates about injuries/loans, a lack of information coming out of the club about the Academy/U18s set ups, no public statement regarding the position of a Head Coach (a mention at the Fans Forum I understand – but that’s to a very limited audience) – none of these probably of great significance to those working so hard running the club, but nevertheless still of great interest to those helping support it by paying to watch the rugby.
It might be the club would argue strongly that this is not the case, but there are many of us for whom that is the perception.
It doesn’t even matter if we are wrong, the fact that there are a growing number expressing concerns is enough to suggest a fix is needed. The club is in danger of risking the goodwill of some of its supporters, with a number on the Messageboard already questioning the value (in a monetary sense) of buying a season ticket next year.
The Army fixture was announced back in early Feb as an ‘historic fixture, with the respective first teams having never met before’. It was something many of us were looking forward to and indeed I’d invited a couple of friends to come with me in the absence of Sam. For 4 weeks we were led to believe the full Cov first team would be involved, although at some point a few days before the game, at least, it must have been evident this wasn’t going to happen.
Plenty of time then just to notify supporters that this wasn’t going to be the case out of courtesy….or so you’d think.
And then the wait for the team news. Nothing appeared ’til after 7.00 pm on Friday evening and then only on Twitter. No mention of the game on the club website at all.
But then again, if you don’t particularly want to publicise the fact that it’s pretty much a Nighthawks game now, then announcing it on Twitter seems a sensible way of going about it.
Holidays, part time roles and so on are no excuse, Cov is a professional club and as such you’d expect a professional response. And if money is tight, surely the more you advertise the better?
Now me, I’m just happy watching Cov and the chance to see the Cov players of the future is almost as appealing as attending a Championship game.
I’d really enjoyed braving the cold to watch the U18s the night before.
But when you’ve been led to believe it will be a senior squad fixture and don’t find out otherwise until less than 24 hours before kick off, well that is poor in my book. And to be honest, I’ve seen stronger Nighthawks teams.
Nothing by way of explanation has come out of the club, no apology for the late notice in change – although the PA at the end clearly acknowledged this wasn’t the advertised fixture by thanking everyone for ‘coming to watch the youngsters’.
503 attended the game – but there would have definitely been more had things not changed at short notice, even with the televising of the England v Wales game. I told the two I was intending to bring not to bother, not because it wouldn’t have been an enjoyable game (it was) but because they had wanted to see a full strength Coventry side play.
New to Cov, they’d read the names and wanted to see the faces.
I’ve actually no problem with the game being outside of those covered by the season ticket. It was never sold as such so I never assumed it would be…although it was advertised very much as being a first team game, so I foolishly believed that would be the case.
But even here there’s a problem and again it highlights just how out of touch the club can be. Tickets were £10 each, or £8 for those with a season ticket, with a £1 booking fee – which seems fair enough. So I happily turn up on Saturday and hour or so before kick off only to be charged £9 – which included an additional £1 booking fee.
Now if you book something, to me that means you make a reservation, you reserve something.
Simply turning up on the day and buying a ticket in order to get through the turnstile is clearly not the same as booking it.
In short, there was no way as it stands that you could ever have paid an £8 entrance – so why advertise it as such? Just make the tickets £10, or £9 with your season ticket. It’s clumsy at best, deliberately misleading at worst.
It might sound like I’m over egging the above, but the communication/ticketing was a bone of contention for many I spoke to on Saturday, as it has been before.
No one minds if occasionally things go a bit awry in any walk of life, so long as lessons are learned and changes made, but it’s all too easy to excuse a situation away, easier still not offer any explanation at all.
Hopefully, if the Messageboard is read from within on a regular basis, the Club will note how frustrated some supporters are – and the MB is always a pretty good barometer of the mood generally.
I’ve said my bit, so it’s back to the usually more positive posts again next week – starting with something on Friday’s U18 game….
I never, ever thought I’d include anything by (Sir) Cliff.
A first and last appearance I imagine…