Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that’d been away
…spread the word around
Guess who’s back in town
Just spread the word around.
The boys are back in town
(The boys are back in town)
The boys are back in town
The Boys Are Back In Town – Thin Lizzy
Saturday afternoon the boys really were back in town.
And not before time, too.
It had been 336 days since Coventry travelled up to Doncaster on the 14th March last year for what was to be their last game of the 2019/20 season, curtailed so dramatically as it was by Covid. Whilst the threat of the virus loomed large that day, I’m not sure many of us realised back then quite the impact it would have on all our lives.
I certainly didn’t.
And in truth, I’ve struggled at times with the inevitable consequences of this dreadful disease, as I know so many others have too. Mental well-being, or otherwise, has increasingly become a huge concern especially during this third lockdown and the return of the game, for me at least, has provided a massive psychological boost.
It’s no exaggeration to say that as a result I’ve become far more optimistic about the future weeks and months ahead. With Cov now embarking on their pre-season, there’s something tangible to look forward to now, something to bring absent friends together again and generate a real feeling of community once more. This weekend, I’ve found myself far more positive, far more enthusiastic about life generally and through various interactions on social media it’s clear I’m not alone in feeling this.
I knew I’d missed the rugby, or at least missed watching Coventry Rugby Club, but I don’t think I’d appreciated just how much until yesterday. There have been some dark times of late and the restrictions on seeing family and friends have meant that there has been little opportunity to do anything other than overthink situations and potential outcomes. Yesterday was a chance to remind myself of what a return to ‘normality’ will bring; it was just what was required at a time when it is most needed.
Without going into details, I wasn’t perhaps in great shape back in March of last year and it quickly became clear that I needed a radical change in lifestyles if I was to avoid serious Covid fallout. Since April, I’ve pretty much walked at least 10 miles every day almost without exception, averaging over 320 miles a month and losing five and a half stone in the process…
Whilst I might not be half than man I used to be, I’m certainly less than two thirds.
Tough times as I said. But I knew that I had to get fitter to regain my health and having a slightly addictive personality, once I started exercising I was always going to see it through.
Those who have followed the blog since its inception back in mid 2015 will appreciate just how important the club is to me, as it is to so many others, and so a complete absence of any live rugby was certainly always going to add to the genuine mental fatigue caused by Covid. Walking whilst listening to countless hours of music, has been one way I’ve managed to keep my (relative) sanity – although in fairness I owe both Sue and my family a real debt of gratitude too.
To have rugby back is a big deal for me; I can only imagine how it must be for the players, coaches and support staff involved at the club and beyond.
To have your livelihood depend on the lifting of restrictions, in whatever walk of life you’re in, must be so soul-destroying and I doff my cap to anyone in that situation. Retirement certainly has its advantages.
I mention the above for two reasons.
One, to avoid any shock those who know me might experience on seeing me for the first time in 12 months when the turnstiles are eventually unlocked once more and, two, because I do honestly believe the club has recognised this and have tried to keep supporters involved in the club wherever possible, not just to help support its own survival but also because it genuinely understands how much responsibility it carries within the wider community. And not just to supporters but also to those less privileged youngsters for whom these last 11 months have been difficult in the extreme – and it deserves real credit for its work in this area particularly.
It’s been noticeable that in interviews both pre and post game, Rowland Winter has talked about the importance of bringing back the smiles not just to his own players, but also to Cov supporters and to the city itself. Yes, the game was always going to be important in terms of the club’s preparation for the start of the Championship season itself, but ultimately this first game was more about offering a symbolic release, an escape from the restrictions enforced on us all and a sense of hope that we are, at last, beginning to turn a corner.
I do think RW recognises this and indeed he has repeatedly acknowledged the role the club has to play in the local community, something I wasn’t always aware of under previous administrations, although I accept that is purely an opinion.
The decision to offer the opportunity to watch live streaming of yesterday’s game to all supporters, (free to season ticket holders), was a real morale booster for many of us currently suffering withdrawal symptoms and a generous gesture when the club could easily have got away with charging a fee.
I know I would have paid and done so willingly even if morally it might have grated .
To watch the club live, albeit from my own living room rather the ‘comfort’ of the main stand at the BPA has been a real fillip and with home and away games against Saracens to look forward to, things seem to be on the up now.
I’m not sure what I was expecting to be fair, but the coverage was a good deal better than I’d ever imagined. There was no buffering, no breaks in signal and whilst there were a couple of moments when camera angles or replays impinged on play, the camera work was generally really good (indeed, the replays and reruns of the tries were a real bonus, as were the pre-match interviews). It really feels as if the club is moving with the times as far as match day coverage is concerned and whilst I appreciate this isn’t solely a Cov initiative and will be common place amongst all Championship sides in the coming months, Coventry appear to have embraced it with open arms.
I thought Alec Blackman and Chris Wearmouth did a sterling job, with Alec anchoring the commentary and Chris providing the expert analysis and background to the players that most of us watching just wouldn’t have had otherwise. The combination of the two worked well for me and it’s hard to see how CWR can compete, given that live streaming will be available at all Coventry’s home games this season and presumably will become a regular addition to the match day experience in future seasons too. Okay, streaming doesn’t come free, but access to games both live and recorded might well see a fairly large reduction in any potential radio audience. If in the future you can watch a game other than live on a Saturday afternoon, weekends could become free for other more family friendly activities for many households.
A real-life case of video killing the radio stars I guess. It has to be the way forward now, surely, although I’m sure there’s room for both in the short-term…?
As for the game itself, well it only served to heighten anticipation of the season ahead.
I’ve seen some pretty dour, hard-fought pre-season friendlies over the years (Moseley away a last season(?) springs to mind) but this was anything but. Both sides contributed to what was an extremely open game of rugby given the circumstances, with little evidence of the constant breaks in continuity that afflict most of these season openers. Much of that was down to Jersey’s decision to play in effect two different teams in each half, thus avoiding rolling replacements and a willingness on the part of both clubs to run penalties rather than go for goal once inside the opposition’s 40m line.
Midweek RW had talked about Coventry looking to play a more attacking style this season, harking back to the free-flowing rugby we saw back in National One in particular – and he was true to his word. Slow off the blocks in the opening 10 or 15 minutes, Coventry were caught cold and found themselves two tries down, with Jersey’s backs (who seemed huge to me) opening up our midfield a couple of times to run in almost unopposed. However, Coventry soon began to make inroads into Jersey territory, with Will Owen and Louis Brown in particular looking very sharp. Brown appears to have been busy in the gym over lockdown, having filled out a little whilst losing none of his pace and agility – he is such an exciting player to watch, on top of which he has a heck of a boot on him.
The home side increasingly looked to take the game to the opposition and by half time Cov were in the ascendency, with the back row appearing very quick and mobile and the backs keen to run at almost every opportunity. White had begun to exert an influence on the game and his quick thinking when taking a tap led to a Cov score for new boy Nic Dolly, who also impressed. Tom Ball looked a very useful acquisition at 7 until he was forced off with an ankle (?) injury as he went over for his first try in a Cov shirt. Here’s hoping it’s not going to see him out of action for too long.
Cov kept up the pressure on Jersey despite multiple changes in the second half, with the pack starting to dominate the set piece. Emery and Knox were able to come on and add experience to what looked to be a very young backline once White, Forsyth and Owen had been replaced and both suggested they will have a big role to play in Coventry this season and beyond. Knox is, of course, already a fans’ favourite but I think with the kind of finishing we saw from Emery on Saturday, he too will become very popular with supporters. His return to Cov is a very welcome one.
Yes, there were some unforced errors, but Coventry’s ball retention was good considering it’s so early in the season and they put plenty of phases together. I’m guessing the coaches will have got lots of positives from the game and with so many different players on show, hopefully they will have gleaned enough from the 80 minutes to already begin to narrow down which combinations are more effective than others.
After that first 15 minute period, I thought Cov always looked in control even when behind and when they did hit the front in the final few minutes they were able to keep Jersey pinned back in their own 22 for the most part, with few of the defensive frailties that typified those opening few minutes. To do so was impressive against a side that will clearly be a threat to most teams this season.
The tempo was high throughout the game, evidence I imagine of the 17 weeks of training leading up to the game. With Saracens to come next week, there’s no let up in the excitement as Coventry must surely be looking to make a statement against the team who remain clear favourites to win the Championship even despite Ealing possible claims to the contrary.
With no relegation, hopefully it won’t just be Coventry looking to be more expansive and attacking this season which is great news for supporters. That said, but the RFU aren’t exactly known for putting the ‘us’ in trust, so should there be a likelihood of Ealing or any other side heading Saracens come the final couple of games, I wouldn’t put it past them to change the goal posts at the last minute such is the influence the Premiership holds over them.
But maybe that’s just me being cynical.
That’s all for the future, though. Saturday was all about beginnings for both Coventry and Jersey.
Jersey deserve huge credit for overcoming all the bureaucracy and red tape that must have been involved in just getting to the BPA; they are a very friendly and welcoming club and I wish them every success this season.
The nights are getting longer, it won’t be long
Won’t be long ’til summer comes
Now that the boys are here again
The boys are back in town
(The boys are back in town)
The boys are back in town