Sat. May 15th, 2021

Good things are coming if we stick to the plan
Good things are coming if we stick to the plan
Stick to the plan
Stick to the plan
Keep your finger on the trigger
Stick to the plan

Graham Parker  – Stick To The Plan

Another promising performance then from Coventry Rugby in their pre-season game against Saracens yesterday, providing further grounds for optimism as the club continues to regroup once more after considerable changes to the squad and backroom staff over the last 11 months; changes which were necessitated for the most part by the loss of its main income streams and the club’s need to greatly reduce its wage bill.

Not helped either by the RFU’s steadfast refusal to rethink its decision to slash its funding  of the Championship by as much as 50%.

Tough times for everyone involved in the game at the moment, but Coventry’s response to the pandemic seems to have been both pragmatic and effective. And as you might expect, supporters have backed the club 100%.

A season ago Coventry played Leinster over in Dublin in a pre-season friendly. Just 11 from that squad were included in the 27 players who travelled down to Stonex Stadium yesterday, an indication of the effect Covid has had on the restructuring of Coventry Rugby. (The 11 were Lewis, Woolford, Nutley, Nayalo, Trinder, Boulton, Jeannot, Peters, Burrows, White, Owen).

Well over half of the players in yesterday’s squad were making only their first or second appearances in a Coventry shirt against the 2018/19 European Rugby Championship winners, with the average age of the squad in the low 20s. To be leading Saracens after 60 minutes was particularly encouraging and whilst Saracens were able to take advantage of the extra man following Pete White’s yellow on 67 minutes to ease ahead, Cov still remained competitive in that final quarter. And although it was by no means Sarries first choice starting 15, their squad still included 9 full internationals which shows the player resources the NW London club has at its disposal.

The final score 48-33 did Cov few favours despite Saracens deserved win.

By contrast, the season before Leinster had fielded a squad made up of mostly players from their Young Senior Group, very few of whom (if any) had played for the full Leinster side, as well as a couple of promising youngsters from their U20’s side. Leinster had also won the European Championship, the year before Saracens in fact, but against a far less experienced side than they faced yesterday, Coventry were beaten 47-13 and in truth were never really in the game.

It’s too early to be making comparisons between Coventry’s 2018/19  and 2019/20 squads, but early indications are promising. We’ll know a little more after the return game on Friday night but Coventry should go into that game confident that they have a good enough set of players to push Saracens again especially at home, although that doesn’t quite carry the same advantage at the moment with the absence of the Coventry faithful.

I imagine there must have been a few doubts and concerns yesterday within the squad and coaching staff, unspoken I imagine, but nevertheless there still. If there were, they were unfounded

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For me, one of Rowland Winter’s many strengths is his ability to recruit well.

How many of the players he’s bought in over the last four seasons have failed to deliver?

Very few really. Ali Bone springs to mind, Freddie Tuilangi on loan, perhaps, but not many others.

With limited finances available, he has opted to use more dual regs this season and whilst they might not be here in 12 months time, they are clearly already bedded in and look to be adding much needed depth to what would be an otherwise small squad. Strengthening the squad this season with highly rated DRs when there is no threat of relegation seems to make good financial sense, especially as Jon Sharp has talked about still having monies available next season to bring in more full time players. Not only are these youngsters keen to be involved at Cov, they also have much to prove to their parent clubs in terms of future opportunities and contracts, so its hardly surprising that motivation is never going to be an issue.

 

And for spectators, it’s a chance to see young players who in the not too distant future will be gracing the Premiership and potentially pushing for international honours – Jack Willis being the obvious example. I know some supporters aren’t enamoured with DRs coming to Championship clubs, but if used sensibly and sparingly, I’m all in favour. And hopefully, the Premiership clubs benefit too.

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Reminder…

Many thanks to every one who has already voted in yesterday’s poll. If you haven’t and you did watch the game, please do consider giving it a go.

Follow the link below:

‘Men’ of the Match v Saracens (a) – 20/02/21

and cast you votes (up to 3) for those Cov players who particularly caught your eye; three players whom you felt left their mark on the game for whatever reasons, even if they were only on for 20 minutes and making their debuts.

I’ll publish the results midweek.

Many thanks, as always.

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

Coventry’s willingness to take the game to Saracens yesterday was particularly encouraging.

To concede a try in just 15 seconds was potentially catastrophic against a side like Saracens. I freely admit I was less than positive at that point about our chances. I desperately wanted Cov to be able to hold their heads high come the final whistle and to make a statement of sorts to Saracens about the quality of the Championship and of Coventry in particular – the result was never going to be important but I did want to left at the end of the game feeling proud of Cov’s performance.

And after less than auspicious start, I accept that I was struggling to see a positive outcome.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Cov took the game to Saracens and far from being outplayed, in the set piece we looked as if we were causing the Saracens pack a few problems and the early setback seemed to galvanise the team. They upped the tempo and deservedly took the lead 10 minutes later. And held on to it for another 50.

If most Cov supporters had been offered that scenario before the game, they’d have grabbed it with both hands.

In fairness, at times throughout the 80 minutes, Saracens looked sharper and more creative, especially in their backs. They kept their heads even when behind going into the final quarter and as Sarries start to stretch Cov and Pete White was binned, their forwards began to take control in the loose. Despite some gutsy defence in our own 22, the inevitable happened and we conceded a couple of late tries.

With 10 minutes left, it looked as if the floodgates might open. Sarries smelled blood  and from where I was, well the final whistle couldn’t come quick enough. Cov had done more than enough to suggest that other than Saracens and perhaps Ealing, and even with the wholesale changes to the squad over the summer, they could well be competing for a top 3 spot in May.

Despite my fear that Cov might ultimately capitulate in that last quarter of an hour, and despite Saracens pinning Coventry in their own 22 and the clock ticking down, Cov still still showed intent.

Far from hoofing the ball dead when the 80 minutes were up, Cov kept possession and looked to run it out of defence and have the last word in what had been an entertaining game from start to finish. For 3 or 4 minutes Cov retained the ball, constantly pushing and probing and whilst Saracens gave them little room to work  in, the very fact they Cov still showed the same urgency and determination as they did in those opening few minutes speaks volumes for the character of this squad.

Prior to the game, all I wanted from it, as a supporter, was for Cov to do themselves justice against what is still one of the top teams in the country. They did that. And some.

I genuinely felt proud of them and, whilst I know that come Friday when Saracens travel up to Cov for the return fixture, I’ll still have a sense of foreboding, Coventry have already shown that they have the makings of a strong squad, as strong as that of last season even, whatever the result in 6 days time.

A bit of a non-sequitur this, but I loved seeing Cov play in the pink kit. Those who have followed the blog over the years will know I was a massive fan of the original pink and white hoops that Cov had as an away shirt a few seasons back, although sadly it never got an outing, so-to-speak. This one isn’t quite in the same league but it is still a very stylish number and I’ve worn mine a couple of times on walks around the local area, attracting many an admiring look in the process.

At least I think they were admiring…

Nick Heath, commentating for Saracens on their live feed, stated that, ‘You have to be quite a team to brave a pink shirt’.

How right he was.

I would tentatively suggest that this season carries little weight for most clubs once the first 3 or 4 games have been played. For the majority outside of the promotion places, it’s about building for next season. One thing Cov supporters who have attended previous Fans’ Forums will appreciate is that Rowland Winter will have a road map of where he wants to be in the next 3 or 4 seasons, carefully put together with the help of his backroom staff and agreed by the Board who will have costed it carefully.

The  journey to the Premiership was interrupted all too abruptly last March and having had to plan another route, probably a slightly slower one at that, it’s now about sticking to the plan and rebuilding again.

We know from listening to interviews with RW pre-season that part of that plan is to build a squad capable of returning to the expansive game we saw Cov deploy to such good effect back in National One in particular. We’ve seen elements of that in the opening two games of this season as well and hopefully this will continue once the season starts for real in just a couple of weeks time.

I hope Cov stick to it because…

Good things are coming if we stick to the plan
Good things are coming if we stick to the plan
Stick to the plan
Stick to the plan
Keep your finger on the trigger
Stick to the plan

 

By Tim

10 thought on “Stick to the plan…”
  1. Hi Krys, great to hear form you again!

    To be fair to Cov, Sam Lewis also threatened early doors and on top of that we did score 5 tries, so we did offer a potent threat even if at times we did struggle to breakdown a very well drilled/organised defence. Agree about the Friday game, although has RW said that is what will happen – hope that is the case, and we kick any penalties in range too so that it is as close to being a league game as is possible.

  2. Hi Richy – agree about Keiran Wilkinson but we’re only likely to see him in a Cov shirt for the next 12 games at best before he’s back at Sale in time for next season. A real talent and just what we’re looking for at 10, although perhaps Dan Lewis will be able to grow into the shirt in time. Unfortunately, though, we can’t build a side around Wilkinson, Buckle, Sirker, Ball and so on given their temporary stay with us, so hopefully, we’ll see some permanent signings in these positions next season to continue the development of this new squad. In the meantime, let’s enjoy it while we can…

  3. Hi Trev: ‘…to think of Saracens on a pedestal and go away and freeze worrying about huge defeat’ – guilty as charged! They are something of an anomaly in our league given their financial power and their ability to keep most of their Prem squad together even whilst taking a sabbatical (although Ealing might have other plans for them). Sure Sarries will get better as the season progresses and there are still a few players outside of the England contingent still to come in , but Cov showed on Saturday that the current squad has real potential, although without the DRs we might be struggling I guess. Plenty to be optimistic about though.

  4. Cov will always be blue and white, but as away strips go, well it gets my vote!!! Walking will have to be my priority for a good while yet, but hopefully I’ll keep posting publicly whilst there’s an interest. Really appreciate your support!

  5. Hi Richard – thanks (again) for taking the time to leave a comment. Glad to hear you’re a big GP fan; I saw him a fair few times in the 80s. To be fair, he hasn’t aged well. has he! Parker, Brinsley Schwartz, Rockpile, Squeeze, Lowe, Costello and all things ‘pub rock’ were very much my thing back then. To see Cov take the game to Saracens with such a new and young squad (although as mentioned elsewhere in a different comment, without looking overly threatening) was really encouraging. Made for great viewing.

  6. Competitive is a good description and the attacking maul was a thing of beauty but I didn’t feel we were very threatening. I can only remember one run each from sirker and emery. Will be interesting to see Friday when we cut the squad and go with more normal game subs rather than the mass ones of these last 2 games

  7. Good Post as ever Tim.

    My thoughts exactly.

    I was pleasantly surprised at how fit and powerful our forwards look.

    The dual registration guys all have top cv’s for their age, and I was happy we seem to have signed a damn good stand off on this basis – because we’ve let a couple of damn good ones go.

    I was most worried that the momentum that the club had built over 3 seasons, champs nat 1, 8th then 4th Championship would peter out, but it seems that the mind set is right and the guys are ready to play.

    Bring it on. Hope to be stood on the Gin Truck 22 soon.

    Richy

  8. Huge tendency is to think of Saracens on a pedestal and go away and freeze worrying about huge defeat, from the TV Cov lived well against them.There was always a tendency what with huge list of internationals in their squad that this could have happened.Wonder if sarries had few more gears to ramp up,but that thankfully that was not to be on this day.
    Think they came away with good credible result I agree certainly the never say die attitude at end 10 minutes down to 14 was very encouraging.Nice open game and have a go to steal the last consolation try great ethics.Anyhow i most enjoyed TV coverage and again your text coverage on my mobile.
    Sir Jimmy Greaves the old soccer pundit always used to say “funny old game”,which even the same for RU who would have thought Bristol would be top of premiership as I am typing this.As the late Sir Brucie used to say ” didn’t they do well” Come on the Cov.

  9. Tim. I agree with you wholeheartedly. A very encouraging game with some good rugby from both sides. To be leading 33-29 after an hour must have had the Saracens hierarchy twitching. They will realise promotion will not be a formality. Cov looked very lively and I only wish we could watch them live. The only thing disagree with you on is the pink strip. I just cannot reconcile my memories of Cov in Blue and White at Coundon Road and the Butts, with a pink strip! Best wishes and don’t forget the walking now you are back on the blog!

  10. Tim – as ever, thanks for this report. I share your pride. I thought Cov were value for money. In fact, in my opinion (biased!) for long periods they were the better side. I don’t recall seeing a Cov side, recently, looking so quick and inventive as this one. They were blown away somewhat at the end, but like you, after conceding that early soft try I feared the worst, given the number of debutants. As with Jersey, they played fast, exciting rugby. Dangerous stuff! I hope they continue to channel that energy and I get to witness it in the flesh. You’re mom poll is a tough one. I chose Dacres, Burrows and Dolly, but everyone turned up didn’t they! The 80 minute guys must have been exhausted. More of the same next week please. It’ll be interesting to see if Saracens adapt their game plan! I don’t think they were expecting that level of intensity.
    Great music choice. Big fan of GP and the Rumour. Can’t believe he’s so old, until I remember he’s the same age as me!!
    Thanks again
    Richard

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