IT WAS a tweet from Richard Stokes that got me thinking.
A sense of frustration and bitter disappointment that Coventry Rugby undid themselves when they had the measure of – and better of – hosts Hartpury.
Now I’ve not met Richard in person, but from his tweets he sounds a sensible chap, a student of the game, with a love for Cov RFC – which counts high in my book.
He wrote: ‘Not sure I’ve ever heard Coventry supporters boo one of their own players so loudly, I’m not convinced that a kicking 10 and a lightweight pack is the best game plan.’
There was more disquiet on the Unofficial Coventry Rugby Forum, with fly-half Jake Sharp the butt of some supporters’ anger.
As a fellow supporter I hear the voices, I feel the pain and share the sorrow of another game on the road we could have, should have, won.
But while the scoreline against Pirates flattered the home team, both games were rather lost by Coventry than won by the opposition. Our boys haven’t been hammered and left for dead.
I have to confess, thanks to standstill traffic on the A30 and M5, I got to Hartpury’s ground late and just in time for the second half. And that half, and the game against Pirates, are all I’ve seen of Coventry this term.
And I have to confess to one other thing – I’m not sure we’ve seen the true Coventry side in this season’s Championship emerge.
But I’m actually pleased at the approach being taken. We’re trying stuff. Yes, it’s not come off today, but what if it did? I wasn’t a fan of Cov turning down a number of penalty kicks at Pirates, in favour of drilling the ball down the touchline. It didn’t work for us.
What if it had? Instead of a certain three points each, what if we came away with seven? How would Pirates have reacted? Cornish heads were dropping as Cov dominated the scrum and tackled them as they’d never been tackled before. How would they have coped going three or four tries down? It’s the fine line between success and failure.
What if Jake Sharp’s mis-cued kick today hadn’t sailed straight into touch, but hung in play? Surely Rob Knox would have bared down on it, having the advantage on the defender and then what? A try?
Yes, we all know that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but imagine you’re a 10, a chap who’s been around for some time and knows his rugby onions. You’re getting the backline going, helping Cov get on the front foot and then see that Hartpury, already suspect under the high ball, have come up flat. It’s heads up rugby at its best.
Tom Kessell showed a perfect example of heads up rugby a few minutes earlier. Having seen the ref’s arm go up for a Cov penalty on the edge of the Hartpury 22 he saw the defenders, suddenly ragged from a Cov side showing what they do best, weren’t focused, tapped and went. A lovely pass to James Stokes and last season’s leading try-scorer was over, albeit with a little work to do of his own.
However, if Kessell had been tackled short, or the pass to Stokes had gone awry, then we’d have all been angry that we hadn’t gone for the three pointer, a scrum or a kick to touch.
That’s the way of sport. So when Sharp looked up, saw the space and the lack of covering defenders, he showed courage to match his vision. Unfortunately, the touch was lacking. We’ve all been there. Or at least, I have, as a former fly-half/full-back. Yes, many felt he should have held on, that Cov should have kept the ball in hand and made the hard yards – me included.
Sharp’s in a position with plenty of competition for the jersey. Will Maisey topped the point-scoring chart in last season’s National League One for good reason. Tony Fenner, making a good fist of his new role at full-back, has also shown his class at fly-half. Ben Palmer and Tim Bitirim are part of the chasing pack snapping at the heels. Sharp isn’t at Cov to make up the numbers, to coach and quietly slip away from playing. He’s obviously impressed at training and wants to be number one.
He got the backline purring today with some deft passes.
One missed penalty. One mis-cued touch finder.
When our team loses, it’s probably right we look to the negatives at the expense of the positives.
Cest la vie, I think they call it in Coundon.
Another confession. I’ve not agreed with some of the decision-making by Cov at Pirates or Hartpury. I’d have gone for the posts every time at the Mennaye Field and oddly enough, today, with a penalty right in front of Hartpury posts, I’d have gone for a scrum instead of the three points. The home side had just seen one of their guys yellow-carded and I’d have tried to make the advantage count. Our pack had held their push in the previous scrums and seemed to be winning the arm-wrestle, so with a man down, I’d have fancied our chances.
Yet that being said, I’m not part of the Coventry set up. I’ve never played at the level these guys have and are doing week-in, week-out. So it doesn’t matter what I think. I do know, however, having spoken to several players recently for a series of interviews for Coventry Rugby Supporters’ Club, that they are encouraged to try things; that in Rowland Winter, Cov’s Director of Rugby, they have a man who wants his players to be ambitious and doesn’t want them strait-jacketed; that in Louis Deacon and Nick Walshe they have coaches bringing out the best in them; that thanks to Max Hartman and his team, they are getting fitter and stronger.
I certainly wouldn’t want them to be like the Hartpury players, sticking to a game plan even when it wasn’t working. Rugby robots rather than players.
Yes, at times Coventry are playing as individuals. We’ve not got a settled team as yet and some approaches, both team-wise and individually, aren’t working.
Imagine when they do.
Fresh from the disappointment in hearing that some Coventry ‘fans’ had abused the referee last week, it gives me no pleasure to hear that some supporters had taken to booing one of our own today.
That’s the last thing anyone would need. Especially after a defeat that was visibly hard to stomach for pretty much all the boys in blue and white.
We all make mistakes. Well, I know I do.
And the referee today made a couple of clear howlers. I’m still not sure how the system works, but the touch judges need to be more help. Unless, I really am one-eyed. Stokes was tackled and brought to the floor, but when he hit the ground, the defender lost hold of him. The winger carried on and was penalised.
Knox jumped for a high ball. It hit him on the shoulder and the ref called it a knock on.
Both instances happened near to the touch line where there was no attempt to tell the man with the whistle he was wrong by the touch judge. Shouldn’t the officials be working together?
There were clear hands in the ruck by Hartpury during an unsuccessful Coventry sally forth on the opposition line, but with the ref unsighted, no attention was drawn to it.
If this is sour grapes, then I’m wrong and apologise. It just means that you lose faith in the officials if you see mistakes or don’t understand why a decision has been made. And don’t get me started on the touch judge who seemed to knock 10 yards off Coventry gains when we kicked for touch.
Maybe it’s just me, out of touch with the modern game, rule changes and the way it is run on the field.
Maybe it’s the rub of the green going against Cov.
But this short, fat has-been has seen plenty to be encouraged about.
Winter and his coaching team are building a team that is emerging and when it all clicks, it’s going to be some sight to see.