Table-topping Coventry Rugby’s recent online player-of-the-month poll offered fans the choice of lock Obi Nkwocha, skipper Jordon Poole and centre Will Rigg – with the former Saracens second row eventually being crowned.
However, as the shortlisting nomination suggests, the sole back among that trio also enjoyed a stellar month that combined try-scoring power with defensive solidity highlighted by a couple of vital last-ditch tackles in the early stages of Cov’s latest win at Bedford.
According to Solihull-product Rigg, the blue-and-whites’ consecutive December wins over Cambridge, Nottingham and the Blues followed some self-administered home truths in the days after their home defeat to Hartpury.
“To be honest we were a bit shell-shocked by the Hartpury result,” he admitted.
“While we knew you don’t become a bad team overnight, it did force us to sit down and reappraise a bit and as a result we have really applied ourselves in training.
“Three games later we’re top of the league but we haven’t really changed very much, in fact physically we’re pretty much doing the same stuff.
“Mentally we have driven our standards, paid a lot of attention to the finer detail and are working even harder than before. Sometimes when you put that really intense focus on your work rate and nailing your performance levels the results are there to see at the end of the week.”
Following their third-place finish last season, Cov have clearly moved from the hunter to the hunted. The ecstatic post-match reaction of Hartpury’s players and coaches, which mirrored those of Nottingham after they claimed a 33-all draw in the clubs’ September cup meeting, stand testimony to this evolving status and according to Rigg this is something the squad are taking in their stride.
He said: “Through last season our home form seemed to go a bit unnoticed but people picked up on it and started to talk about it this year which made the 13-month unbeaten run coming to an end against Hartpury even harder to take.
“For us nothing changes – it’s still 15 against 15 and we need to perform whether we have a target on our backs or not. The big thing is not to get ahead of ourselves and that old cliche take one game at a time as each opponent brings a new set of challenges and anyone can beat anyone on their day.
“When I played university rugby at Cardiff Met there was a sense that we should win almost every game and this season there’s a bit of similar expectation around Cov.
“We do sense that within the squad but we try to keep it simple, go out there and play our brand of rugby and if we’re delivering our ‘A’ game we know we’re difficult for anyone to contend with.”
These words suggest the presence of an experienced head on Rigg’s 23-year-old shoulders, something coach Gordon Ross – himself a former Scotland international back – confirms.
“Will is developing fast as a player and also as a leader within the group who speaks really well,” Ross said. “He has some responsibilities within our defence and he gives us good go-forward with ball in hand.
“He gets over the gain-line a lot and what he has developed over the last few months is finding different ways to get into space. It isn’t always route one – he uses a bit of footwork to get inside and outside defenders and has a good ‘fend’.
“He has been playing really well at inside centre then at Bedford switched to no.13 when Will Wand was ill and in the first five minutes made two try-saving tackles which were absolutely massive.
“He’s a huge player for us and we’re really fortunate to have him within the group.”
As befits a man with a business degree, Rigg is clearly quick on the uptake and adept at identifying learning opportunities then exploiting them to improve his own game.
He acknowledged that facing former British Lions and England centre Billy Twelvetrees at Ealing then Bedford’s former Wasps midfielder Michael Le Bourgeois provided a benchmark against a pair of big names.
“Playing directly opposite players with lots of Premiership experience can be a massive learning curve as you get a very good look at the things they do well,” he said.
“But at the same time also it’s really heartening to know you are competitive against those sorts of players and it makes you realise that the gap between us and the top level isn’t that big.”
Buy tickets to Coventry Rugby’s next home game against Cornish Pirates on Saturday January 27th here: https://www.coventryrugby.co.uk/tickets/matchday-tickets/