To make the occasion last that much longer, we walked from the city centre, spending the time contemplating how we thought the season might pan out, which of the new members of the squad on paper might become part of the match day 22 and which ones we thought we might only be seeing during the month of August before they end up playing their rugby at Broadstreet or elsewhere.
When we got there, I was immediately impressed with the setup, having never been there before. Modern clubhouse, friendly people and several pitches in several more acres of land; plenty of potential to expand should they continue to be successful as in recent years.
For some reason, goodness knows why, on match days we always buy (well, my son always buys) two £2.00 Lottery scratchcards. The £100 win is a good omen! And how’s it to be spent…train tickets to Cardiff on the 15th to watch Coventry at the Park! Perhaps this goes some way to explain why this review is so upbeat compared to one or two others on the Board.
Having read the post-match posts yesterday evening, I was a little surprised by some of the negativity. It was only ever going to be a training game, as all the opening pre-season fixtures tend to be. Line-outs to start, no penalty kicks or conversions, regular breaks every 20 minutes with players swapping positions and replacements aplenty. For me, it was always going to be a chance to look a different combinations of players, to see how the newbies fit in, get the squad together in ‘match’ conditions. And yes, the first 25 minutes were unnerving, with Broadstreet dominant throughout that period.
We lost almost every lineout (and there were a lot!) and clearly with Matt Price not playing (he was there so I’m guessing he’s got a slight injury) there’s a lot of work to be done with Devlin Hope’s throwing/timing of throw. However, Hope was everywhere in the loose, tigerish and combative and clearly likes to run with the ball. The scrum got stronger and stronger and the front five were soon dominant; I didn’t see Adam Parkins anywhere, but I think he is here on a 18 month/two year contract (?), so he’s yet another option, nor did I see Sam Pailor, but that’s probably just because I’m myopic. Plenty there to frighten opposition front rows. Courtney Roberts, who was mentioned by one poster on the Board, really stood out for me too. He carried the ball several times, had pace and good hands. He’ll definitely make an impact at some point this season.
One worrying thing was that Cliffie went off injured in the first five minutes; a knee or ankle this time but in circumstances that weren’t dissimilar to the manner in which he got injured last season…interestingly Scott Hamilton was on the sidelines in a coaching role, so maybe he’s not intending to don the No.15 shirt too often this season, or at least wasn’t intending to prior to the lastest injury to Cliffie!
Whilst Liam Munro was noticeable at no 8 in the first two quarters, his replacement Haloti Malitika made a big impact on the park and was at the heart of a lot of the play. I think he was playing out of position, but he certainly caught the eye. Evans and Jones came on to steady the ship but the big plus for me, the real plus, was the impact of three of the new backs, at fly half, centre and wing (and to a lesser extent full back)…I’m afraid I don’t know names! First the left wing who was big and bruising and a bit ‘Hurrellesque’. He had a couple of very strong runs and went through several tackles. The centre who paired with Knox was also big and looked the part and it was noticeable when these two came together, holes began to appear in midfield. The other player who impressed me particularly was the final flyhalf…tall and a little rangy but with pace and the ability to see the gap. He also kicked well, although infrequently! He also made one crunching tackle that drew several gasps from the crowd.
I know there are a lot of admirers of Dom, as I am. He had the misfortune of playing in the first two quarters when the ball seldom made it’s way to the backs. He was clearly frustrated by this and ended up searching for the ball, often out of position. I’m sure had he been playing in the final 20 minutes he would have been far more prominent.
Broadstreet were strong and clearly up for the contest and I remember commenting at the time that after 20 minutes you couldn’t tell there was a league’s difference between the two teams. However, whether it was a greater fitness levels at this stage of the season, combinations of players that were more effective, or just higher skill levels or a combination of the there, in the end Coventry dominated and after conceding those 4 tries in the first 25 minutes, they were never under pressure from the moment Coventry scored their first try.
As has been commented upon elsewhere, both Scott Morgan and Dave Addleton were not present, but doubtless they were on scouting duties elsewhere and Phil M and Scott H are more than capable of providing the kind of feedback required. I’m not sure they should be criticised for their absence, although perhaps a statement from the club buried in a match report, just to confirm where they were, might appease those who felt surprised by their absence…?
All-in-all, I’m certainly a lot more upbeat than I was after the first quarter. Plenty of individual performances to catch the eye and if the coaches can accurately assess the right combinations, I would still firmly stick to my original belief that Coventry are going to be a real force within the league again this year and with a stronger squad too. I’m not sure the selectors will have more than 7 or 8 of the team for the first league game actually pencilled in and until September we won’t really know what they’re thinking. However, it’s great fun second guessing and I’m sure they’ll be a few shocks on the way.