Friendlies: Episode 4 – the one with the Exiles
Always a favourite team, and with happy memories of some close, and not so close, encounters over the years, this should be a match of huge interest to any Coventry supporter.
Having watched what amounted to a ‘demolition’ of Cardiff on Saturday, it’s hard not to get carried away on a wave, or possibly even a sea, of optimism. Strong opposition, a fantastic result. However, this Saturday sees another real test, one that will give us a pretty good indication of what the gulf is between a team at the top end of National 1 and the team relegated from the Premiership last season, but with real hopes of returning to into the elite fold at the first attempt. However, Welsh’s aspirations might yet depend on the decision concerning the number of teams to be promoted from the Championship, one that still hasn’t been agreed with only three weeks left to the start of the season. No surprise there, then.
Yes, London Welsh had the dubious honour of being the first team in the top flight of English clubs over the last 10 years to lose every single competitive match, but they have retained 22 of their squad. 22 battled hardened, professional (then, if not now?) players who have been competing with the very best. In addition, they appear to have recruited well. The move back to Old Deer Park this season from the Kassam Stadium in Oxford has apparently been made as a result of a ‘lack of support from the Oxford public’ – perhaps a warning to one of the ‘local’ Coventry teams that if results don’t match the hype…
There’s an article in The Rugby Paper that gives a brief, but very interesting and informative, overview of London Welsh’s present situation.
As far as Coventry is concerned, I guess what everyone wants to see is a repeat performance of Saturday. A repeat performance, though, doesn’t necessarily mean a win. If we can compete with London Welsh in all areas and make them play, then I will be happy. If London Welsh come to BPA expecting anything other than hard, competitive game, they could get a real shock.
I would hope that even though it is a friendly there will be a decent gate. I’ve never really understood why we only ever get a relatively small percentage of the average league attendance to the pre-season games, given that it’s a third of the price and the chance to see teams that are usually a league above. No queues at the bar, either. Okay, some sides put out ‘weakened’ teams, but they tend to be the ones from the premiership (notably Northampton), but I don’t believe this will be the case on Saturday. A quick check on the London Welsh website tells us that against Esher last week they, ‘Played across three 30 minute periods, with both sides gaving a run out to their full squads, Welsh came out on top in all three separate battles.’ (Esher v LW match report). With such strong opposition, 200 more through the turnstiles, on the back of last week’s win isn’t too much to hope for, is it? A bit more noise, a bit more passion and who knows the impact that could have.
Scott Morgan said at the Forum that Coventry’s season really began with the Cardiff game and he was true to his word. Although there were a lot of replacements in the second half, the team remained unchanged for the first 45 minutes and the game had a real match day feel to it. With only two games left to Wharfedale, I would imagine the coaches have a reasonably clear idea now of what the team might look like on the 4th. However, given the level of opposition in these final two friendlies, there’s still a chance for someone to make a name for themselves and book a place on the team sheet.
Fortunately, other than Cliffie (and that doesn’t now look as serious as it did at the time), we’ve managed to remain fairly injury free during the last three games. Loti seemed to be nursing a sore back and I’m sure there are one or two other niggles. Hopefully, this will also be the case over the remaining two games so that Scott can select from a full squad. Still no news about Jacques Le Roux; if we don’t see him have a run out against London Welsh, I guess he won’t be available for Wharfedale (the same might also be true of Martin Wolfsenden…?). It would be good to see them both wear the Cov shirt again sooner rather than later so that Scott has all options available to him come the start of the season.
As a footnote, I do genuinely believe the squad is good enough to compete in the Championship over a full season, certainly at the lower end, and good enough too to say up. The difficult part is getting there, as I imagine the likes of Rosslyn Park and maybe one or two other National 1 teams this season will be in a similar position. Getting promoted from National One might well be a tougher ask than avoiding relegation in the Championship? I guess there’s only one way to find out…
Roll on Saturday…it provide one or two indicators for the season ahead.