This was always going to be the acid test. How would a Cov team, widely tipped this year as one of the favourites for promotion from National 1 to the Championship, fare against London Welsh, one of the favourites for promotion back to the Premiership, having been relegated from the elite division back in April? Just how much of a gulf would there be?
Well, on today’s showing, nowhere near as great as many of the 976 who enjoyed this entertaining spectacle might have feared prior to the start of the game. Yes, 976…many of the teams in National 1 can only dream of attracting such a sizeable crowd against the top teams in the league, let alone for a pre-season friendly. But there is a mood of optimism amongst the Cov faithful at the moment and despite the loss, today’s performance will have done nothing to dampen their spirits. And that gulf…? Well, whisper it quietly, for the first 50 minutes Coventry were arguably the better of the two teams on display.
Now I have no idea of the relative strength, or otherwise, of the London Welsh XV that took to the pitch in the first half, but any side LW put out is going to be half decent. By their own admissions, or Roland Phillips’ at least, having retained 22 and recruited well, the club are ‘very optimistic’ Rowland Phillips. In that context, then, this was an extremely encouraging performance and the final result, whilst disappointing, can’t hide the fact that there were some very promising signs during the course of the game.
The real difference seemed to be that when Welsh went 11-7 down just after half-time, they were able to raise their game to level we couldn’t quite match. For 15 -20 minutes they looked stronger, quicker and fitter scoring four unanswered tries and we struggled to compete. However, part of this was caused by the changes Cov made at regular intervals during the second 40, with a stream of players going off; and in some cases, coming back on throughout the half. Absolutely no criticism of the coaches here, they still need to try out various combinations in different positions. In doing so, giving players 40-50 minute shifts (or less) mean they are less prone to injury, a very welcome by-product (although Weightman (?) did go off with an injured ankle).
As a result of the changes, our play seemed to become a little disjointed and the structures and routines clearly evident in the first half, especially in defence, seemed to have gone AWOL during the second. However, Cov started to get a second wind again and finished the stronger with the final try of the game, a move that started just outside the Cov 22, going through several phases and ending with Tom Poole diving under the opposition posts. A real crowd pleaser, that!
We were able to break their line on a number of occasions, and Knox, Hope, Pailor, Tincknell, Ryan and Lespierre all made some good yards. We retained the ball well, but too often we either lost possession or were penalised for naive mistakes. Cut those out and Cov will be a very hard team to beat this season. The lineout is still a problem, we lost the ball too often, especially in the first half and both hookers failed to find their mark as often as they should. Early days and I’m sure the Tuesday and Thursday training sessions will address this. Fitness seems better than last season; had it not been I think Cov might well have capitulated under the pressure Welsh exerted mid-way though the second half. But not these days.
With Rosslyn Park winning comfortably against Cardiff, albeit at home, 47-23 with 7 tries from the forwards, the two favourites for the league (as far as I’m concerned!) have put down their markers. Perhaps Cov have their noses slightly in front.
Ealing next week will be another stern test before the league begins in two weeks time. One more opportunity for the coaches to decide on their starting XV for the Wharfedale game. Hopefully, another big gate and encouraging Cov performance next Saturday will mean we go into the opening league fixture full of confidence and in the belief there is no one to fear in our league.
Final score: Coventry 18 London Welsh 33