Friendlies: Episode 5 – the one with the banana
Agreed, it doesn’t sound the most amusing of 5 liners, but it is somehow appropriate in that Coventry proved to be something of a banana skin for Ealing Trailfinders last season, beating them at home (32-26) and almost completing the double, narrowly losing the away fixture (24-18) with the highly impressive Luke Daniels scoring to win the tie for the home side in the last two minutes. Ealing deserved promotion and were the strongest side in National One last year, but we weren’t that far behind them. Saturday’s friendly, the final before the season proper begins, should prove an entertaining game and is the last chance for Scott Morgan and his coaching team to assess their players before the opening league game against Wharfedale the week after.
It seems that Ealing have been exceptionally busy recruiting over the Summer and even by mid-May they had signed a scarcely believable 28 new players, (Get West London)! Having experienced relegation from the Championship just over 12 months ago, this would seem to be an acceptance on their part that a side promoted from National One isn’t one that will survive in the Championship without sweeping changes. I’m not so sure. Certainly, should we find ourselves in a similar position next year, we would need to improve our squad in all areas, but I don’t believe it would need to be quite as radical as that undertaken by Ealing. Okay, so it’s jumping the gun a little, but it’s an interesting conversation in the clubhouse over a quiet drink or three.
On Saturday, Ealing had a not altogether convincing away win (14-33) against Hartpury College in a match that was eerily reminiscent of the Coventry’s game against London Welsh. A very tight first half with the Championship side easing ahead in the second, only for Hartpury to score a try just before the final whistle. Ealing will certainly have to play better in order to achieve a similar result on Saturday and Cov must fancy a victory against their erstwhile adversaries. I’m sure the Cov players will want to test themselves against a team that will be performing at the next level and at the same time send a clear message to the rest of National One. Cov must be going into the Ealing game full of confidence; with a good performance for long periods of the game against Welsh following what amounted to a demolition of Cardiff. Certainly, the players were in no way overawed by London Welsh and will feel they can come out on top against an Ealing side that is still very new and lacking the consistency and continuity of the home team.
Unlike Ealing, for the second year running Coventry have resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes, opting instead for quality in key areas, with many of last year’s squad retained and only 13 signings. It will be interesting to see if the starting XV on Saturday is close to the team we might expect to see against Wharfedale, or if Scott Morgan is still experimenting with different permutations. With the squad now including two players for every one position, whatever the side selected, it should be one that will test Ealing to the full.
The backrow remains the most interesting area for me, with Woodburn and Malitika having done their cause no harm in the last four games and Oliver, Carpenter, Preece and Wright are all there or thereabouts. Pailor seems the only certainty and he was prominent against Welsh in the first half. It’s a great position for the selectors to be in, but there are certainly going to be one or two disappointed players come next weekend. The front row again has seen several combinations of props/hooker, but Andy Brown seems to be going from strength to strength and I imagine Devlin Hope will also start as Matt Price isn’t yet firing on all cylinders.
If Jones remains on the injury list, and it might be worth wrapping him in cotton wool if there is any doubt as he will be so important come the start of the league games, Ryan should be flyhalf. He looked strong, kicked well and made a couple of telling breaks on Saturday, although Canning, too, looked the part when he came on. I’ve been impressed with the scrum half Everton who I think is a trialist. He’s got quick hands and what he does, he does competently. Murray and Jammal didn’t impress me as much and they now seem off radar; perhaps a contract’s in the offing? James Tincknell seems to get better with each game and his likely pairing with Rob Knox is going to cause real problems for a lot of teams this season, although Callum MacBurnie’s defensive strengths will surely be needed at times. Elsewhere in the backs, Hamilton or Hodgson at full back and Lespierre and Weightman on the wings (provided Weightman has recovered after picking up an injury on Saturday)…
Ealing won’t have it all their own on Saturday, that’s for sure…and another banana skin is certainly on the cards, if not on the pitch itself.