Two down and only twenty-eight to go! What conclusions, if any, can be drawn thus far..?
Well, it would appear that the two games, against Wharfedale and Loughborough, whilst resulting in fairly similar score lines, have been achieved through different means. In the Wharfedale game, the backs were dominant and the bulk of the tries game from the centre pairing of Knox and Tincknell. In the Loughborough game, it was very much the dominant forwards that created the tries, with the driving maul from line-outs close out being particularly effective.
The Loughborough scenario is particularly pleasing as one of the areas of concern in the pre-season games was the efficacy of the lineout and in particular the ability of the thrower to hit his target. Both Price, in particular, and Hope when he has come on, have been more consistent here in the last couple of games and the result have been clear to see. Also, Courtney Roberts’ presence in the lineout has meant that there is far less pressure on Poole and with more options at their disposal, Coventry are beginning to make this a particular area of dominance. There’s something about Hope that is exciting to watch and I’m looking forward to him getting more game time. Fantastic to have two such combative players vying for the same spot.
Add to this a scrum in the last game that created all sorts of problems for Loughborough and was as dominant as many can remember and you have a very encouraging start to the league. Coventry appear to have the game to play either through the backs and open up defences at will or keep it tight amongst the forwards and ‘bully’ the opposition. The two teams we have met thus far, whilst by no means contenders for the final top spot, are both teams who we might expect to have had a tougher game against. This augers well for the remainder of the season.
In addition, Coventry seem to have begun the season with an intensity we haven’t seen for some time. Clearly, the pre-season games ensured that they had to be at their best against the two Championship sides, anything else could have resulted in disappointment. This, together with real competition for places in all areas of the team, has ensured that there has been no complacency whatsoever.
In both of these opening matches, Coventry has managed to score the four tries needed for the bonus point before the end of the first 40 minute period. This, in effect, means that it is game over and might explain why, against Wharfedale in particular, the team took the foot of the gas a little in the second half, allowing the visitors to have far more possession with the resulting relative reduction in points scored. This was less obvious against Loughborough and although we again suffered some injuries, particularly in the scrum, we were still able to dominate.
I’m not sure whether I’m reading too much significance into this, but it is interesting that even though Hodgson was in the team on Saturday, kicking duties went to Matt Jones. Does this suggest that he is now seen as a more reliable points scorer from dead ball situations than Cliffie (unlikely – even though he is still pretty damn good!) or does it mean that in reality Cliffie is only a stop-gap measure for either Hamilton once Hough or Weightman are once again available for selection (more likely)? This time last season you would never have felt that Jones would have been given preference over Hodgson, but such is the strength of the team, and of the backs especially, that Hodgson cannot be guaranteed a place in the side any longer.
The real test as to whether we are true title contenders will come when we play a team whose defence is such that we aren’t able to kill the game in the first half. We haven’t yet seen how Coventry respond when the scores are tight coming into the last 10 minutes, or indeed if we find ourselves a few points down. A 30 point advantage coming into the final quarter actually tells us little about the durability of the team. My suspicion is that there is so much strength in depth that our bench will be more than a match for other teams in the league and the likes of Sigley, Thorne, Hope, Parkins (even in the back row!), Everton et al or whatever combination is used, will have the edge over the opposition. Okay, it’s no more than supposition from what we’ve seen so far but it’s still a reasonable guess!
England on Friday (on the tele) and Hartpury on Saturday, A rugbyfest if ever there was one. But if this year it ever came down to a hypothetical choice between England winning the World Cup again or Coventry gaining promotion, well the thought of us beating Moseley twice next season makes it a a bit of a no brainer.