Eighteen hours on and with plenty of time to reflect on the whys and wherefores, it’s still difficult to explain just why Coventry failed to recreate the kind of performance that anyone who attended Coventry’s opening pre-season National One games knows they are capable of producing.
It would be too easy to put the blame solely on Coventry; Hartpury College fully deserved the win, playing with a passion and commitment that was seemingly missing from the home side for much of the game. There were some positives from out performance. Not many, I grant you, but for me the really galling thing was that whilst everyone accepts this was a well below par performance, we had several opportunities to win the game, including two difficult penalties in injury time. That we should be so close, playing such mediocre rugby, would be a starting point for me were I one of the coaches. We were probably 30% off our best; 25% and we would have secured the four points and everyone would have left the ground disappointed at the manner of the Coventry win but relieved that we were still unbeaten. Ifs and buts.
The players looked hungry and fired up during the warm-up (I do like the t-shirt they wear prior to the game with the legend ‘Coventry Rugby’ on – it creates an impression of unity and a team working as one) with no hint of what was to follow.
The truth is though, you’re never going to win games if your scrum is in retreat and the lineout is as inconsistent as it was yesterday. I’m no expert and I’m not going to attempt to explain why for the last 50 minutes of the game the scrum wasn’t recognisable as the one that overwhelmed Loughborough the week before. It was ironic, however, that Josh MacNulty, ex Coventry Rugby Academy, was the catalyst for Hartpury’s improvement in this area, coming on as he did after 34 for minutes as a replacement for one of the Hartpury front row. (https://coventryrfc.me/2015/09/19/coventry-v-hartpury-match-tweets/)
It seemed that from the onset of his arrival, our scrum was in complete disarray and even when Terry Sigley entered the fray after 55 minutes, with all his experience and guile, Coventry could not counter Hartpury’s dominance in the set piece. We were penalised time and time again and as a result we were constantly on the retreat. Adam Parkins was withdrawn fairly late on, presumably the result of sickness or injury – whether his presence would have made any difference, I don’t know.
We lost so much ground to penalties conceded from the scrum that we were always having to regroup and regain possession, playing catch up, and we didn’t catch very well – at least not in the line-out. I don’t know whether it’s the fault of the thrower for poor placement of the ball, the pack leader for the wrong calls, or the jumpers for incorrectly timing their jumps but having seemed to have sorted it out last week, we’re back to the problems of the opening two games in the pre-season. We had three line-outs on the Hartpury 5 metre line and lost them all. The catch and drive worked so well against Loughborough and yet yesterday it couldn’t function because the throw-ins were lost. Disappointing to say the least. More work for Matt Price and Devlin Hope and the rest of the pack this week…I’m sure they’ll sort it out.
Matt Jones and Wayne Evans struggled to stamp their mark on the game, too. Jones’ kicking was poor, successful with only three of his eight
attempts at goal. When you lose by just two points, well, he doesn’t need anyone to do the maths for him. He marshalled the backs efficiently, but some of his kicking out of hand lacked the accuracy we have come to expect and handed possession back to the opposition (with the exception of two kicks that Dom was able to run on to, one of which he scored from and the other ended in a disallowed try – corrected: kick was from Evans). Evans had a very quiet game for him, and seemed to lack a little leadership…he leads by example a lot of the time, but when his game isn’t firing this makes it much harder for him to assert his presence on the team. He is a class player, and he’ll be hurting as much as anyone.
I though the backs looked quite sharp at times, although sometimes they were a bit flat when attacking. Knox didn’t make the yardage we are accustomed to yesterday, although he did get his name on the score sheet. Hartpury had clearly done their homework on him and he just wasn’t able to make the incisive breaks we are so used to seeing. His partnership with Callum MacBurnie was, as ever, solid but I do think when James Tincknell has paired up with him, they look far more attacking. Callum, defensively is strong, but he doesn’t seem to worry the opposition in attack to quite the same extent.
Sam Baker looked sharp and I thought he had a good debut. He is clearly another speedster and was keen to get the ball whenever he could. He took on the opposition and with a bit more space I’m sure he will cause problems. A definite plus for me.
On the other wing, Dom was, well Dom. 100% effort and commitment and a willingness to chase everything down. I was a little worried that in the warm-up he seemed to have a problem with his chest, a pulled muscle or similar and the physio worked on him for a while. He showed no sign of it though during the game and scored a fine individual try following a lovely kick from Jones and almost repeated that in the second half. Another positive.
Cliffie’s injury was disappointing, and however poorly we played yesterday, had he been on the pitch, we would have won, whether we deserved to or not (and we didn’t). 5 missed kicks at goal and a loss by two points, well, that says it all really. The injury, after just 12 minutes, seemed to be identical to the one he suffered last season and again against Broadstreet in the opening pre-season game. It doesn’t look good and I guess it will involve some serious time off now.
Although the Man of the Match was awarded to Oliver, mine would have been Caolan Ryan, Cliffie’s replacement. He hasn’t put in anything other than a good stint since he joined the club and yesterday he was sharp in attack, making some telling runs, strong in defence and his positional play was also impressive. Should Cliffie’s injury prove to be a long term one, and if Scott Hamilton remains unfit, then I’d like to see Coalan given a run. He deserves the opportunity.
The back row had a difficult afternoon at the base of a retreating scrum. As a result, Hartpury had more opportunity to use the ball and Cov less time to chase down the scrum half and fly half. There are fewer finer sights for me than Sam Pailor rampaging through the middle of the park, ball in hand, terrorising defences but this just didn’t happen yesterday; Cov were too often on the back foot and as a result Sam was too caught up in defence. And he is far less effective when he’s not on the charge (he is an electrician!). Loti was noticeable in that he put in some strong tackles and made some decent yards with the ball, but again as with Oliver and Pailor, he was primarily defensively minded yesterday.
Yes, there were some positives to take from the game and whilst it’s easy to be negative we mustn’t forget that this is a strong squad, as strong as we’ve had in the last six years. We needed a test early on and that’s what we got. We failed it. But the real test is how we regroup in the next week. No licking of wounds or trying to heal injured pride, it’s about manning up and doing a job against Richmond on Saturday. With Rosslyn Park failing to pick up the bonus points as expected, it is clear this is going to be as open a league this year as we’ve had since we were relegated from the Championship. Ampthill are only 4 points ahead of us and we can redress that on the 19th December, so there’s all to play for. It’s about belief and a willingness to put your hands up, admit you got it wrong and work had to sort out the problems. And we’ll do that.
Incidentally, I see Jeremy Corbyn appointed this week, one Neale Coleman, as ‘Director of Rebuttal’ after a series of gaffes this week, in essence a spin doctor by any other title. In additional, Alastair Campbell made quite a decent living out working in this capacity of Blair. Perhaps there’s a similar role opening at Coventry RFC…
…on second thoughts, I hope there isn’t
SSE National League Division One
|Last updated 19 September 2015 at 20:55|