Fri. May 14th, 2021

The team announced yesterday for Saturday’s game against Richmond  contains few surprises. Well, to my untrained eyes at least just the one, to be precise. The absence of George Oliver in the back row seems a strange decision and I can only imagine he’s picked up a knock in training. I looked through the ‘live’ summary of the game (Tweets from Hartpury College game) and could see no indication of anything untoward against Hartpury. He was presented with  the home team’s Man of the Match award (is it the Centurions who make the decision?), although finding any player who produced an 80 minute display good enough to warrant the accolade was  always going to be a challenge. My vote went to Caolan Ryan, even though he was only on the pitch for 60+ minutes coming on as he did as a replacement for Cliff Hodgson.

Alex Woodburn starts tomorrow against Richmond
Alex Woodburn starts tomorrow against Richmond

Oliver has been ‘mister consistent’ since coming to us, so I hope if an injury is involved,, it’s not too serious. The only other reason could be the ‘horses for courses’ approach…with Alex Woodburn and Danny Wright offering something different to last Saturday’s line up of Molitika and Oliver. Woodburn game on for Loti after 55 minutes last Saturday and looked sharp, and with his pace around the pitch maybe there’s a feeling he could more pressure on the opposition’s 9 and 10.

It’s a welcome return for Danny Wright, a popular player with the supporters, someone who always gives 100% on the pitch. His ‘conversion’ to the back row worked extremely well towards the end of last season and it seems it is his preferred position. His size  and experience will add options to the line out where there have been concerns, so positives all round.

Provided the front five can function rather better than they did against Hartpury in the set pieces, then I think we’ll come away with the 4/5 points. No Adam Parkins which is a shame, but Chad Thorne and Andy Brown have caused a lot of problems for teams in our league over the last couple of season and are more than capable of doing so tomorrow.

Although a free-flowing, end-to-end spectacle of rugby would be great to watch, getting back to winning ways is more important that the style of win, and five points, good as it is, is secondary to the win.

The backs are as expected, with Scott Hamilton fit again, if not for the full 80 minutes, then certainly as a rolling substitute. I’m really pleased Caolan Ryan has been given an opportunity to start for the first time. He’s consistently played well and his willingness to attack could help bring the wingers more into play. Sam Baker deserved a second start following his debut last Saturday…if Jones can control the game from fly half as he we know he can, there’s plenty of pace in the backs to cause real damage. Knox and MacBurnie have played together many times and their pairing means a strong defensive midfield, with the ability to strike straight and at pace through Knox, in particular.

The loss last week was hugely disappointing. But despite playing so poorly by the standards we’d set in the previous few games, we had three opportunities to win the game in the dying minutes. That, together with the amount of possession we had (62%ish – thanks, Tom), should provide optimism. A stronger scrum, better lineout and perhaps slightly less inclination to kick our ball away in order to play in the opposition’s half, and we’ll be fine. All of those are things that can be quickly sorted, especially as we’ve functioned well in those areas for the mostpart, up until Hartpury.

It’s all about character now. The coaches will have worked with the team on the areas they feel are a concern, and I’m sure they will have said what needed to be said after the game. What the players do with this is the real story now. This is a squad brought together to push for promotion. Hopefully hands will have been held up, not in an admission of surrender, but in one of acceptance. Against Hartpury the team underperformed; not just one or two players, but the team as a whole and it is the team that has to shoulder responsibility. Their response against Richmond will be extremely telling.

Nothing has changed. There’s been no derailment following Saturday’s performance. The coaches are still right behind the squad. We’re still on track and the teams around us, other than Ampthill, aren’t pulling away (although I think Ampthill will struggle to keep this up over the winter against the more experienced teams – although what a great start it’s been for them!)

The signal’s on green…let’s hope the Richmond game is the platform we need to build up another head of steam…(with apologies to any railway enthusiasts who may read this).

By Tim

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