Jacques the Ruthless
What a game!
With two consecutive defeats and a 13-0 lead clawed back to 19-19 by a rejuvenated Plymouth Albion in the second half, there were some in a decent-sized Coventry crowd of 1168 who were beginning to lose their patience.
A misdirected Jones kick aimed for the corner led one supporter with the most stentorian of voices to shout out, ‘What’s the bloody point?’ – a needless profanity really with so many youngsters around, but one that summed up the frustrations of many who felt the game might be slipping away from Coventry yet again.
With the ball going end to end and both teams making a number of unforced errors, the game in truth could have gone either way. For the umpteenth time during the game, Cov strung a series of phases together on or in the Plymouth 22 and, following a scrum 15 m out resulting from a Plymouth fumble after Jones had struck the post with a penalty attempt (yes it was the sort of match), Jacques Le Roux hit the perfect angle and at full speed sliced through what had been resolute defence until then. It really was the proverbial knife through butter and will be one of those lasting Cov memories for me. Just brilliant. And made all the more so because it’s great to see Jacques back after his catalogue of injuries. He has a presence on the pitch, seemingly rarely ruffled and always looking in control, capable of scything through defences at will, as he did a couple of times yesterday. Feel the bromance…
With three minute of injury time still to be played out, and Cov pinned in their own 22 after being penalised for not rolling away, there were still some uncomfortable moments left in the game, but Coventry’s line wasn’t to be broken again and there was palpable relief as the referee blew up (oh how I wish) for full time.
If one moment can potentially define a season, then it could yet be JLR’s charge for the line. From the sloughs of despond (a bit of poetic license there admittedly) during the week leading up to the game to a feeling of near euphoria. As Phil Maynard trotted down the main stand steps and quietly announced to those near-by that Rosslyn Park had been well beaten at home by Blackheath, the smiles grew even wider as we realised just how important this win was…
It hadn’t started too well with the announcement that the unlucky James Tincknell, back in the team following several weeks of injury, was again side-lined and, walking past him, it wasn’t hard to see why. He had a black eye to be proud of.
So Callum MacBurnie returned to the team to partner Sam Smith in midfield and I thought both had strong games. Callum is a WYSIWYG, solid in defence and what he does, he does well – reliable, someone you’d want in your side when the pressures on. Sam looked strong and made a couple of decent breaks and was also solid in defence, rarely missing his man. He didn’t seemed fazed at all in the second half and appeared to fit in well.
A word, too, for Caolan Ryan at fullback whom I though had a strong game and made one fantastic break from inside his own 22…he’s an exciting player to watch. Dom again was very strong in both attack and defence and made a couple of key tackles to end what looked like try scoring opportunities for Plymouth and was also very noticeable in attack. He still doesn’t get a great deal of possession and tends to have to look for the ball more than perhaps he should. He had another great game though.
I was also impressed with Peter Weightman, too. A strong debut for him, scoring in the first couple of minutes and then having two good chances in the next ten, on each occasion fumbling the ball with the line in sight. He faded a little in the second half although he had a couple of very strong runs down the left wing which left him huffing and puffing a little! He will only get better as his match fitness improves. He’s going to cause some real problems for defences this season.
Jones and Evans played well in the first half, but an injury to Evans early on in the second meant he was confined to the stands for 35 minutes, with Everton replacing him. The young scrum half had a good game and his quick release of the ball and flat, quick pass seemed to give the backs a little extra time…he certainly looked the part to me. Jones wasn’t as effective without Evans, interestingly.
There were also injuries, to Woodburn and Hope, and just when we thought things were getting better on that front. Devlin’s injury was to his elbow and although he had a couple of practise throws at half time, he was clearly in discomfort. He’d had a strong first half, although the line-out was a concern again, and he made valuable metres. Hopefully, it’s nothing too serious.
Matt Price, replacing him, had a really strong second half and was clearly in the mood to make his presence felt. Strong in defence and aggressive in attack (in a controlled way!) he was prominent amongst the forwards. Maybe if duties are to be shared between the two hookers, Matt coming on as an impact player is an effective way of doing it. I thought he had his best game for Cov so far this season.
Woodburn’s injury allowed for the return of Jacques Le Roux which was greeted with loud applause from an appreciative crowd. ‘Woody’ is another player who does things quietly and effectively…he was a great acquisition and with experience is going to become an important signing for the club.
The scrum looked far more solid and certainly held it’s own against a large Plymouth pack. However, another yellow card, this time for Tom Poole, looked to have cost us dearly as two of the tries, either side of half time, came when we were a man down. Ill-discipline could have lost of the game – ‘nough said.
I thought we looked really strong in attack yesterday, with forwards supporting backs well. I’d be interested to know how many yards we made in clean breaks as against those made by Plymouth; it felt like we played the more running rugby, but that could be a rather biased view, admittedly. Some loose kicks from hand and a couple of costly fumbles meant we lost a lot of ground on occasions, 40-50 metres at a time, and it was a question of having to start all over again. Better teams will make us pay for that if we keep on giving the ball away quite as generously as we did yesterday.
However, the defence was altogether tighter and we repelled wave after wave of Plymouth possession at times. Oliver was again Man of the Match and he was certainly prominent in the loose, often winning the ball or earning us a penalty when the pressure was on, although in truth there were many excellent performances out there.
It was a sterling effort from a team that must have been a little low on confidence coming into the game. There are a couple of
tough fixtures coming up, with Hull away and then Fylde and Rosslyn Park, both at home on consecutive weekends. In three weeks time things will be a lot clearer as far our aspirations to be top of the pile come April are concerned, with Ampthill playing Blackheath (home) and Rosslyn Park (away) in the next fortnight.
Our attendance was almost double that of the next nearest in our league, that of Rosslyn Park at 603 (for what, in effect, is a ‘local’ derby against Blackheath).