And with no statement from the club following last weekend’s capitulation to an impressive Esher side, or any indication that one might be imminent, it’s time to move on and concentrate our thoughts on next Saturday’s game at home to Blaydon. And it looks like it could be a tough one.
Blaydon’s win at home to Fylde last week means they have moved from bottom of National League 1 up to the heady heights of 13th on 13 points, along with Cinderford and DMP. We remain 9th on 20 points. Blaydon’s last 5 games have seen a sequence of LLLLW (two of the losses were close run affairs), which compares to Coventry’s WWLLL, so it’s pretty clear which team has the momentum with them.
It was always going to be a hard game, but Blaydon’s victory last Saturday has just made it a whole lot harder.
Even before the season started, it was clear the previous 5 games were going to present Coventry with one of their toughest few weeks of the season, with games against Hartpury, Richmond, Plymouth, Hull, Fylde, Rosslyn Park and Esher. With the exception of maybe Hull Ionians, these are all teams you would expect to be in the top half of the league come the end of the season, with most of them competing for three of the top four places, along with ourselves. We might have expected to struggle in one or two of these fixtures, although we would never have foreseen back then just how poor our performances would be.
Over the next few weeks we find ourselves playing, as luck would have it, four sides all of which are below us in the league, these being Blaydon (13th), Henley (11th), Cinderford (16th) and Darlington MP (15th). Suddenly this run of fixtures takes on a whole new significance for Cov. I know the Board seem to have set a minimum target for Coventry of 3rd in the league; a more realistic one in the short term must be to win three of the next four games. Start losing these and we are sucked well and truly into a relegation battle. With only Blackheath and Ampthill to follow before the end of the first half of fixtures is completed, we have to come away with at least 12 points from the four teams below us. Blackheath at home (1st) and Ampthill away(4th) are going to be real tests of character. We simply have to get some points from these next four games or else the table come Christmas won’t be offering us much festive joy.
Now after a run of seven consecutive defeats, you’d think Blaydon’s confidence would be at a pretty low ebb. And then after 4 minutes of the Fylde game to find themselves 14-0 down…well, you’d imagine it to be game over. But from that moment onwards it appears from reading the Blaydon match report that they never looked back. The forwards took complete control, score two penalty tries from rolling-mauls and caused Fylde problems for the rest of the game. Fylde suffered 3 yellow cards and were unable to get any decent ball. In short, Blaydon managed to do what Coventry couldn’t, stem the flow of ball to the Fylde backs (Blaydon report on match v Fylde).
That Blaydon should end their run of defeats the game before they are due to play us probably was predictable given the way our season is panning out, but I am slightly relieved by the manner in which they achieved it. Perhaps that seems somewhat nonsensical, but let me explain. This season we have been at our poorest against teams that have run the ball back at us at pace, namely Fylde and Esher. Against both we were outgunned, outthought and outclassed. In the other games we’ve lost, we failed to do the basics right and despite poor performances we were close at the end, sometimes just a couple of missed kicks away from a win, even if it would have been an undeserved one.
The fact that Blaydon don’t appear to be a ‘running’ side is something of a relief to me; if there is an area that we have improved in or at least have shown some sort of consistency in, then it’s in the forwards. Adam Parkins’ injury on Saturday will undoubtedly be a blow, but if we get the selection right, then I do think up front we are likely to be able to match Blaydon scrum for scrum. Just what is the right selection is something of a mystery to me, with the coaches seeing it very differently from the supporters at the moment.
I would imagine the front row will consist of probably Kivalu, Price and Brown (with Hope on the bench provided he’s got over the ‘flu – if fit enough, he’d start). Poole and either Roberts or Thomas or Tom Hicks will form the second row (although I think Wright might get the nod as it would be strange to recall him, play him for one game and then discard him again). In the back row, Oliver, Pailor and Woodburn. Evans should return at scrum half, hopefully suitably chastened from his two yellows against Fylde and at fly half Jones should come in for Ryan. The wings
should stay as they were for the Esher game; pending Dan R’s return, Baker or Weightman should fill in and Lespierre continue on the right wing. Centres should be Knox and Tincknell if fit, otherwise MacBurnie and hopefully Gaston Mieres will make his debut at full back.
If fit, I’d have Sigley to come on from the bench and rough up the opposition front row a little (all within the laws of course), together with Chad whose return seems long overdue, unless he has an injury, but the club would have told us that, wouldn’t they? Ryan and Everton would also bench, together with Tom Preece if fit or in favour (what has happened to him?), or Le Roux. Not Carpo, but that’s porbably just me.
I know the actual team selected for Saturday won’t look anything like that, but whatever team is chosen, I think it’s time to go back to basics. I’ve said it before, but I do think we have to beat Blaydon on Saturday, it’s a ‘must win’ game for us for the reasons explained above. Most of those players above are tried and tested, many of them having played in the side that were unbeaten in 18 games last season. It’s a question of who do you want fighting next to you when the odds aren’t in your favour…and for me, it’s the Jones’, Evans’, Thorne’s, Poole’s, MacBurnie’s and Lespierre’s who get my vote. This game is too important to do anything other than play safe.
Re-reading this, it all sounds like I’m preaching gloom and doom. Not a bit of it. The situation we’re in, one of our own making, certainly is depressing, but I do believe that we will win of Saturday and with a considerably improved performance. What I don’t really want to see is anything ‘left of field’, one or two selections that leave everyone scratching their heads again, as has been the case a few times this season. This isn’t the time to experiment. Had they come off in the past, then fair play, you’d have to give the coaches credit, but when we have lost 5 of our last 7 games then perhaps discretion really has the beating of valour.
The crowd has it’s part to play, too. With the average attendances down to 1100ish this season, there is less of an atmosphere. This is the first weekend when the World Cup won’t be a factor, so it will be interesting if the numbers begin to pick up again, although for that to happen there have got to be some improved performances from Cov on the pitch. Lots of noise and appreciation when things go right, no negativity if we fall behind. To be fair, supporters have laid little blame on the players so far this season, recognising that there are other factors involved in the poor performances we’ve seen up to now.
Time to get things back on track with a no-nonsense, back-to-basics performance…the team must be physically and emotional strong on Saturday; Blaydon always produce physical teams. From the very first whistle, Coventry must be completely focused on the job in hand and not give away quick points as they have done in several games this season.
Cov must be first to the breakdowns, something they’ve struggled at this season. Get decent possession and the rest becomes that much easier. Against Blaydon we just have to make sure we’re up and running from the word go.
Let’s hope it’s Blaydon’s wheels that start falling off, not another one of ours…the bridge must be the one near the railway end…?
…Just gannin’ doon te the railway bridge, the ‘bus wheel flew off there
Blaydon Races – Anon
We talk a lot about the club’s need to improve their own website – well here’s a case in point.
If you go the ‘fixtures’ and then ‘results’ section of the official Cov website to check on previous results this season, the results for the first three National I games are included, but not the following six! The space is just left blank. It doesn’t look good at all and if you didn’t know otherwise, you’d think it was indicative the season that we’re having.
It’s almost as if whoever is responsible for adding the results decided after our first defeat against Hartpury that was it, season over. Every other club’s website I’ve visited, either in these league or the league below, keep their results up-to-date and have the match reports against each fixture that’s been played (something we used to do – they’ve probably been moved elsewhere?). If I’m honest, it looks a bit amateurish.