The relief was palpable.
In the end, it was a convincing victory.
Four tries to secure a bonus point, a defence so frugal that it failed to allow Blaydon a single point and a standing ovation at the end. There wasn’t a Cov supporter in the ground who wouldn’t have settled for that at the start of the game. By the end, it was as one-sided as…well, as the game was the week before, in all honesty.
But let’s not get too carried away by this performance.
Yes, it was everything we could have asked for in the final 35 minutes, but before that Coventry had to repel a strong and somewhat wasteful Blaydon team that had several opportunities to kick for points but chose instead to kick for territory, in the misplaced belief that they had the pack to catch and drive their way to victory, given the chance. And we gave them several of those in the opening 20 minutes.
The first 2 minutes was a repeat of so many games this season. We were penalised on the half way line, they kicked to the corner with the clear intention of a catch, a drive and 5 points in the bag. How many times has that happened to us since September?
But they hadn’t banked on Coventry’s tenacious defence, the pack driving hard and fast on completion of the lineout, pushing the Blaydon maul backwards and disrupting any momentum they might have had. It was great to see and although Blaydon spurned several such opportunities through poor throws and technical errors, the pressure Coventry’s defence had put on them seemed to create an early uncertainty and sow the seeds of a growing confidence in us.
There were many pluses that came out of this game, but for me the biggest was the massive improvement in Coventry’s discipline throughout the vast majority of the game. With the exception of the first 10 minutes and the final two or three, Coventry hardly gave away a penalty and with no yellow cards either, Coventry had the novelty of playing the full 80 minutes with a full complement of players.
It made such a difference. When Blaydon were on the attack, or were retaining the ball through several phases in the first half, Coventry were able to bide their time, tackling everything that was thrown at them and ensuring Blaydon made the mistakes not them. And when we did get some decent ball in the first half and put pressure on their line we did what they couldn’t, we didn’t leave without scoring. 3 points at a time; it didn’t matter we weren’t getting the tries. The gap was growing, Blaydon’s scrum was creaking and the crowd were getting louder.
After 25 minutes or so there was a confidence returning to the team. It started in the forwards who began to exert complete dominance over a Blaydon pack that must have come to Coventry certain in the belief it could do a job on us after the demolition of Fylde the week before. We tackled everything that came our way with the back row of Oliver, Pailor and Le Roux immense. As Blaydon battered our line in the first 10 minutes Cov stood firm. Better than firm, really. The pushed them backwards and the rolling-maul that had served Blaydon so well the week before became ineffective and when that happened, Blaydon seemed lost for ideas as to how to break the Coventry line.
The little signs of a growing confidence and a willingness to attack began to appear, led initially by Jacques Le Roux. From the base of the scrum, deep in our own half, the pick up and charge made some good yards. That characteristic drop of the shoulder, the quick acceleration for such a big man – it was the Le Roux of two seasons ago and there are few better sights than JLR breaking through a defence with players in support.
Pailor too, began to drive forward, and when they began to carry the ball, so the crowd began to warm to their efforts. We still made too many errors, handling mistakes, poor kicks into open space that allowed Blaydon the opportunity to regroup and return the ball with interest. But the signs were there. By half-time the 9-0 lead, although never enough to suggest the game would change so dramatically over the next 40 minutes, was sufficient to show the crowd that this was the Coventry side of old, full of passion and commitment. They left the field at the interval to loud applause and they came back out for the second half to another warm reception. And how they responded. It was still tight, but another 3 points from the boot of Matt Jones helped to relieve a bit more pressure – an early score from Blaydon and it might have been all so different.
A word for Matt Jones and Wayne Evans. Both have taken some criticism this season but they are a class act. Yesterday, it showed. They were immense in their defensive duties, both putting in hard shifts, tackling everything that came their way. Their experience played a huge part in Coventry’s success yesterday and hopefully will put to bed any further calls for them to be ‘rested’. They are the best we have and when Coventry play well, invariably it’s because they have had strong games themselves.
Okay, Jones’ kicking out of hand wasn’t great early on, but when the time came he orchestrated his backs brilliantly and in conditions that just weren’t conducive to running rugby, the backs began to prosper. He was the conductor who, when the time was right, marshalled the backs into a performance that was their best for a good 8 games. It was great to watch. Evans seemed a different player yesterday; whether he felt he had something to proved after his enforced absence I don’t know, but he quietly got on with his job, never seeming to make the wrong decisions and defensively putting in one hell of a shift, as well as scoring the opening try.
Once Evans had crossed, effectively it was game over. The Blaydon scrum was shot to pieces and even though they changed their prop and hooker early on, it had no effect. I’ve never understood the intricacies of the front row, but Thorne and Brown must have enjoyed their day’s work. Brown seem to take a few knocks, so I hope he’s okay for next week, but it was good to see the two of them back to something like their best.
Pricey was, well Pricey. Combative, pugnacious, bellicose, choleric. Whatever, the right adjective, Matt was in the oppositions’ faces and at times it looked like he might not last the game. When he left, he did so to huge applause. And who should come on…Devlin Hope, combative, pugnacious, but perhaps not quite so bellicose.
There was no respite for a Blaydon scrum that was on it’s knees by the end of the game. The last couple of minutes they gamely tried to catch and drive again following a little indiscipline from Cov, but Coventry were in control and Blaydon weren’t able to get the points they probably deserved.
The second half was a tour de force…the half time break had clearly been used to good effect and the decision to add more width and pace to the attack quickly began to pay dividends. Pailor and Le Roux were everywhere, as was Oliver (it’s so easy to forget he’s still only 22!).
Poole and Thomas were dominant in the lineout, which functioned as well as it has all season. Thomas also put in a good defensive shift and should be given a run now. In the absence of Courtney Roberts and Martin Wolfenden, he looks our best option. Tom Poole was another unsung hero…he put in some big, big hits yesterday and he, too, seemed re-invigorated. It really was like the old times.
In the backs, well as the ball began to be spread wide, so they had more opportunities to get into the game. Lespierre was given a chance to run at the opposition again, not as much as he would have liked I’m sure, but he looked a handful and took his try well, having to beat his man to score. Knox had a couple more good breaks and Mieres clearly has great pace and it was his clever pass that led to Dom’s try (I think Hutchinson also had a part to play in that as well?). With Mieres in the team and Weightman on the right wing, Coventry looked much sharper…I’m not convinced Rory Hutchinson is the one to partner Rob Knox when everyone is fit, but MacBurnie was on the bench so clearly he is being given the option to prove himself there.
In the final quarter, Cov were rampant and Hope’s well-worked try from a catch and drive was the final ignominy for a Blaydon team that must have felt at half time that the game was still very much in the balance, as it was.
The crowd were fantastic. Supporters did what they do best…supported. One of the features for me this season has been the relative lack of criticism of the players despite the poor run of performances. Although Cov have struggled at times, supporters have focused on the external factors and rightly left the players out of it for the mostpart. They rewarded the fans yesterday with a performance that was as stirring as it was comprehensive in the second half, and the grateful fans responded with plenty of noise.
There’s still a lot of work to do, though.
Blaydon aren’t the strongest side in the league, but if we’re honest, neither are we at the moment. But this is a performance that suggests some sort of return to the kind of form we saw in August and much of the previous season. It raises some serious questions about selection and recruitment, but not now. Tomorrow probably, but today is very much a time to sit back and talk about the good things that came out of yesterday’s performance.
Finally, in all this I haven’t mentioned the coaches. I guess that is a positive because if the players are performing, then the coaches are doing their jobs and that is as it should be. But Scott Morgan has been in the firing line of late, as you would expect given the recent run of results, but he got it right yesterday and he deserves high praise for that. He must be looking forward to Cinderford now in the belief that today’s win could be a springboard for further successes. Scott Morgan is still learning his trade and what he learned yesterday will hopefully reap its rewards later in the season.
But it is only one win. Esher is still all too clear in our memories for it to be anything else at the moment.
Nevertheless, a great second half performance and one that sent Cov supporters away feeling much happier than when they arrived. Well done, Cov!
…or giant leaps?