Onwards and upwards…
Congratulations to Broadstreet.
First on account of their recent form, particularly at home where they’ve won their last two games after such a poor start to the season and secondly because they undoubtedly know how to court the local press – (Coventry Telegraph – Coventry back on right National 2 North Track}.
Great publicity, free to boot and probably worth a few extra on the gate on Saturday. On top of which they have a brilliant Twitter feed that keeps their supporters up-to-date with the latest news and views…they certainly are comfortable with the use of social media to advertise their product…well done them.
…talking of which, the first news out of Coventry RFC in the past week sees the announcement of the team to play Cinderford on Saturday.
But at least it was the news we were hoping for…no injuries and the same team that in the end beat Blaydon so convincingly. In retrospect, the opening 10 minutes of the game was reminiscent of Ali v Foreman, the Rumble in the Jungle…with Blaydon giving their all in attack with Coventry very much on the ropes but with their defence repelling everything the visitors could throw at them. With Blaydon unable to land the killer punch, the Cov scrum began to tighten the screw in the first half, enabling the backs to enjoy far more ball in the second half and exploit the gaps that suddenly started to open up. ‘Dope-on-a-rope’ became ‘farce-on-the-grass’.
So the selectors must have enjoyed the easiest selection meeting for some time. It would have been a very strange call to make changes to a team that by the end of the game was clearly full of confidence and playing with a renewed self-belief. Scott Morgan (or Phil Maynard?) has rightly shown faith in the team. With players now confident that strong performances will ensure consistent selection from now on, they can relax a little and not worry if they’ll be playing from one week to the next.
An unfair criticism? Not really. I think the non-selection of George Oliver, Sam Pailor and Tom Poole at times during the last 10 weeks has sent out mixed messages; if not to them, then certainly to the supporters to whom no explanation as to their omission from the team was forthcoming.
But that now seems to be all in the past.
The smiles and looks of relief at the end of Saturday’s game suggest that the coaches have gone for the tried and tested approach, picking the majority of the side that did so well during the middle stages of last season.
The only person who might be feeling a little disappointed is Danny Wright and if he is, then he’ll know he only has himself to blame. Left out because he didn’t make himself available for training on the Thursday before the Blaydon game, he had to sit in the stands and watch Ben Thomas produce his best 80 minutes so far in a Coventry shirt. Thomas deserves to keep his place and in fact I was surprised when he lost out to Wright against Esher. He looks a promising addition to the squad and seems to do a lot of hard graft in and around the loose.
With only 5 replacements on the bench, two of which have to be front row replacements, Danny is now left out in the cold…quite literally if the weekend’s weather forecast is to be believed. And with Martin Wolfenden having had at least 5 competitive matches under his belt, the opportunities for a quick return to the match day squad seem to be diminishing by the day. Whilst it is unfortunate for Wright, the coaches have done exactly the right thing, sending a clear message to the rest of the squad.
At least Coventry have begun to give us updates on the fitness of those out injured, so perhaps someone is at last starting to listen to supporters’ concerns on the Messageboard. It is but one small step, but at least it’s in the right direction.
In the brief time we saw Ryan Hough in the friendlies, he looked very useful and will be a welcome addition to the squad. His return, together with Tom Preece’s, will be like signing two new players. I’m not sure what the coaches will want to do when they are back to full fitness – with Dan Rundle a certainty to return to the team as and when his fitness allows (and no one will be in a hurry to rush him back), Sam Baker, Peter Weightman and Ryan Hough will find it difficult to force their way back into the team, especially as Dom Lespierre has been one of the most consistent performers in what has been a difficult start to the season for the team. Add James Tincknell to the list as well, although James can double up as cover for the centres, and you have 4 very able players who might have to play their rugby out on loan…
Tom Preece’s return creates similar selection headaches should his form match that of the first few games of the close season where he seemed to play himself into contention as the first choice No 8. With Le Roux looking more and more like his old self and Romanian international Daniel Carpo joining the club a few weeks ago, Tom will now find it much harder to break into the side.
Whilst this is exactly what the selectors wanted when they recruited over the summer – at least two players of similar abilities for each position – it will cause headaches during the weeks ahead for the coaches when they have to keep such good players motivated when they can’t even get on the bench. However, it could be a policy that reaps its rewards during the winter months from January onwards when other clubs haven’t got such strength in depth and are having to field teams that are severely weakened as a result. That’s the theory, anyway.
Back to the game on Saturday…
…at the start of the season it was one of the away games that you would have targeted as ‘banker’. Having stated that the Board felt this season Coventry were read to make a ‘push’ for promotion, Cinderford would have been one of the teams they’d expect to do the double over. They’ve always been a tough team to beat at Dockham Road, but having only just managed to retain their place in National 1 last season and with several key players leaving the Gloucestershire side in the summer, Coventry must have pencilled this in as a ‘W’. Given Coventry’s form over the last ten games, it is now anything but that.
However, the apparent change in the selection policy means that the players selected for Saturday know each others’ strengths well and will run out onto the pitch in the knowledge that the 18 match unbeaten run last season, in which most of them played a full part, took them to within just 5 points of Ealing and in second place in the league, looking for all the world as if they could overhaul the favourites for the title. Even without Hurrell and Rundle, they are capable of beating anyone in the league and in Gaston Mieres they have could well have got themselves a player who could galvanise the backs in the same way as the two wingers did in the second half of last season.
Much will depend on the extent to which Evans and Jones can dictate the play, especially if the forwards can win a similar amount of ball as they did last week. Defensively, both were magnificent and when in possession, both used their vast experience to create the opportunities for the backs to flourish in final quarter. Jones kicking was a little wayward early on, but he was able to allow Knox at first, and then Lespierre and Mieres, to see more of the ball and create the opportunities for them to use their pace and guile to full effect.
Sam Pailor and Jacques Le Roux (who would have been my choice for MoM) looked rejuvenated and with the two of them running at defences, the opposition backrow were sucked into the rucks, creating the opportunities elsewhere. It was simple and effective and we looked a far better side as a result. Chad’s return also seemed to make a big difference too and hopefully he, Price and Brown, together with Hope and Kivalu coming on from the bench, can inflict the same sort of damage to the Cinderford scrum as they did to Blaydon’s.
Cinderford will be a much tougher challenge than Blaydon and will provide an ideal test for an unchanged Coventry side that will be eager to prove that last Saturday’s result was in many respects a new start to the season after all the disappointments of the previous 3 games.
Coventry need to make a statement of intent over the next few games, a message to the rest of the league that Coventry’s troubles are behind us now and we’re about to make up for lost time. The fat lady hasn’t even reached the changing room as yet, let alone walked out onto the pitch.
And that statement of intent begins with a win tomorrow…
…onwards and upwards.