Three weeks, three wins and a maximum 15 points.
The coaches must be pretty satisfied with the progress that Coventry have made since the Esher game, although in truth today’s game was a Jekyll and Hyde performance if ever there was one.
And just as Stevenson’s creation contains two different persona, the artistic and cultured Dr Jekyll and the irresponsible and shameless Mr Hyde, so Coventry’s performance yesterday demonstrated the two very different sides to its nature.
The good doctor was evident in everything Cov did in the first half which was full of talent and flair, but come the start of the second the capricious Mr Hyde made a very early appearance and a loss of self-discipline early on reduced Cov to 13 players for almost a full 10 minutes. Whilst Henley upped their game dramatically, fortunately they weren’t able to make the most of the situation and although Cov ‘lost’ the second half 12-3, their resolute defence prevented what might otherwise have been a defeat a few weeks ago.
It’s important to emphasise that even the second half display was much improved on some of the spells of play we’ve witnessed Coventry produce at various times this season and although Henley saw far more of the ball, I thought Coventry defended pretty well for most of the final 35 minutes.
That second half was by no means a return to the Coventry of pre-Esher, but there were clear warning signs there, particularly the ever-present threat of Coventry’s self-discipline imploding. Better teams would have used the time we were down to 13 players far more effectively and we might well have struggled to get the win on another day.
However, win we did and there was much that was good to come out of the game. In particular, the pack continued to dominate the opposition as they have done for the last three games. Containing 7 of last season’s squad, they had the Henley scrum in all sorts of difficulties especially in the first half, despite being penalised at the first set piece.
Scott Morgan felt in his post match interview with John Wilkinson that in the first half, ‘it was a complete forward performance’. And few could argue with him. Coventry had scored their fourth, and bonus try, before half time and the side went into the break looking as if they would go on to achieve their highest score of the season. The forwards must have thoroughly enjoyed the series of reset scrums that at first resulted in a yellow card for the one of the Henley props and then a penalty try. The Henley pack just couldn’t cope with Cov’s front three.
I’d suggested in a couple of previous posts that Knox was beginning to recover his confidence and recapture something like the form he showed consistently last season. Well yesterday, in the first half, he was back to his blistering best.
Two tries, the second of which was a memorable 60 metres sprint for the line having cut through the Henley defences with ease. But it was the first that stood out for me in that he beat a Henley tackler with the best hand off I’ve seen for some time – Rob Knox is not just about pace, he’s also about power and it was his physicality that enabled him to score his first and Coventry’s second. Great stuff.
Much that occurred in that first half was evidence of the resurgent Coventry. Power and pace and a quickness of mind that allowed us to totally outplay Henley. Evans was superb and it was his quick tap penalty that lead to Oliver’s first try. I though Hutchinson had his best game so far in a Coventry shirt and his form is going to make it a much harder decision for the coaches to bring back the likes of Tincknell or MacBurnie, although I don’t think they’ll mind that too much if it means there’s so much strength in-depth.
Whatever the Henley coach said to his players in the changing room at half time, it certainly had the desired effect. Within a couple of minutes of the kick off, Cov found themselves pinned back on their goal line. Within another 3 minutes, Coventry were down to 13 men and had conceded a try.
Henley had certainly wound up the Coventry forwards a couple of times in the first half. With both teams having the two worst disciplinary records in the league, something was bound to give. Henley received two yellows in the first half and in a spirit of seasonal generosity, we decided to reciprocate in the opening minutes of the second and both Thomas and Thorne received their marching orders.
I couldn’t see what Ben’s offence was, but Chad clearly lost it his cool and raised his hand to an opponent and in all honesty deserved the yellow. I should add, their no 7 was very lucky to stay on the field for the offence leading up to Thorne’s dismissal.
Down to 13 and Henley very much with their tails up – well, previous Coventry sides earlier this season might well have capitulated. However, one of the pluses for me was the way Coventry defended during this spell. They were happy to allow Henley the ball, but Cov pressed them hard and pinned them in and around their own 22 -40m area. They tackled well and Henley just couldn’t break the stranglehold that Coventry exerted on them. They survived that 10 minute period relatively intact. It was quite an impressive defensive performance.
Conditions deteriorated in the second half, with rain creating all sorts of difficulties, not the least of which was the handling of such a wet and greasy ball. The open, running game of the first half was always going to be that much harder to play in the final 30 minutes, but even then, when we did get the ball which wasn’t that often, we tried to add some width to our attack which was refreshing to see.
Henley did score mid-way through the second half and at 26-15 there were one or two alarm bells ringing. However, for all their possession, I was confident Coventry would be able to steady the ship and when Henley received their third yellow of the afternoon, they were always playing catch-up. The decision to go for the three points, rather than the kick to the corner was clearly the correct one, but we’ve seen the 5 point option being taken before now.
But the fact that Henley weren’t able to capitalise when we found ourselves down to 13 and they had their tails up is definitely something to be pleased about. But losing two players, at least one to a lack of self-control, is something we can ill-afford. The momentum of the first half was lost, Coventry had to change their game plan and it allowed Henley to go on the front foot. It was hugely disappointing on that score.
So even though the second half was disappointing given Cov’s first half demolition of Henley, there were still some positives to come out of the second half, particularly their defence which held up pretty well for most of that forty minute period, certainly far better than against Fylde or Esher.
But it does show is that Coventry aren’t a good enough side to take the foot off the gas or lose a bit of self-discipline. Henley aren’t one of the stronger teams in the league and yet they caused us more than a few problems in the second half. Against a Hartpury or Blackheath, it might have been a very different scenario.
Again talking to John Wilkinson for The Rugby Paper’s report on the game, Scott Morgan says:
We’ve had a decent couple of weeks prior to this and we’ll just focus on next week…we’re looking no further ahead. We’d like to be top three by Christmas, but all we’re focusing on is the next game
A couple of things stand out there. One is the slight contradiction – only looking at the next game but also wanting to be top three by Christmas. However, I think any coach/manager is almost obliged nowadays to quote the ‘one game at a time’ line, particularly coming after such a lean spell.
But the ‘top three by Christmas’ remark clearly suggests that Morgan hasn’t given up on promotion just yet and fair play to him for that. It echoes the club’s comments in the infamous e-letter that said that the target was initially a top three spot and then see to what happens. Only time will tell, but it seems as if the it’s still very much a question of game on. I was very critical of that e-letter and its criticism of the players, and of their unwillingness to communicate with the supporters, but their decision to stand by the coaches is being rewarded, so they should be given some credit for that. Well done.
A top three spot might be difficult to achieve by Christmas, mind. Whilst Coventry have moved up to 6th place following yesterday’s win they have only reduced the gap between themselves and Hartpury by a single point. Blackheath are 10 points ahead in third, so they’ll have to lose twice before Christmas (including against us in two weeks) as will probably Esher in order for us to leapfrog them.
Possible, but a big ask. However, the fact that is still very much to the forefront of Scott’s thinking is something that should be commended, given all that has happened in the opening 12 games of the season so far.
However, for that top three spot (and what a great Christmas present that would be) Coventry are going to have to end this Jekyll and Hyde inconsistency in their game. One moment fantastic, the next frustrating in the extreme…top three teams must show far great consistency (Blackheath have only lost two games to our 5) and a far better disciplinary record, something which is down to us to address, no one else.
So the run goes on and progress continues to be made. To say anything more optimistic is probably unwise at the moment, given the context of the wins, all against teams below us and all expected back in September. Darlington, whom we play next week, had a good win away to Fylde yesterday, although Fylde seem to be suffering the same kind of indifferent form that we did back at the end of September and for all of October. But DMP are still only 11th and nine points behind us and are a team we would be expected to beat, home or away.
Blackheath in two weeks, at home…that will be the real test and I think it would be fair then to pass judgement then on just how far the team has come since Esher. However, yesterday really was the proverbial game of two halves…
…but at least we didn’t leave as sick as a parrot.
Me, I’m over the moon.