Blackheath and the unchained melody
Lonely rivers flow
To the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh
“Wait for me, wait for me”
I’ll be coming home, wait for me
Who’d have thought back in September that just before the half way mark of the 2015/16 season we’d be 7th in the league, have the worst disciplinary record of any team and with 16 weeks of the season left the club would have conceded that it is already too far behind the leaders to have any real chance of promotion this season.
Not me, that’s for sure.
So Blackheath at home comes at just the right time, offering as it does the chance for Cov to sign off the year in some style and provide a taster of what might be on offer in the new year. Of course, Blackheath might have something to say about that, but well, Coventry are capable of causing an upset even if their present form suggests that’s unlikely to happen.
The stats point to a close encounter between these two old rivals, closer than many might expect…and maybe, just maybe, Scott Morgan’s comments in the Coventry Telegraph after the Darlington game might actually lift the weight of expectation from the shoulders of everyone involved – coaches, players and supporters.
The chains are now broken – and no more pretending.
Music to my ears…
…an unchained melody, as it were.
Darlington v Blackheath – the stats:
Coventry (7th – 35pts): WWLLWWLLLWWWL
Blackheath (3rd – 47pts): LWWWLWWWWLWWD
Blackheath have only achieved two more wins than Coventry this season, but in truth the gulf between the two sides is far greater, a point Scott Morgan indirectly made after Saturday’s game when he conceded Coventry’s hopes for promotion are over for another season.
Whilst Blackheath’s remain very much on track .
Blackheath do come to the Butts on the back of a 34-all draw against Fylde and if you believe the Fylde match report, Blackheath were fortunate to share the spoils, scoring a 77th minute try to level the scores with the conversion attempt falling wide. Up to that point it would seem that Fylde had been the more dominant of the two teams.
Whilst this must give Coventry some encouragement, Blackheath are only 6 points off the top spot and will certainly come to Coventry full of confidence, knowing that they are favourites to take the points. However, Coventry are more than capable of pulling off a shock result in front of their home supporters and with the pressure off somewhat now, it wouldn’t surprise me if Coventry put together 80 minutes of rugby of a quality sufficient to take the game to the wire. Whether Cov are quite good enough to beat one of the league’s top 3 sides remains to be seen (we have yet to beat one of the top 6 this season!).
With home advantage and much to prove, this could be one of those memorable games that Coventry sometimes produce where, against the odds, they conjure up a team performance that hints of what could have been or what yet might be. Last season’s games against Rosslyn Park and Ealing Trailfinders were very much in this category.
Home/away league tables
Coventry: 7th in the league based on home games only (21 pts – av. 3.0 pts pm) F192 A127 Diff 65
Blackheath: 2nd in the league based on away games only (23 pts – av. 3.29 pts pm) F178 A128 Diff 50
Any team that comes to the Butts with a record of scoring more points away from home than we have scored at the Butts must be seen as posing a substantial threat. Whilst their points for and against is very similar to ours, in both the games they’ve lost away from Rectory Field, they’ve picked up the losing bonus point, so they’re going to be the strongest opposition that we’ve played at home so far this season, and that’s not taking anything away from Hartpury College.
Coventry are certainly better at home than they are away and if they can start off well and the crowd get behind them, then they could spring the odd surprise.
Whilst I think the popular prediction outside of the two sets of supporters involved will be a win for the away team, I do think it will be a fairly close encounter. There are so many unpredictables as far as Cov are concerned…how will the pack hold up, will our lack of discipline cost us again, will the backs get the supply of ball they’re going to need to put pressure on the Blackheath defence and if so will they use it wisely, or just kick it away? A positive response to all these questions on Saturday and we could be in with a very decent shout.
Coventry (5th): 42 (23 home, 19 away, 23 first half, 19 second half)
Blackheath (7th): 41 (21 home, 20 away, 21 first half, 20 second half)
No difference here then between the two sides, with Coventry perhaps marginally the stronger at home than Blackheath are away.
There does seem to be a slight gap developing now between the number of tries Coventry are scoring in the first and second halves, with fewer being scored in the second 40 minutes. This can be put down in part to Coventry’s poor disciplinary record, with 8 yellow cards coming in the second half resulting in them having to defend far more than when they have their full complement of 15 on the pitch.
With Blackheath spreading their tries fairly evenly over all four quarters of the game, Coventry are going to have to be on their guard at all times. Blackheath don’t appear to be a team that comes on strong in the final quarter which is reassuring, but equally, they’ve scored 11 of their tries in the opening 20 minutes, so they will put pressure on the opposition right from the kick off.
Coventry: 38 – 9th (16 home, 22 away, 16 first half, 13 second half)
Blackheath : 29 – 14th (13 home, 16 away, 22 first half, 21 second half)
Coventry have conceded 9 more tries this season than Blackheath, but at home we’ve only let in 16, the same number as Blackheath have. Both teams appear most vulnerable in the second quarter, conceding 12 tries each. This a particularly significant statistic for Coventry because they have yet to win a game when losing at half time. If Coventry can prevent Blackheath from scoring in this period (both ties and penalties) then they have a far better chance of getting a result from the game.
Similarly, given Blackheath’s tendency to ship points between the 21st and 40th minutes, Coventry perhaps should look to take the game to them a little more during this particular phase of the game to see if they can capitalise on any loss of concentration on the part of Blackheath. Cov have never surrendered a half time lead, so even more reason to look to pressurise the Blackheath with the hope of going into to the break with that all-important lead.
Tries by position – for
Coventry: backs 22, forwards 18 (front row 11, centres 12) 2PT
Blackheath : backs 19, forwards 14 (wing 11, back row 12) 4PT
Other than Hull Ionians, Blackheath have scored more penalty tries than any other team in National 1. This clearly must be a concern and although there’s no information as to how these tries came about, it does suggest that the Blackheath pack are pretty strong when within touching distance of the opposition line. And we know from the Darlington game just how vulnerable Coventry are to teams who tend to ‘catch and drive’ from close in. It is absolutely crucial, therefore, that we don’t concede penalties that allow Blackheath to kick to the corners.
I’m sure defending the rolling-maul will have been high up on the coaches list of things to look at in the two training sessions this week, but far better if they don’t have to defend them at all.
Blackheath are obviously a threat out wide too, with the wingers sharing 11 tries in total. We know from the Fylde and Esher games just how exposed Cov can be to pace out wide. Much will depend therefore on how our back row perform. If they can stifle any Blackheath possession at the breakdown, then we know that the Coventry back division has the class to cause Blackheath’s defence real problems.
Having accepted Coventry are unlikely to be in the promotion race any longer this season, maybe the two Scotts, Messrs Hamilton and Morgan, will give the backs greater license to attack from deep as so many teams tend to do against us. It all depends on how the team is set up to play, I guess…does the game plan allow for this, or is it geared to win create by the forwards controlling play and playing in effect a 10 man game for the first 40-60 mins?
It should be interesting to see if we can tell any difference to Coventry’s game plan this weekend…
If the Coventry backs get some decent ball, then they are good enough to cause real damage. Whilst Rob Knox had a fairly quiet game against Darlington, he has shown that his form is much better than it was back in October. The backs didn’t do a lot wrong last week and their confidence should be good, given how well they performed in the three games prior to Darlington.
As always, much depends on how well the forwards cope with the power of the Blackheath scrum. In the last four games Coventry have dominated their opponents up front and will look to do the same again this weekend. However, will Scott Morgan risk playing Chad Thorne, given he has been yellow carded in the last two games? It’s another one of those tough calls. Whilst Kivalu is strong in the set pieces, he’s not particularly mobile and might struggle to put in the same sort of shift as a Parkins or a Thorne.
Tries by position – against
Coventry: 16 in the backs, 20 in the forwards. 13 from the wings and 11 from the back row. 1PT
Blackheath : 8 in the backs, 21 in the forwards. 14 from the back row.
Here is an interesting statistic…!
Blackheath, whilst conceding less tries than us by some distance, do show what would appear to be a real vulnerability to the opposition back row. Half the tries they have conceded have come from this area. I’ve no idea why this would be. Perhaps they, too, are susceptible to either the rolling maul or the ‘catch and drive’ from a lineout close on their 5m line. Whatever the reason, it is something to bear in mind…Oliver, in particular, is very strong from close in, whereas Le Roux is more likely to run it in from a little further out. Sam P is more likely to have forced the yards in the first place. There are signs that Sam is returning to something like his old self and that can only be good for Cov; he and Jacques scything through defences create the gaps for the speedsters like Knox and Dom, and of course Dan when he returns.
Blackheath’s backs don’t seem to carry quite the same threat as their forwards, but of course that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a danger. What it does mean, however, is if our forwards can dominate, then Blackheath are going to struggle. One of the frustrations on Saturday was that we didn’t retain the ball that well…we had opportunities but tended to lose possession quickly, instead of using the ball in phases to gain territory, linking forwards and backs together in the same play and spreading the ball out wide.
To be fair, we did try that on a couple of occasions, but the ball broke loose or our handling wasn’t as good as it needed to be. Once we were down to 14 or even 13 players, we were always on the backfoot and so attacking options were limited, which is another reason why discipline is becoming such a concern for Scott Morgan and his team of coaches.
Points given up
Coventry have conceded 4 tries 4 times this season, only once at home
Blackheath have conceded 2 tries twice in all, 1 of those being away from home.
Everything here points to a close game and the likelihood that there won’t be a four try bonus point for either team. However, statistics don’t take into account the confidence, or lack thereof, nor the conditions on the day. Nothing I’ve looked at so far leads me to suggest it won’t be anything but a tight game…
Until we come to …
Coventry: 18 yellows/1 red – worst in the league. This doesn’t include Evans’ second yellow against Fylde that was converted into the red – average of 1.38 cards a game (11 first half, 8 second half, 6 home, 12 away).
Blackheath : 7 yellows – 4th best in the league. Average of 0.54 cards per game (5 first half , 2 second)
This clearly demonstrates just how poor our record is. We average almost a card more per game than Richmond and in the last two games we had 6 cards alone. Instead of getting better, it’s actually got worse. The reasons for, and effects of, the preponderance of yellow cards have been well documented elsewhere, so there’s no need to dwell for long on the impact it is having. Everyone is aware of this…
Coventry lost three players last week and lost the game by 8 points. It’s not possible to play against good teams with only 13 players, even if it’s for just 8 or 9 minutes. It’s a struggle with 14…in the time we had less than 15 players on the pitch we conceded more than the 8 points we lost by. As you’d expect, Scott Morgan is certainly well aware of the problem:
…it’s the single biggest problem we have and it is happening far too often.
In our previous game against Henley we gave away 4 penalties in the first half and scored 26 points, then in the second half we had eleven penalties against us, two yellow cards and only scored three points. There is a massive direct correlation and we’ve got to fix it if we want to move forward.
All we can do is trust in Scott and the players to put their house in order. This is made much harder when there is some inconsistency amongst referees but that aside, Coventry have got to learn how to respond to a referee who is clearly unhappy about an aspect or aspects of their play and do so in a way that prevents the number of penalties conceded impacting on the result of the game.
Against better teams, which is certainly what Blackheath is, if Coventry continue to show the same levels of naivety then it will almost certainly cost them the 4 points.
Sam Pailor (4Y), Chad Thorne (Y) and Tom Poole (2Y) are the principal offenders, with Wayne Evans having received the only red.
Half time win/loss
Coventry have led at half time in 7 of their games, going on to win all of them, a record which is the second best in the league behind Esher’s.
Blackheath have led at half time in 7 of their games, going on to win 6 of them.
Coventry have lost all 6 games in which they were trailing at the half way mark.
In a losing position at half time in 4 games, Blackheath have gone on to lose 2 of them.
The main concern here is that whilst Coventry have been unable to turn around a losing half time position, Blackheath have done so twice, suggesting they remain strong in the second half, a time when Coventry can be vulnerable.
Once again, this merely serves to emphasise the importance of going into the half time break with a points advantage, otherwise Cov are going to have to do something they haven’t been able to do in any of the 6 games they’ve been down in prior to this Saturday.
Kicking strike rate
Matt Jones – Coventry: 68.18% (49/65)
Freddie Gabitas – Blackheath : 71.45% (40/53)
Not a lot to choose between the two kickers. Matt remains a bit of an enigma…brilliant at this best, average at his worst. We saw on Saturday against Darlington just how effective it can be to have the best kicker in the league on your side, with Gary Law converting some impossible angles in windy conditions last week.
I also hope that Matt is able to use the ball to free his back line a little more than he did against Darlington. Whilst I appreciate he was kicking to instructions, we did let go of a lot of possession through Matts’ right boot. Hopefully, Cov will be more prepared to run at Blackheath and backs will enjoy a bit more decent ball.
Matt Jones is going to have to be at his best again tomorrow.
And to repeat..at his best he is very, very good.
Leading points scorers
Coventry: Matt Jones with 111 points (24C, 21P)
Blackheath : Freddie Gabidas with 104 points (16C, 24P)
Leading try scorers
Coventry: Ron Knox 6, Matt Price 5, Devlin Hope 5
Blackheath : David Allen 10
No 7 David Allen has comfortably outscored any of the Coventry players with 10 ties to his name, but with the number of tries scored by Coventry beginning to increase at a greater rate, we can expect to see the gap narrowing, particularly if Rob Knox is able to benefit from any opportunities to run at the opposition on Saturday. The two hookers, Matt Price and Devlin Hope, continue to trade tries with Devlin scoring the first Coventry try against Darlington. With Price likely to return on Saturday, maybe he’ll add to the 10 tries scored by the two of them so far this season.
Coventry will benefit from home advantage; hopefully a larger than average crowd can lift the team enough for them to produce their best performance of the season, something that they are likely to have do if they are to beat what is going to be a determined and confident Blackheath side.
Coventry average 1105 at home games, the highest in the league (8255 so far)
Blackheath average 539 at home games and are the 6th best attended club in the league (3224 so far)
Hopefully, Blackheath will bring with them a coach full supporters as this always adds to the atmosphere and helps create the buzz that is sometimes lacking when there’s no away support.
With Coventry’s home advantage, I’m going for a 4-1 Coventry win…but as predictions go, this is certainly not a nailed on winner by any means!
‘I’ll be coming home, wait for me’.