The more things change…
…the more they stay the same.
And the fat lady, whom so ever she might be, having watched Coventry once again contrive to be masters of their own downfall yesterday, is this very morning planning her route to Ampthill whilst gargling soluble aspirin to the tune of Fray’s ‘How to save a life’.
The game was never going to be an easy one, with Blackheath 3rd in National 1 and on something of a roll and Coventry continuing to struggle to find any decent form against the top teams in the league.
It was made harder by the poor conditions and the expectations of a larger than average crowd eager to see if the changes in the management structure announced on Friday would bring about any immediate response from a team that had begun to show some form over the last 4 weeks.
And the answer to the latter was a resounding ‘no’.
No difference at all.
In some respects, it was a repeat of the Darlington game – we get ourselves into a winning position but end up beaten by a team able to play both the conditions and the referee far better than we can. And that’s not to take anything away from the players who worked tirelessly; certainly there can be no criticism aimed at them for a lack of effort.
But the team did lack ‘nous’ yesterday…the experienced players and the coaches weren’t able to control the game in the way they needed to, although the team did work extremely hard for the full 80 minutes. Blackheath were a completely different proposition to the likes of Blaydon, Cinderford, Henley and Darlington and whilst they gave it their all, by the end of the game they were well beaten.
Yet, I left the ground believing that there wasn’t a great gulf between the two sides in ability, but there was in self-belief. When they started to concede penalties in the second half and Gabbitass slowly reduced the lead, I felt there was only going to be one outcome. And that’s as much about confidence and the capacity to change your game plan, as it is about plain ability.
With the ex-players lunch before the game, the attendance was always going to be higher, (I’m presuming they are counted in the attendance figures?). There was a good atmosphere and plenty of vocal support for the team.
And it all started so well. Playing with the wind in the first half, we dominated possession and territory for much of the first 40 minutes. The forwards were in complete control in the scrums and the lineout was reliable enough. In every scrum we seemed to cause the Blackheath front row problems and indeed it was the result of an infringement in the scrum that Cov scored their first points from the boot of Matt Jones.
But then what happened? It was all so, so predictable.
From the restart, a poor kick out of defence went straight to a Blackheath player…the ball comes back into our 22 and we are penalised. Blackheath knew exactly what to do…a kick to the corner, the catch and drive, a scrambled defence and the ball went wide to the right and Blackheath were over.
Poor kick, poor discipline to give away the penalty and an inability to defend the wings.
Fylde, Esher, Darlington…and now Blackheath.
How many times must we concede tries this way? 3-0 up becomes 3-5 down in the space of a couple of minutes and we have to start all over again.
New regime? Perhaps.
Same problems? Definitely.
That summed up the game in some respects…Cov worked really hard, got themselves into an eminently winnable position and then threw away all that good work through a lack of experience allied with an inability to make use of both the elements and their superior numbers during that 10 minute spell in the first half.
Almost from the restart, we were back in their 22, the pack mauled to great effect…penalty and yellow card against Blackheath. We opted for scrum…whereupon we were awarded a series of further penalties which were all retaken. The dominance of the scrum was finally awarded with a penalty try. In the process Blackheath had another player yellow carded.
Suddenly it was 13-5 and we had a two player advantage, with two of the backs taken off to allow a full complement of Blackheath forwards.
And this is where we arguably lost the game.
Instead of getting the ball wide and making use of the gaps created by the missing backs, we tried to keep it tight, kicked to the corner and then lost possession.
And Blackheath were so canny here…rather than kicking the ball back to us, they were content to play the game in their own 22. Phase after phase, minute after minute, they retained possession. We just weren’t able to do anything to allow us to get the ball back and all the time the clock kept ticking down. Eventually we gave away a penalty and suddenly they were back to their full 15.
Their confidence to keep possession so close to their own line changed the game. It was clever, brave and brilliantly executed. Our best chance was gone without us ever really making use of the advantage.
Into half time we went, with a lead and the knowledge that of the 6 occasions we’ve had a half time lead this season, we’ve gone on to win all the games. Surely this would be another?
Except it never felt quite like that. We knew Cov would make it difficult for themselves…just how difficult was going to be key.
And we did a pretty good job of making it virtually impossible. Our scrum began to falter and Blackheath, through their fly half, Freddie Gabbitass, used the conditions far better than we had first half. Their kicking was much more accurate, finding gaps and allowing time for their chasers to follow up kicks.
They kept hold of the ball in our half and just seemed content to bide their time and wait for us to infringe, which we dutifully did. And for the second week running the opposition fly half made us pay for our transgressions, this time in penalties.
There was absolutely no lack of effort yesterday. The players played with great determination and commitment, but they were out-thought by a Blackheath team who never panicked, even when they fell behind by 11 points. They scored, and I think I’m right in saying this, 19 unanswered points – and whilst I’m sure many will be disappointed with Coventry in the second half, nothing should be taken away from a Blackheath performance that showed exactly why they have are riding high in 3rd position in the league.
Jacques Le Roux had his best game so far, and is becoming a real threat in attack, making valuable yards. Daniel Carpo, too, had arguably his best game in a Cov shirt, but there weren’t too many notably individual performances that stood out on the day.
The front row were really strong in the first half and Jones played well until he suffered what looked like a serious knee injury. Matt never makes a fuss when injured, but it was clear from the moment he went down that he was in pain. Hutchinson deputised and did a good job, but Matt will be missed next week – the two week break can’t come quick enough for him.
Chad Thorne’s substitution was an interesting one.
Perhaps he was injured, but once Kivalu replaced him, the scrum looked far less solid and Kivalu himself looked out of sorts and was yellow carded soon after. Maybe the first Cov player to be fined under Scott Morgan?
So another Cov game where the anticipation seems to far outweigh the experience. If there is to be change in Cov’s fortunes following Morgan’s appointment as the new Head of Rugby, then it’s certainly not going to happen overnight. It’s now a matter of patience and trust…both are going to be very necessary attributes amongst the Coventry faithful over the coming months.
Given that so many teams have found us out, and consequently found us wanting, I wonder if Scott Morgan is going to look at an alternative game plan. The last 5 games have seen the forwards exert considerable forward dominance for at least 40 minutes, but for all that we haven’t really turned it into a points’ advantage.
We are fairly predictable in what we do…look at Esher and Fylde and they are anything but, yet they don’t have the solid platform our forwards work so hard to set up.
Should we open it up a little more, take the odd quick tap from deep, make better use of the back row to run onto the ball using the angles, offloading to the centres at pace? Just a different approach that is going to put doubt into the opposition and a smile on the faces of the supporters.
Not only do we lose but we lose playing pretty dour rugby…and this is impacting on attendances. A win is a win, but in defeat the manner of the loss becomes very important.
A rebrand to go with the repackaging…that’s what is needed.
Or is it the other way round?
…you say we need to talk
He walks, you say sit down, it’s just a talk
He smiles politely back at you
You stare politely right on through
Some sort of window to your right
As he goes left, and you stay right
Between the lines of fear and blame
You begin to wonder why you came
Fray – How to save a life