Ampthill – backs(s) to the drawing board
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The announcement of the team to play Ampthill on Saturday is a bit of a curate’s egg in many ways. The return of two ‘old’ favourites, Cliffie Hodgson and Callum MacBurnie, will please many who remember them as being integral members of the recording-breaking team of last season, the same reason that many will be somewhat bemused by Dom Lespierre’s absence from the team and with it the suggestion that he might have been dropped.
If you’re travelling to Ampthill on Saturday as either part of a car share with friends, or one of the supporters travelling on the coach, then the pros and cons of the team selected for the game will while a way a good hour or so. There’s something in it for everyone to get their teeth into.
So where to begin?
The forwards, then.
Much easier to talk about given there are no changes at all, other than on the bench. But even here, there are a couple of things to mention.
It’s hardly surprising that Scott Morgan has stuck with pretty much the same 8 forwards since the Esher game. They have outplayed and outmuscled the opposition for most of the 80 minutes in every game since then, and whilst we have lost two of the 5 games since then, the result of poor decision making in one and a lack of confidence and some ill discipline in the other, neither defeat could be directly attributed to the forwards alone. (In using the phrase ‘a lack of confidence’, I mean that once Blackheath started claw their way back into the game it almost seemed as if the players felt the game was drifting away from them, as it had done against Darlington the week before).
With consecutive losses in the last two games, if this had been earlier in the season we might have expected one or two more names thrown into the mix. Carpo came in for Pailor last week, but otherwise Scott Morgan seems to be happy with the make-up of the forwards in recent weeks. And it’s hard to argue against that.
Danny Wright remains on the bench with Hope and Parkins (whom I’m a big fan of) coming in, in place of Kivalu who after an encouraging debut hasn’t yet really proved the success we’d hoped.
Danny is raring to go and Hope and Parkins could both start a league game at the expense of Price and Thorne and do an excellent job. It’s a strong set of replacements amongst the forwards.
One of the problems last week was that when the replacements were made, they seemed to have little impact and, if anything, we looked less effective once they were on. Hope didn’t come on at all and Parkins wasn’t deemed fit enough to play – both could make a real difference on Saturday.
So I don’t think there would be too much of a heated discussion about the forwards. Me, I’d still have Sam Pailor in the match day squad somewhere, probably at the expense of Carpo. Sam has been out of sorts a little this season, but he’s not alone there and he always gives 100%. Wright is more versatile in that he is an out and out 4/5 and a wannabe 6/7, whereas Sam is an out and out back rower who has filled in at second row. But he could go 4/5 if necessary and he’s a bit quick around the pitch than Danny and is more effective with ball in hand.
Carpo did have a much better game against Blackheath, so it’s a close call.
Given that Sam didn’t play last week, isn’t playing this week (Broadstreet, perhaps) and will have at least one more week of inactivity, that would be a concern for me. I presume he is still very much in the selectors’ thoughts, so you’d hope he’d be getting some game time during his absence from the Coventry team?
And the backs?
4 changes in all…a case of back(s) to the drawing board.
With an enforced absence anyway, there were always going to have to be changes made, but the apparent dropping of Dom, the return of MacBurnie, Ryan and Hamilton and the swapping of Mieres from full back to wing is perhaps more change than most of us were expecting…?
Matt Jones is clearly out now for some time (it was pretty obvious from the way he went down in pain on Saturday that it was serious – Matt has never been one to show any great reaction to a knock in the past). So the new incumbent will have a chance of a lengthy stay in the side and even though Caolan has been tried at 10 before, without ever giving a totally convincing performance, Scott has given him another opportunity to prove himself.
It’s probably the best option, too.
Cliffie’s availablity could have meant a return to fly half for the former captain and club’s leading points scorer, with Mieres or Ryan at full back. But with the no 10 position probably being more demanding physically, it must have been a relatively simple choice to have Hodgson return at full back where he will have a little more protection.
I must admit, I do share Paul R’s concern expressed on the messageboard that Cliffie might not be fully match fit and the question as to whether 2 full 80 minutes games for ‘Street in rugby’s 4th tier will prepare him for National 1 has to be asked. If he is awaiting an operation then why rush him back – the later in the year he has it, the longer he could be out next season?
It’s not the first time he’s injured his shoulder, so there must be an added concern.
Cliffie must have given the club the nod that he’s okay, and the club physio/doctor must also have been happy, too, so I suppose we shouldn’t question it, but it would be good to hear something from the club just to put any further discussion to bed, asap.
What does strike me as a little strange is that if he didn’t play tomorrow, he would have an additional two weeks to have the physio work on his shoulder, if it indeed it does lack the degree of mobility that has been suggested on the messageboard. With relatively little hanging on the result of the Ampthill game, at least not as much as there would have been had we been in the top three, then his absence isn’t going to be quite so crucial.
I always worry about players coming back too soon, I’m just a softie, me. Let’s hope the club insist that Dan is given the chance of a decent run at ‘Street, prior to his long awaited return to 1st XV duties. The last thing he needs, or the club for that matter, is a set back in his recuperation because he is too eager to make his return.
So Ryan it is then at fly half – and I should point out that I think Caolan has been one of the best of the summer recruits, especially when attacking from deep, usually from full back. He’s quick, has great pace and a good eye for a gap. A definite plus for me.
Hutchinson is moved aside for MacBurnie in the centre to partner Rob Knox. It’s not clear whether Rory Hutchinson is required to return to his club or whether the coaches feel they’ve seen enough of the youngster and believe MacBurnie has a bit more to offer at the moment.
Hutchinson didn’t seem to do much wrong in the last few games and defensively he has been strong, but with the backs failing to create too many chances of late, perhaps it is understandable that Callum comes back in. He’s an immensely popular young man and I’m sure his return will be welcomed by many of the Cov faithful who will remember how successful his partnership with Rob Knox proved.
The real surprise for me was the ‘dropping’ of Dom Lespierre. With no explanation offered through the club, we can only hope than John Wilkinson has found out a bit more when his usual pre-match article appears in tomorrow’s Coventry Telegraph. As always, it will be essential reading given the lack of information coming from Cov.
The stats don’t make comfortable reading if you’re a winger at the club at the moment – 5 tries in 14 games in total, with Dom on 3 and Peter Weightman on 2. Dom’s lack of tries this season is certainly not down to a lack of effort on his part, more a lack of ball, really. There’s been little width or season and Dom’s game is built on getting the space to beat the tackler. His work rate seems high for a winger and he often gets himself out of position when he finds himself having to go looking for the ball.
I hope his absence from the team has been explained to him (I understand this hasn’t always been the case when a player has been ‘rested’ this season) and that he’s back shortly, fit and eager to play his part in a much improved second half of the season.
One reason for his absence could be that he’s something of a sacrificial lamb…Mieres is too good to drop (or too expensive?), and so with the coaches deciding that Hamilton’s experience is going to be important at Ampthill, the two wing positions are occupied and therefore Dom find himself out in the cold. Or maybe the coaches feel he’s lost a bit of confidence and the break could do him good – but if so, he’d be joined by half a dozen others, wouldn’t he?
Hamilton is clearly going to lack a bit of pace out on the wing, and his inclusion this season hasn’t always paid dividends (although he played particularly well against Loughborough in the second game of the season). I think he’s been recovering from injury, so maybe his reappearance would have been sooner but for this.
I think I’d have opted for at least one specialist winger there (both Mieres and Hamilton are better known as full backs) and if Dom isn’t to be that winger, then I’d have probably have gone for Peter Weightman, whom I’ve liked the look of, big, strong and quicker than he looks. On hard pitches with the ball being given some width he could do some real damage, as he’s done to us in the past!
But that’s the beauty of being a supporter, you get to imagine yourself as coach and then decide on what you’d do were you in that situation. I’m sure there be lots of discussion between now and the game on Saturday, only they probably won’t be of the virtual kind.
If only there was a National 1 Rugby Manager available for the PC…boy, would I have some fun with that – certainly there’d be no blog, that’s for sure!
Tom Little, in his midweek preview of the game, noted that:
In the end it may come down to which side is the more confident.
And well it might.
And if Tom is indeed correct, and confidence is the deciding factor, who then would be favourites to win the game…? Coventry should have the confidence to beat anyone in this league as far as ability goes, but their performances so far this season don’t justify such self-belief.
Let’s hope things click into place as they did pre-season and Coventry put in an 80 minutes worthy of the club…that would certainly be enough for me.