Loughborough Students: Good performance, but no acid test…
In his programme notes yesterday, under the title ‘Thoughts and Views of the Head of Rugby’, Scott Morgan wrote,
Above all though, my hope is that we can play good, effective and winning rugby.
Well, Scott certainly got his wish yesterday.
After the first 15 minutes in which Coventry struggled to gain an real rhythm and control over the game, the forwards began to dominate the set pieces, pretty much nullifying the threat of the Loughborough’s dangerous backs and, under difficult playing conditions, looked to play some attractive rugby with the backs starting to show signs of greater confidence, with more willingness to run the ball wide.
Altogether more effective, and winning, rugby.
The spotlight these last two weeks has very much been on the lack of information supporters were getting from the club and, despite a run of 3 consecutive defeats, there had been little discussion of the team’s performances either in the media or on the messageboard which was probably no bad thing, with confidence in the team seemingly running low. The focus was off the team at a time when it might otherwise not have been. It must have made things a little easier for the players over the Christmas period.
And with a run of six very tough fixtures to come, after such a poor run of form, Loughborough were an ideal team for them to face after the break.
A team lower than them in the league, with a poor away record and themselves low in confidence, they were the perfect opposition in many respects. Had we started after the break with Richmond, or Esher, or even Hartpury, the result might well have been a little closer…
So, with the rugby gods smiling on Coventry for the first time in a while, and with a team that had much to prove, it was the ideal game to build up some confidence prior to the run of difficult fixtures over the remainder of January and February.
And there were players, too, who had something to play for, other than just the pride and 5 points. Scott Morgan had said earlier in the week that:
We’re also at the time of year when we need to look at some players with a view to next season, which is why we have rested George Oliver for this week and made a few other changes
so it’s pretty obvious with over half of the season left, the Head Of Rugby and his team of coaches will, over the next few weeks, be looking at players who might not have featured too much pre-Christmas with a view as to whether to offer them new contracts come the end of the season.
From yesterday’s team, Alex Woodburn is clearly one of those whom they’re looking at, but the likes of James Tincknell, Peter Weightman, and Devlin Hope haven’t had many starts between them either and probably all fall into the same category as Alex.
And on yesterday’s performance, none of them did their chances any harm at all – provided of course, they don’t have other plans next season.
Peter Weightman probably made the greatest impression, scoring two tries and making some serious yards during the course of the game. He is strong and fast and has the ability to run through tackles in a ‘Hurrellesque’ sort of way. I’d love to see him get the chance when the pitches are a bit harder and the conditions a bit more conducive to a running game.
Devlin Hope was…well, Devlin Hope really. Another place on the bench yesterday and the fear that for a 4th consecutive game he wouldn’t get a run out. However, a strange double substitution after 25 minutes saw Devlin and Chad Thorne come on, with Matt Price and Tipiloma Kivalu going the other way.
An odd call that one in many ways, but perhaps it offered a first chance for Paul Hardcourt to see Devlin since his official appointment as Rugby Manager last month. With Pricey and Kivalu on first, perhaps Scott wanted some experience on early to gauge the Loughborough threat prior to making any changes.
And Devlin didn’t disappoint. Strong in defence, putting in some crunching tackles (although I think he did miss one when Loughborough scored their second try) and very evident in the loose, he offers something different to Matt Price. With the set pieces working extremely effectively, Devlin has made a strong case for more regular starts over the remainder of the season. He’s certainly very popular with the crowd. And he scores tries to boot; always enjoyable to watch from a spectators point of view.
James Tincknell is a bit of an enigma. He certainly has the ability, something we saw several times in the pre-season friendlies, but a run of injuries and a loss of confidence/form means he has yet to produce his best form in competitive games. But yesterday he began to show glimpses of what he can do and if he can get a few games under his belt, alongside Rob Knox, I’m sure he can make the position his own – although Callum MacBurnie might well have something to say about that! James probably has just a little more to offer in attack than Callum, although in tight games MaccyB has never let Coventry down. Tough call, that one.
Alex Woodburn is certainly a player for the future. He gets around the pitch and a lot of what he does probably goes under the radar in the sense of what happens in the rucks and mauls is always going to be something of a mystery to anyone who hasn’t played the game at a decent level.
Although he left the field badly concussed and will presumably have a mandatory two/three game lay off (his legs had gone to jelly at one point and he seemed almost out on his feet), he was prominent in much of the good work the forwards did in the loose. Another person who did his chances no harm yesterday.
The scrum yet again was immense. How many times have we said that over the last 7 or 8 games? Loughborough didn’t have an answer to the power and technical skills of the front 5 and by the time Matt Price had to come on as a replacement prop, the contest was all but over.
With such a solid base from which to build and with Coventry able to do exactly what other teams had done to us all too often before Christmas, namely earn penalty after penalty and kick for the corner or for a huge territorial advantage, Loughborough were always playing catch after the first 15 minutes.
The strength of the scrum is the one thing that gives me some confidence against the top 5 or 6 teams we will be facing in the next few weeks. If we can exert the same control and tighten up defensively when teams run at us, especially from deep, we could yet cause a few surprises.
With options in the front row too, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, although I worry a little were either Ben Thomas (who is improving all the time) or Tom Poole to be injured. Where is the cover…Courtney Roberts and Martin Wolfenden weren’t playing for ‘Street at the weekend and Scott has hung up his boots…? I’m sure there’s an obvious answer but…
There were plenty of other notable performances during the game…Jacques Le Roux had some strong runs, as did Sam Pailor who I thought looked sharper and more confident than he has for some time. Cliffie played well, his handling and kicking out of hand were generally very good and his place kicking was as reliable as ever. Certainly, we look far better with him in the side than without him. Gaston Mieres also looked sharp, with some incisive running, and he looked solid under the high ball.
Dom isn’t the presence we know he can be, but maybe he’s just isn’t getting the decent ball his abilities deserve. With the ball starting to go wider, perhaps he’ll benefit from a little more possession in the matches to come. I hope so because he’ll score tries given the chance.
All in all it was a strong performance and Scott Morgan must take a lot of credit for that…some interesting selections worked out well and clearly the training grounds sessions have had an impact (Alex Woodburn’s try from the line out was a classic move straight off a Tuesday/Thursday workout).
However, the opposition didn’t really ask too many questions of us after the first 15 minutes. A team below us and away from home should have been a banker and in fairness it was. It’s our first double of the season, and there won’t be too many of those this year.
But I’m not going to get carried away with it all…
Twice this season we’ve strung 2 or 3 victories together, playing some decent rugby and we’ve (well ‘I’ve’ anyway) felt we’d turned a corner, only to find there’s a diversion ahead. Not this time. I’m reserving judgement until we’ve played Richmond in a couple of weeks time. We’ll know then, for sure.
John Wilkinson use the headline in ‘The Rugby Paper’ today ‘Cov turn over a new leaf in fine showing’, which is a pretty effective summary, but autumn has been and gone and there aren’t too many leaves left on the Coventry tree to turn over…
Loughborough wasn’t the acid test…
…a test certainly, but not enough to turn the litmus paper of success a bright green, that’s for sure. A hint of lime only, perhaps?
Hartpury, away, will give us a better indication of just where we are in terms of improvements from where we were before Christmas and Richmond at home will be definitive.
I can’t finish this post without a brief comment on the attendance. 1372 which is pretty impressive.
And there seemed some pleasure in it’s announcement over the PA yesterday, adding that this was the highest gate of the season so far, as indeed it is.
And the club have every right to be pleased…
…it was their ‘Get out of Jail Free card’.
Hard to be critical of pre-match communications, or lack thereof, when you get your highest attendance…except it’s not and I will be, but later.
For now, the plaudits go to the team who have taken the pressure of themselves and their club by producing such a strong performance…well done, lads.