Hartpury College: the case for the defence
Loughborough Students were always going to be a potential banana skin for a Coventry side looking to bounce back after a series of disappointing performances in the run-up to Christmas. That we didn’t slip, vaudeville style, and land flat on our backsides was a relief; but only that. It was a win that was expected, but not presumed, against a team that rarely looked a threat.
It was an accident waiting to happen given some of our past performances this season – but it didn’t and in truth it never looked like happening, such was the confidence and belief shown by a team that was sorely in need of a convincing display to reassure supporters, if not themselves and the coaches, that the club is beginning to turn it all around.
Just as there is an obvious gulf between Coventry and Loughborough, so is there one between the top teams and ourselves and it is a divide that Coventry must begin to close if it is to convince those players present and future that it can make a serious challenge to the title next year. And it is really important that we do this if we are to retain those players the club believe they need for such a push, as well as attract those that will add something extra to the squad.
And the same applies to the paying supporters, those both in the present and future.
Whether that gulf I mentioned earlier is down to the individual abilities of the players, to the ability of the coaches to produce a team capable of making the best use of those individual skills or a lack of confidence and self-belief within the club is open to debate. Personally, having seen many of the teams this season, I don’t think I’ve left any game thinking that the players in any of them are that much more talented than ours.
Not at all. But I have felt that our players look a shadow of themselves at times, and the team a shadow of what I believe it could and should be.
And Hartpury offers a chance of the beginnings of a redemption. The opportunity for players and coaches to show that they are starting to get things right. I don’t think there are many supporters who believe with absolute confidence that we will come away with 5 points on Saturday, but there are many, myself included, who believe we have the potential to do so.
I’m probably in the minority here, but a good performance is the priority on Saturday. No yellow cards, few penalties, good ball retention, a game plan that is flexible enough to change should it need to, strong set pieces, an 80 minute performance not a 40 minute one and if the opposition score, it’s not because we given them the try, it’s because they’ve had to break our defences down to do score one.
If we do all these things and we do them well, we won’t be far behind come the end of the game and there’s every chance we’ll be in front.
Others will disagree, but I just want to see steady improvement in every game. The yo-yo rugby we’ve witnessed this season, up for a couple of weeks and then down for another, is not conducive to building a side worthy of a top 3 position. Incremental progress, without any backwards steps, is what we need from now until April.
If we win, we’ll win as a result of a sound defence that stifles the opposition, preventing them from using the ball as they would want. If we press them hard and let them mistakes in their half and not ours, we have the players to capitalise. It will be close, but Coventry have enough to get over the finishing line in front.
And here is the case for that defence…
Coventry v Hartpury College – the stats:
Win/Lose sequence – last 10 games
Hartpury College (3rd – 58pts): WWLWWWLWLW
Coventry (9th – 41pts): LLLWWWLLLW
6 places and 17 points indicate the gulf between the two teams at the moment and whilst Coventry narrowly lost at home to Hartpury (21-23) earlier in the season, Hartpury have certainly got stronger . Whilst Coventry are showing some signs of a regeneration since Scott’s appointment as Head of Rugby, the game is going to be even tougher than contest back in September.
Back then, Coventry made life very difficult for themselves and we began to see many of the problems emerge in that game that have plagued us all season since. We lost 4 lineouts within 15m of their line and Matt Jones missed 15 kickable points, although in fairness even though we scored more tries, 3 against their 2, their defence was resolute and in the end the result was a fair one, given our own shortcomings. If we are as disciplined as we were against Loughborough, even with Hartpury having home advantage, it could well be another very close game.
A good win at Fylde last weekend means Hartpury continue their good run of form prior to the Christmas break in which they beat leaders Richmond, but lost narrowly to Rosslyn Park and Plymouth, losing just 3 of their last 10 games.
Home/away league tables
Hartpury College: 3rd in the league based on home games only (28 pts – av. 4 pts pm) F211 A89 Diff +122
Coventry: 9th in the league based on away games only (16 pts – av. 2.29 pts pm) F166 A178 Diff -12
The difficulty in the task facing Coventry becomes apparent as soon as we look at the relative home/away form of both teams. Hartpury have only lost one home game all season and are averaging 4 points per game. With Coventry losing more than half of their away games, the omens aren’t good. But if you’re only as good as you’re last game, then Coventry can travel to Hartpury with some confidence.
However, Hartpury’s average points score at home of over 30 is 7 points greater than Coventry’s away points average, so the Coventry defence is going to be sorely tested over the full 80 minutes.
John Wilkinson provided readers of the Coventry Telegraph with the fascinating statistic that Loughborough only spent 50 seconds of the full 80 minutes in the Coventry 22…a statistic that Coventry will struggle to match against Hartpury. How they cope with a much stronger pack, who by the end of the first league encounter earlier this season were exerting some dominance of a increasingly beleaguered set of Coventry forwards, might well be crucial to the outcome of the whole game.
Hartpury College (3rd): 63 (30 home, 33 away, 32 first half, 31 second half)
Coventry (8th): 51 (29 home, 22 away, 29 first half, 22 second half)
Hartpury have scored 12 more tries in total than Coventry and Coventry’s average of 3.1 tries away from home to Hartpury’s 4.3 at home might well have to be improved upon if the away side are going to leave College Stadium with the win. Interestingly, Hartpury spread their tries evenly across both halves, as they do within halves, whereas Coventry continue to average more tries in the first half than the second.
Crucial to the result will be whether Coventry can avoid what happened when they played Hartpury at the Butts when we started off well with our forwards in control but gradually, over the course of the game, Hartpury’s pack became dominant and we were increasingly forced on to the back foot.
Hartpury College : 32 – 16th (12 home, 20 away, 14 first half, 18 second half)
Coventry: 47 – 9th (20 home, 27 away, 27 first half, 20 second half)
This is a pretty telling statistic – Hartpury have only conceded 12 tries in total at home, or put another way, an average of just 1.7 tries a game. They have the best defence in the league in terms of tries conceded and are a very difficult team to break down, as Coventry found to their cost earlier in the season.
Coventry have managed to concede near enough 4 tries per game away from home, but that includes the thumping they took at the hands of Esher. However, I do think there has been a significant improvement in Coventry’s defence over the last 3 or 4 games and with a pack that has been in control pretty much for all of the last 7 games, I can’t see us leaking a large number of tries, even against Hartpury.
A lot will depend on our discipline. If we avoid conceding territory through unnecessarily soft penalties, we will make it much harder for Hartpury, as well as give ourselves more attacking options.
Tries by position – against
Hartpury College : backs 18, forwards 10 (wings 11) 4PT
Coventry: backs 21, forwards 24 (wings 14, back row 14) 2PT
If the Hartpury defence is susceptible, then it is susceptible to the ball out wide, with wings running in 11 of the 32 tries they have conceded. Hartpury have conceded 4 penalty tries, the equal highest number in the league. Does that suggest a team with a strong scrum, close to the Hartpury line might get some change out of their forwards, or even Coventry’s nemesis, the ‘catch and drive’, might also be Hartpury’s? Scott Morgan and his coaches will have had access to all the tapes and will know exactly why the referees have been awarding them, but certainly you’d hope we’d be able to put some early pressure on their scrum close to their try line to see what, if anything, gives.
We know Coventry struggle with teams running at them from deep, as they do with teams that are effective in the maul and lineouts close to our goal line. With Cliffie and James Tincknell returning, I do think we are stronger in defence amongst the back division, and Pete Weightman is also capable of putting in a really good defensive shift and is a crunching tackler. This might just be one game too soon, but I do think the back division last Saturday showed some promise and won’t crumble under pressure as we have done sometimes this season.
Add Dan R to the equation and actually it’s looking good for the last few games of the season, provided this set of backs can do enough individually to earn a run together. With only Callum M a likely alternative other than Dan (and that’s not taking anything away from the likes of Hough and Ryan who both have produced spirited displays at times), this is pretty close to being the strongest line up we could put out…???
Tries by position – for
Hartpury College : 39 in the backs, 22 in the forwards. 15 from the wings, 9 from the half backs and 12 from the back row. 1PT
Coventry: 26 in the backs, 22 in the forwards. 13 from the wings and 13 from the front row. 3PT
Hartpury certainly seem quite attack minded, with 39 of their tries coming from the backs, 13 more than Coventry. Whereas we score most of our tries from the centres, it’s the wings and half back who are most effective for Hartpury. Wayne Evans and the back row have a real job to do, putting pressure on their scrum half and fly half, as it would seem they are potential match winners. With Alex Woodburn out, George Oliver’s return is particularly welcome as he is so effective in this area.
Once again, retention of the ball is going to be crucial and if our forwards, who have played consistently well over the last few games despite the defeats, can get a stranglehold on the opposition and prevent the ball getting to their backs, then that should allow us have more control over the game. If Cliffie can kick as effectively as he did with the ball last week, we should be able to avoid Hartpury running at us from deep, an area we seem to struggle with. Chasers need to run down the opposition as quickly as possible, hopefully forcing them to return the kick, rather than them retain possession and cause us damage as a result.
With Coventry beginning to show more willingness to throw the ball out wide, and with Pete Weightman showing signs of just why Coventry moved for him at the end of last season, maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Dom’s form is increasingly becoming a concern. The player who was on fire for much of last season before his broken cheekbone is really a shadow of his former self and doesn’t appear to have the bounce that he did even at the start of the season. If the chances come, he’ll take them. But sometimes you have to make your own luck…
Points given up
Hartpury College have conceded 4 tries twice in all, but neither of these have been at home.
Coventry have conceded 4 tries 5 times this season, of which 4 have been away from home
It’s pretty obvious from the above that Coventry have travelled too well this season. But hopefully the coaches have instilled the need for the team to show greater discipline and ensure that defensively they are more organised and stick to their patterns of play and routines. This is a team capable of causing the upset, but it will mean that concentration has to be for the full 80 minutes. If we switch off, even for a couple of minutes, Hartpury are more than capable of punishing us.
With many supporters looking to make the relatively short journey to Hartpury (by Blaydon standards anyway) then there should be a lot of vociferous support for Coventry which could make a significant difference.
|Coventry||16||19||1||–||1.19||11 (58%)||8 (42%)||7 (37%)||12 (63%)||8||–||8|
|16||11||–||–||0.69||3 (27%)||8 (73%)||4 (36%)||7 (64%)||12||–||4|
What is clear from this is that Hartpury’s discipline is extremely good, especially at home, whilst our is extremely poor , especially away from home! However, only one penalty in the whole of the Loughborough game suggests perhaps something of a turnaround and if this can continue away from home, then we are giving ourselves a much better chance of coming away with a positive result.
However, when you aren’t under any real pressure from the opposition as was the case against Loughborough (only 50s in our 22), then it is far less likely you will concede penalties. Hartpury will put us under the kind of pressure where we have buckled previously. If Scott Morgan’s new regime is to work, then it has to work against teams like Hartpury who will try and bully us around the pitch in a way that the Students weren’t able to do. The threat of sanctions might well be an answer to the problem, whether it is THE answer remains to be seen.
It is clearly something the coaches have been working on, as has how players react to the referee when they are being repeated penalised for the same or similar offences. In this respect, Hartpury will be a real indication of just how much progress they’ve made in tightening up Coventry’s woeful disciplinary record.
Hoepfully, a long way.
Half time win/loss
Hartpury College have led at half time in 12 of their games, going on to win 10 of them.
Coventry have led at half time in 9 of their games, going on to win 8 of them.
In a losing position at half time in 3 of their games, Hartpury College have gone on to lose 2 of them.
Coventry have lost all 7 games in which they were trailing at the half way mark.
This just show how difficult it is to overcome a points difference at half time. Coventry have failed to do so on all 7 occasions that they have been behind at the interval, whilst even Hartpury, 3rd in the league remember, have only been able to do so once.
Coventry must make sure that they are ahead or at the very least just a score behind going into the interval as history will otherwise be against them. Fortunately, with Cliffie Hodgson back in the side, a couple of penatlies can be pulled back relatively quickly, as we saw with Matt Jones against Darlington before Christmas. However, Coventry don’t want to be in a position where they are having to chase the game after the 40 minutes.
Discipline again remains key here. Keep it tight and play to our strengths, rather than trying to negate theirs…
Kicking strike rate
Gareth Thompson – Hartpury College: 58.02% (47/81)
Cliffie Hodgson – Coventry: 78.57% (11/14)
Matt Jones – Coventry: 69.01% (49/71)
With Matt Jones presumably still unavailable though injury, Cliffie Hodgson again resumes the kicking duties. And here we have our first real advantage over Hartpury. And isn’t it a massive one?
Cliffie’s strike rate is already the best in the league by a distance, but that said, given he has had far fewer attempts at goal, the statistics aren’t yet that reliable. However, if we are a few points down, the boot of Cliffie could make a huge difference and Coventry could pull back important points late on in the game.
That’s why his return is so important to the success of the team at the moment. Faced with a penalty within 45m of the posts, from almost anwhere, you’d have to fancy Cliffie to score (remember away at Richmond a couple of years ago and the last kick of the game…?).
Leading points scorers
Hartpury College: Gareth Thompson with 142 points (6T, 29C, 18P)
Coventry: Matt Jones with 122 points (25C, 24P)
Leading try scorers
Hartpury College : Jonas Mikalcius 9
Coventry: Ron Knox 7, Matt Price 6, Devlin Hope 6
Rather like Coventry, Hartpury don’t have an out and out try scorers at the moment (wait ’til Knoxy gets going!), but Jonas Mikalcius, a 6ft 3in and 113kg (roughly 17.8st) wing, is certainly getting himself noticed.
For Coventry, Rob Knox remains out in front on 7, but the two hookers aren’t far behind and if the scrum can dominate in the way it has over recent weeks, they are likely to add to their totals, whoever is given the nod to start the game. Presumably, it will be Matt Price as seems to be the norm so far this season, although Hope did his chances no harm at all with a man of the match performance against Loughborough last week.
Hartpury’s average home gate of the season is just 312 (against Coventry’s 1157). With Coventry hoping to take a fair few with them to the College Stadium on Saturday, there will certainly be a large and noisy contingent of supporters wearing blue and white the crowd. Cov’s away support is always good and I’m sure it will be appreciated and might even add something extra to Coventry’s game.
And the result?
A 1-4 win to Coventry.
Just a final word to say a big thank you to everyone who voted in the MVP poll.
It certainly created a fair amount of interest and, fortuitously as it happened, maintained some interest over the Christmas period when news relating to Coventry wasn’t especially forthcoming.
It wouldn’t have worked with out your contributions….