(This post won’t make a great deal of sense if you haven’t already read yesterday’s, a link to which can be found below:
An 11-9 lead at half time!
It was such stuff as dreams are made on.
Coincidentally, those in the crowd that day had just witnesses a tempest of sorts in those opening 40 odd minutes, one created through the commitment and determination of a Coventry side intent on blowing Newcastle off course and shipwrecking them on the stormy seas of the second half to come.
I don’t recall anything particularly of the half time break, other than I would normally pop to the loo just to stretch my legs, but so packed was the stand that day that I decided not to make the trip, preferring instead to soak up the atmosphere created by a crowd not quite believing what they had just witnessed and already anticipating the second half, unsure how events might unfold but far more confident than perhaps the could have expected to be prior to the start of the game.
The second half didn’t start well and it looked ominous when Jez Harris failed at the restart to kick the ball 10m and then Andrew kicked the ball almost 50 metres to find touch well inside the Coventry 22. Worse was to come as Addleton’s throw wasn’t cleanly gathered at the lineout and Newcastle took advantage as Tim Stimpson (another England international) made some valuable metres to win a penalty as Coventry dived over.
Instead of taking the fairly safe bet of the three points, yet again Newcastle opted to go a quick tap penalty, only for Horrobin to hold Armstrong up and allow Coventry defenders time to get their shape back to halt the next Newcastle wave of attackers. As the ball went wide, Andrew decided to go for a drop goal and, much to the relief of the Coventry supporters banked in front of the Railway End, he was well wide of the target.
If Coventry needed a reminder of the dangers of relaxing their concentration then that was it…
There then followed a five minute spell in which most of the play took place between the two 40m lines with both teams making a number of mistakes. It was during this period that Jez Harris missed a three pointer, this time a 40m penalty kick following a Newcastle infringement in the lineout with one of the their players pulling down the Coventry jumper.
It wasn’t the easiest of kicks but we had seen Harris kick a number of these already that season, so it was something of a surprise when his attempt went wide and the score remained 11-9.
A spell of sustained Newcastle pressure was to follow in which they scored from two penalties. The first was really the result of a very young looking Lee Crofts’ over exuberance. Having just come on for Andy Blackmore, who had hobbled off with an ankle/knee injury, in the space of just over a minute he first put in an unnecessary shove on a Newcastle player after the ball had gone out of play, and then was penalised after being a bit ‘over eager’ when tackling Doddie Weir. I have to say, though, the yellow looks a bit harsh in retrospect given he was given a ‘friendly’ elbow from Archer just seconds before, something which can clearly be seen on the clip moments before the ruck leading up to the penalty took place.
Coventry, then, were also down to 14 men (as Bentley had been sent off in the final minute of the first half for a punch on Andy Smallwood). Up stepped Andrew and Newcastle retook the lead again, 11-12.
It’s around this point that Rob Hardwick sustained a wound to the head which required him to leave the pitch to have stitched. Richard Blundell, a hooker, replaced him and Dave Addleton moved to prop against Ireland international Nick Popplewell , something which can be clearly seen on the footage.
And I have to say, the Coventry scrum seemed no worse for it!
The second penalty followed another passage of play in which Newcastle retained the ball well. From a solid scrum close to the half way line, Newcastle worked the ball forwards and Coventry encroached. A quick tap penalty saw Ryan charge forward and, and as Paul Ingleston on the accompanying commentary remarks, through Jez Harris (with of a hint a forearm, perhaps?).
Newcastle continued to rumble on, with backs and forwards combining well as they spread the ball left and right. Andrew seemed to double up as scrum half at one point as Armstrong was pulled into the forwards’ surge. Eventually, almost under their own posts and after some muscle sapping defence, Coventry were penalised for coming round offside and Rob Andrew duly did the honours to further extend the Newcastle lead to 11-15.
At this point of the game, some of the players looked to be struggling a little, with Grewcock down injured and one or two of the others blowing heavily.
The signs weren’t too encouraging.
Coventry 11 – 16 Newcastle
However, Coventry began to work their way back into the game and exert increasing pressure on Newcastle’s defensive lines and eventually, after two quick tap penalties in positions where you might have expected Coventry to take the 3 points, the ball went wide and Andy Smallwood dived over in the corner.
It really all came from a pick up and drive from the base of the scrum by Ian Patten. He was tackled, but in doing so Newcastle went over the top and conceded a penalty. Hardwick, back on by now having been patched up, took a quick tap and was in turn tackled but Newcastle, having not retreated 10, were yet again penalised.
This time Eves took the tap and Patten made good yards (how many times did he do that during the course of the game?), passed wide to Harris who threw out an indifferent pass that missed out Ritchie Robinson. However, the bounce favoured Coventry and Gallagher flicked the ball onto Kilford who passed the ball out to Smallwood. With little room to play with, Smallwood sensibly dived early for the line and slid in for the try.
And, as you can see and hear…the crowd went made.
Harris missed the conversion but Coventry took the lead 16-15.
But despite just a few minutes of the game remaining, probably 3 or 4 at most excluding injury time (to repeat from yesterday’s post, the timings aren’t accurate on the tape), Coventry did exactly what they had done in the first half….conceded from the kick off. Andrew’s restart was knocked on and from the ensuing scrum Newcastle moved the ball through the phases to a position in front of the posts on the 22m line. Andrew jinked one way, then the other and popped over a neatly taken drop goal which actually scraped the inside of the post on its way over.
Coventry 16 18 Newcastle.
I remember thinking at that stage Coventry had let the game slip by and that Newcastle, with all their stars and the vast experience they had within the team, would close the game out. Even now, having watched the game several times in the last couple of days, I still feel nauseous in those final moments as Coventry strove to break down the Newcastle defences one last time.
I won’t do anything other than let you watch those final minutes unfold – no comments could do justice to the tension that really was almost palpable. A Jez Harris missed drop goal, from a closer range than the one he final knocked over, just added to the feeling that Coventry had fallen short at the final hurdle…
This final section is the longest.
So wherever you are, whatever you should be doing, take a break.
Go and make a cup of coffee, grab a Hobknob or two and just sit back and enjoy the final 6 minutes unfold. I still get goose bumps as I watch the Cov players roar on the crowd in the seconds before the final whistle.
And I was there….
Coventry 19 18 Newcastle
Well there it is…the greatest Coventry game I’ve certainly ever watched.
Passion, pride, commitment all wrapped up in a good deal of skill and craft. At the time, it exemplified everything that was good about Coventry RFC and it still does today. Maybe the days of 7500 turning out to watch Cov are long gone, but the belief that Cov will produce another performance of that nature is there in me every time I watch Coventry, home or away.
Every single time…
…including Saturday’s game down at Henley.
A couple of footnotes…
Mick Carter mentioned that Dave Addleton ended up packing against Ireland international Dave Popplewell whilst Rob Hardwick was getting some running repairs to a head wound, with Richard Blundell coming off the bench to be hooker.
Thanks to Rob Carter’s comment yesterday, I worked out how to take a screenshot and below is the evidence to support Mick’s comment. Not particularly clear, but clear enough…
And one last thing – Paul’s commentary was fantastic.
Not bad for a first and only go at producing a voiceover.
There is one line that stands out for me, one line that I’ll take away and will doubtless use as my own at some point in the future…!
It sums up perfectly how we all felt once the referee had blown his whistle for the last time as hundreds of jubilant fans ran on to the pitch…
You can tell the Coventry players, they’re the ones without shirts…