I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday.
We left the house in the rain but by the time we arrived at Henley the sun was shining and there was a feeling of Spring in the air. A decent little ground, Dry Leas, welcoming enough in it’s own way, but you do pay for what you don’t get…
At £14 it’s probably the second most expensive ground in National 1 to watch rugby at and, yes, I have to be a bit careful here as the Butts tops that particular league. However, with only one, yes one, urinal in the men’s toilet as well as just one cubicle, and seemingly none elsewhere, once the beer began to flow the queues began to build.
I do know that there are some ladies who read this blog and I imagine amongst them now there’ll be one or two who’ll be smiling inwardly and thinking it’s about time men understood what it’s like to have to queue to spend a penny.
But come on, a rugby club. Where wee flows as freely as the beer?
Or doesn’t in this case…
With the main stand some distance away from the clubhouse, there were a few of us jiggling around in our seats come the end of the game, not as a result of the excitement of the rugby we’d just witnessed (which I promise I’ll come to in a minute) but through the necessity of having to sit cross-legged through most of the previous 80 minutes.
I’m not prone to running at my age, but boy did I motor back to the clubhouse once the game was over. However, the 30 or so who were already queueing were obviously quicker than me in either thought or deed…and probably both.
The message at the back of the stand suggested I’m probably not the only visitor to have had the same temptation…
That said, it’s a decent set up there and the burger was fine…and because the main stand is relatively small, the crowd of 475 made plenty of noise. A good contingent of travelling Coventry supporters were also in good voice and certainly made their presence felt.
The game was thoroughly entertaining and although Coventry scored 6 tries, several of them started some distance from the try line and therefore all the more enjoyable for that, we did prosper a great deal from Henley’s mistakes. However, there have been times this season when we haven’t been able to do even that, so this was definitely an improved performance in many respects.
We arrived at Dry Leas, in time to see the Coventry squad arrive. And they came across as being a squad who certainly haven’t allowed what’s going on behind the scenes to affect their own morale. They were all smiles and enjoying the sunshine. The coaches, too, seemed to be enjoying the occasion. This was not a squad that was downbeat or lacking motivation.
It was good to see.
The warm up routines were as one would expect and certainly Scott Morgan’s words to the players just before they returned to the dressing room in the final minutes before kick off were passionate and committed. This was not a team, or a Head Coach, who were going to treat this game as anything but a competitive and important league game. They appeared full of passion and commitment…but I guess you’d expect nothing less.
Although the final score of 27-39 suggests that Coventry had a comfortable win, there were times when Henley looked as if they might have enough about them to cause an upset. Bottom of the table, a defeat would mean relegation.
And at half time and 13-22 down Henley looked to be down and out.
But a big tackle in the opening minutes of the second half on Caolan Ryan that drove him back several metres, followed by a yellow card for Devlin Hope (I think for preventing a quick tap but I’m not altogether sure) gave the momentum back to Henley and they duly scored to bring the home side to within just 2 points of Coventry. The crowd were loud, tensions were high.
How many times this season had we seen this scenario unfold? A decent first half display, a couple of errors and some ill-discipline in the second half and we go on to lose…
But not yesterday, not against Henley.
Within minutes Coventry had prospered from a couple of errors and Henley were as good as relegated. It was that brutal. After another promising Henley attack, Ryan Hough intercepted (I think it was an interception…) and ran a good 70m, chased all the way, to score (his second of the game). And then, from the kick off, Matt Jones again outwitted his opposite number to make good yards…Oliver was there on his shoulder and he galloped on to score.
Even though Henley were to cross the line once more, Coventry had the final word with Peter Weightman scoring this time, having thrown a dummy that was as audacious as it was large. Weightman and Hough both showed what might have been had they been given more opportunities this season – not just in selection but also had the ball found it’s way out wide to the wings more often.
Rather than give a report on the game (there are several already available online) I’ll just go through a few general talking points.
The first is on something I haven’t really come across before – sledging.
Because I usually sit at most games, home and away, and am therefore some distance from the action, I don’t get to hear much of the ‘banter’ that goes on pitch side. However, the Henley stand is that much closer…
Early on there was a throw-in to Coventry directly in front of where we were sitting. As Devlin Hope steadied himself prior to releasing the ball, one wag in the opposition line shouted out ‘he’s got no throw and no contract either’.
I think that’s what’s termed as a ‘low blow’…
Unfair, too. Well 50% of it is…the line out and scrum held up well yesterday, as it has for the last few weeks. But the contract…well that hasn’t been forthcoming.
There were a couple of other choice comments, but fortunately the laws of decency prevent me from including them…both from Henley and one, in particular, from the wing suggesting that he wasn’t happy with his fly half for failing to release the ball out wide.
Matt Jones was awarded ‘Star Man’ status in The Rugby Paper for yesterday’s performance and indeed he have a massive influence on the game, scoring one try (which was a brilliant solo effort) as well as making another. He rarely opted to kick, but when he did he ensured the opposition defences were turned and allowed the Coventry chasers time to put pressure on the opposition.
I’m not altogether sure it was Matt’s finest game defensively, but in the context off the game, his was a match winning performance. His partnership with young George Tresidder worked well…the scrum half being a late replacement for Wayne Evans who is suffering further back problems. It would be good to see George Tresidder back next season…
I thought Caolan Ryan had another strong game at full back…he loves to run the ball from deep and is quick and elusive when running at the opposition, running good lines. He has a safe pair of hands too and is solid under the high ball. For me, Caolan is someone who’s come out of what has been a disappointing season all round with his reputation enhanced…I think we’ll be playing against him next season. He’s not the most consistent of place kickers, missing four attempts yesterday, but in a team where he’s not the main kicker, then he’d be a real asset.
And then there’s Rob Knox. Well it was a fairly quiet game for Rob, but even so he scored one try, made several breaks and put in a decent shift defensively…! His presence out there yesterday reminded us of what we have missed for so much of the season. Expectations are great and they probably weigh heavy on his shoulders but in a team alongside Callum and Dan he could do real damage, especially if he sees as much ball as the backs did yesterday.
He was, sensibly, taken off with 20 minutes or so still to go and had ice packs on his back as a precaution. I imagine the reaction he gets today and tomorrow will determine whether he is fully over his injuries.
The forwards took control the longer the game went on and the back row of Woodburn (who seems to be getting better with every game), Pailor and Oliver put in a really good shift. This is definitely the back row of choice for me at the moment and given the way the three of them performed yesterday, even a fit Jacques would be struggling to get a place in the team next Saturday.
Devlin’s yellow card early on in the second half spelled the end of his game, with Matt Price coming on in his absence and remaining even once the 10 minutes had elapsed. The front row looked solid and certainly had the better of the opposition front row for much of the game – it was good to see James Hadfield come on late in the game for Henley. He must be in his late 30’s by now, surely?
The referee was probably inconsistent at times, especially failing to penalise Henley’s tendency to encroach offside…however, he didn’t impact on the result and handled a couple of isolated skirmishes pretty well.
Coventry were guilty of being a little profligate with several opportunities close to the Henley lined spurned. However, they did enough in the context of the game and with 6 tries and a bonus point, I don’t think we could have asked for much more prior to kick off.
Darlington, Ampthill and Blackheath in the next three games…3 games that we might have expected to get something out of at the beginning of the season. However, with all three of them in the top six, it’s going to be a pretty difficult run-in to the end of the season, with only Wharfedale away to come after them.
Points aren’t going to be easy to come by.
But at least the pressure is off Coventry now. Mathematically safe, perhaps we can see the players relax a little and show the same inclination to attack the opposition as they did yesterday. As players continue to come back from injury and the team begins to have a more familiar look about it, then perhaps confidence, too, will begin to grow.
For the sake of the players who are going, and for the many fans who have stood by their team during some difficult moments both on and off the field this season, it would be good if we can throw the ball around a little more and play a rather more expansive game.
There’s nothing to lose, other than making ‘9th place our own’ – and what an epitaph to the season that would be…
However, that’s in the future.
I don’t know how the other Cov fans felt on leaving Dry Leas yesterday, but I left in good spirits having witnessed a competitive game of rugby, perhaps not of the greatest quality, but one in which 9 tries were scored, that was often end to end and always compelling to watch.
Henley played their part and were I a Henley supporter I would have been proud of their team’s performance on the day. Outplayed at times, but always gutsy and determined.
Relegated as they now are (I think our win was their final death knell, sadly), I hope they retain many of the squad that we saw yesterday. If they can, then there’s no reason why they can’t make a pretty decent assault on National 2 South next season and make a speedy return to National 1.
If we’re still here on their return, I’ll look forward to visiting Dry Leas again
But next time I’ll make sure I don’t have quite so much to drink, alcoholic or otherwise, prior to the game.
In two years’ time my bladder might not be quite as up for the challenge as it was yesterday.