What if and if only…
The Cov Dog must still be barking this morning.
Fed and watered yesterday evening and having slept the sleep of the contented, it will have woken this morning eager for more.
Let off the leash in the afternoon, it snapped and snarled at the heels of a Darlington team than grew increasingly frustrated as the game went on, unable to break down a Coventry defence that was as solid as it was proud.
And like many a wounded animal, the Cov Dog is at it’s most dangerous.
It’s tasted blood…and Blackheath is just seven days away.
This was a performance to savour. A better one than against Henley, as indeed it had to be, it gave a glimpse of what might have been…and as the crowd exited a buzzing BPA come the end of the game, many spectators were left pondering on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’…
What if injuries hadn’t unsettled the team quite as much as they did early on in the season?
If only the team had shown the same belief and self-confidence in themselves earlier in the season as they did out there on the pitch against Darlington.
It was a convincing win, in many respects a better performance than the draw against Richmond in January. There was no rear-guard action required from the team this time, no having to hang on in the final minutes, no opposition comeback that had the Coventry faithful checking their watches and me checking my pulse.
Coventry were three scores clear in the final minutes and whilst the referee did his best to prolong the game as long as possible, Coventry were always in control.
And let’s put this win into context. All season we’ve managed to beat the teams below us, but seldom have we performed against the form teams. And Darlington are very much a form team…
…or were until 3.00 pm yesterday.
Having just lost two out of their last seventeen games they were on a decent run of form.
And we were the rock that end their roll…
The were six places ahead of us prior to kick off. 22 points. And yet on that performance you’d never have known.
Just how close this squad could have got to that target of a top three finish set in October will always be a topic for discussion, but the important thing for me is that the players vindicated those supporters who believed that the squad had the potential to do far better. Best of all, many of the players who weren’t a part of last season’s squad were as influential as any in the team, Hough, Ryan, Tresidder, Thomas, Woodburn (although he was a DR), Weightman and Kivalu.
Were those players who came in over the summer really such poor recruits after all? Certainly not on this performance …
It’s taken a lot of frustration and a fair bit of angst to get there, but the players showed real Cov passion and commitment out on the pitch yesterday and the smallish crowd was quick to show it’s appreciation.
What if we’d managed to keep most of the squad together next season – are we beginning to see signs that a fully fit squad could have been more of a threat in this division?
Probably we are, but it is as it is and in just two weeks most of us will see them together for the last time. It will be a strange occasion, one I hope that will be celebration rather than something akin to a wake. Many of the players are starting to get interest from other clubs, and offers too, so out of the confusion comes hope (…although he didn’t even make the bench yesterday).
I thought the game itself was an entertaining one, and whilst Coventry were under huge pressure in the scrum, in most other areas of the game we had the beating of a Darlington side who on the day I thought were rather disappointing. Just as they did before Christmas, they relied a lot on the impressive boot of Warren Seals to kick them into our 22, and the pack to do the rest.
Any penalty from within 10m inside their half was kicked to the corner, but Coventry seemed far better organised and were able to hold off the drive from the line-out on several occasions, something that they repeatedly failed to do when the two clubs met earlier in the season.
I have to admit, just why teams now allow the opposition to catch and drive unopposed for a second or two when they have the attacking throw in the 22 is a bit of a mystery to me, but Cov did just this to some effect yesterday. It always looks as if it gives the attacking team the momentum, but Cov were able to prevent the usual driving maul that has so often been their undoing.
And irony of ironies, Coventry’s first try came from a 10 metre drive from their forwards which was illegally collapsed by Darren Fearn, the Darlington loosehead, resulting in a penalty try for us and a yellow card for him.
Unlike many supporters, I kind of warmed to Darren. He was certainly the villain of the peace and a player who caused Coventry no end of problems in the scrum – although at times he looked like he was taking advantage of a referee who had trouble controlling the set piece. He certainly seemed to bore in and was always in the middle of any handbags that were being thrown around…arguably being lucky to stay on the pitch after one particularly feisty set-to.
However, every team needs a Darren Fearn and we certainly have a couple of our own. He came off to a lot of fairly good-natured booing from the crowd and, in acknowledging the mainstand’s less than warm reception with smiles and polite applause as he made his way to his seat, he defused the situation well. I’m not sure others will agree, but he worked hard for his team out on the pitch yesterday. Wily and experienced, he certainly roughed up the Coventry front row a little.
Plenty of good performances, too, from Coventry players.
Ryan Hough scored another brace of tries and is beginning to show what potential he has. Both tries were taken well, especially the second where he had very little room to work with. There’s certainly a lot of pace there and when Cov play a little more expansively, as they have been in the last couple of games, he’s always going to be more of a threat.
Caolan Ryan is beginning to look the part at full back. Once again, he caused problems for the opposition when he received the ball deep in his own half from a poorly place Darlington kick and then ran it back. He’s quick, elusive and left several players flatfooted. Sometimes, he’s a bit too quick and gets caught without any Cov support close at hand. However, he’s a real threat with the ball and defensively he’s getting better too.
With Jones returning a couple of games ago, I thought Caolan might be relieved of the kicking duties, but he hasn’t been and yesterday he showed why, with one touch-line kick following Hough’s try being particularly impressive.
Rob Knox looked like he’s lost no enthusiasm for the game whilst away. If last week’s performance against Henley was encouraging, yesterday’s was impressive. He certainly ran more yards with the ball than anyone else on the pitch and on one notable occasion his quick thinking enabled him to dance and twist his way out of trouble when he ran down the left wing, leaving tacklers trailing in his wake.
His natural pace seems okay, but the afterburners aren’t yet firing and he was run down twice when a fit Knoxy from last season would have gone all the way. Plenty of work over the summer will, literally, get him back up to speed and he’s one who will really benefit from the additional training opportunities next season.
There were plenty of other notable performances. Callum tackled everything that came his way and already his partnership with Rob Knox looks to be blossoming. Jones controlled the line well and a couple of delicate chips over the top almost resulted in tries. Tresidder was quiet but effective – no sniping runs around the base of the scrum this week, something that he does to great effect.
The back row again performed well, with George Oliver a real terrier in defence. He gets through so much work at times and often goes unnoticed. I thought he had a fantastic game yesterday.
Matt Price was pugnacious and abrasive but in a very controlled way and took the battle up front to Darlington. Although he did get yellow carded, it was for a technical offence and generally I thought he had a good game. Line-outs were solid and although the scrum was under immense pressure at times, Matt marshalled the front row well. It must have been a bit of a baptism of fire for Joe Foreman, but he’ll be all the better for having experience it.
Kivalu again was evident in the loose and he’s now the prop that stays on for the full 80 minutes, something that we would never have envisaged when he joined us back in late October.
I thought the two second rows, Thomas and Wright, were immense yesterday. All eyes were on new signing Rob Conquest, but the two Coventry second rowers got the better of most of the exchanges. Ben Thomas had his best game in a Coventry shirt and put in a huge shift, defensively in particular. He and Danny Wright looked strong in the line-out and both must have been delighted in the way the game unfolded. Danny has had a second (or is it third?) lease of life these last few weeks and I can’t help but think his best position is at 5, rather than the back row.
This was the performance we’d hoped for. Although Darlington dominated upfront, elsewhere else they struggled to make an impact and Coventry played much the better attacking rugby. We squandered a few good opportunities and should have had the bonus point had it not been for a wayward forward pass on the stroke of half time.
Next week’s game against Blackheath will be the acid test, albeit far too late. If Cov can come away from Rectory Field (if indeed it is still Rectory Field) with a win, then there will have been a massive turn around in Cov’s fortunes. Blackheath were involved in a try fest against Fylde yesterday, coming away 30-45 winners, so they’ll be full of confidence and riding high in the league in 4th position. Travel arrangements have already been sorted – I’m not going to miss this one.
And a word for Scott Morgan, too. He must have been immensely proud of the way the team played yesterday. Players whom he has had to work with in the most difficult of circumstances performed as he must have hoped – with pride and passion, certainly, but also with a fair degree of skill too.
His future now lies elsewhere, although he will still retain links with the club. But he must have smiled ruefully to himself come the final whistle…