Club talk

The Friendlies: Episode 2 – the one on the island (the report)

And so it goes and so it goes
And so it goes and so it goes
But where it’s goin’ no one knows

And so it goes and so it goes
And so it goes and so it goes
But where it’s goin’ no one knows

Nick Lowe – And So It Goes

Just where Coventry’s season will go…well, no one knows…but despite losing heavily against Jersey Reds yesterday, there’s plenty of positives to take away from the game.

On paper the scoreline suggests it was a pretty one-sided affair, with Coventry managing just the one try and conceding 7, yet it was far more of an even contest than that and had we not gifted them several soft tries, the scoreline would have been far more representative of what was, at times, a pretty decent performance from Cov against very strong opposition.

What Jersey were extremely effective at doing was ensuring they came away with points almost every time they entered our 22, especially in the first half.

In stark contrast, for  a considerable period at the start of the first half and for probably 20-25 minutes in the second, we struggled to make all our possession count, even though we were the dominant team . The one James Stokes try was a poor reflection of a Coventry performance that actually was pretty creditable against a very strong, physical and speedy Jersey side.

Rowland Winter summed it up pretty well in his comments in the Jersey Reds’ match report:

We knew Jersey would ask questions of every facets of our game – we stood up well in some areas and there’s also plenty to work on over the next four weeks.

Some positives and areas that have to be improved upon.

And certainly grounds for cautious optimism…

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that Cov needed to be tested and it wouldn’t do us any harm to find ourselves struggling for possession, if only to see how we’d respond. Well, at half time and 26-0 down, it looked like it might end up a lot worse than the final score of 47-5. But in truth, although Jersey Reds scored another three tries, two of them coming after Rhodri Adamson’s was binned for what looked harsh decision by the referee in the final minutes of the game, the second half was a much tighter affair. Cov played with far more conviction and avoided some of the errors that cost them so dear in the first half. For long periods we forced Jersey Reds onto the back foot and at times they wobbled, but with just the one exception we weren’t able to break down their resolute defence.

We played at pace and although they were forced into committing players to the tackle, they held their lines well and we struggled to make the room for the likes of Rundle, Stokes and Knox to exploit.

Before the game it became clear that Jersey Reds  were treating this as a competitive game and had selected their best available team and weren’t going to give any quarter. They looked a big team but despite their size they were fast and mobile. Whilst our forwards held their own for much of the game, the backs found it hard going all afternoon.

At times, especially in the final 10 minutes, Jersey seemed to play a similar style of rugby to that which we’ve so recently adopted, with forwards and backs combining well and at speed and with some slick handling. When we went a man down and cover was stretched, they twice opened us at speed and the final try, straight from our restart, was a classic…that’s when we saw the real difference.

Of course we didn’t help ourselves when, in the first 17 minutes, we conceded a very soft interception try when running from deep and then allowed the ball to be ripped from one of our players just a few metres out for the second. And all this despite having the better of the possession. From thereon in, Jersey dominated the remainder of the first half with the exception of the last couple of minutes.

Both teams made mistakes – the crucial thing was, ours tended to give them try scoring opportunities and theirs didn’t. It was a clinical display from a very impressive Championship side.

But there were periods before that  in the second half when we looked sharp and were quicker to the breakdown, and on a couple of occasions Jersey were penalised at the ruck in an attempt to  prevent our quick ball.

In the set pieces Coventry did more than enough to suggest that they have the ammunition to cause real damage to any team in our league. The scrum had the better of Jersey Reds, a team that apparently will have one of the strongest packs in the Championship this season.

Even when the Cov front row were completely changed at one point we still dominated. Indeed, on a couple of occasions on their feed, Jersey delayed releasing the ball and held it in the scrum for a long time but were unable to get any sort of squeeze on and had to be told  eventually to use the ball by the referee.

Our line-out was okay, certainly it held it’s shape better than theirs, although we did seem to lose a couple at key points in the game.

Yesterday was a tough, tough day but the team  came out of it far better after 80 minutes than ever looked possible after 40.

When the fixtures were announced I wondered about the wisdom of playing Jersey and then Ealing so soon into the pre-season, but actually today’s game was exactly what was needed.

It was a reminder that although this is an experienced squad, with players who have proved themselves at levels well above National 3, that in itself is not enough. There’s still plenty of work to be done in the remaining 4 weeks to get them playing as a team and Rowland Winter and his coaches will have been able to look at today’s game and determine the areas where work needs to be done.

What did seem pretty clear to me is that all the pre-season work on fitness is paying off – Coventry looked strong in the final quarter (other than the last 5 mins) and there was no obvious slowing down. Despite Jersey’s physicality, Coventry matched them for the most part and that bodes well come September.

Jersey Reds are a very different team to when we last met them a couple of seasons ago. They are no longer a side content with just surviving in the Championship – this is a side who have aspirations of reaching the play-offs before too long. That said, we held them for long periods and I think over the course of the season we will improve more, relatively, than they will. They were certainly a stronger, better organised team than the London Welsh team we played last season.

Ealing Trailfinders at home next weekend will be another stern test, but I’d be very surprised if they will present quite the number of problems that Jersey did. I’d love to see a big crowd of a 1000 plus get behind Cov – playing at The Butts will certainly give the team a big lift. There’s no lack of heart in this team and if they have that all important capacity to learn from the experience, the Jersey game could prove to be a very valuable lesson in what is going to have to be a pretty steep learning curve before the Loughborough game.

I’m certainly more upbeat than down and looking forward to seeing if Coventry learn from the experience when they face another Championship side next Saturday…

 

Categories:Club talk

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