Sat. May 15th, 2021

Newport_rfc_badgeSaturday in the Park…

People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday

Chicago – Saturday in the Park


Fair play to Cov.

Once again they’ve released details of the match day squad a full 48 hours before they are due to play the last of their full 80 minute pre-season friendlies; this time against Newport RFC at home.

Whilst there is still one more weekend of rugby to follow before the National 1 campaign kicks off with a home game against Loughborough Students on 3rd September, the final weekend is the triple header, with Coventry playing  two 60 minute games against Colchester and Bury St Edmunds, presumably involving pretty much the full squad, including the youngsters…?

So the Newport game will be last opportunity Cov will have to play a competitive 80 minute game before the National games begin.

Against another strong opposition, it will again be a test of just how much this Cov side has progressed since the Jersey Reds game, tow weeks ago.It’s probably a ‘me’ thing, but I used to get frustrated last season waiting for the team news to be released, uncertain as to when the announcement would be made. There were weeks when it was as early as Thursday morning or as late as Saturday morning  (just the once, to be fair). I’m a man of routines and I’m rather hoping Rowland Winter is too in this respect. It was fine when I was at work, but now I’m a man of some leisure it’s amazing, and somewhat embarrassing, just how many times I’ll check the unoffy site to see if the news has been posted!

Once again, the squad is pretty much the same as was announced against Jersey. There are a couple of positional changes and some players starting who came on as replacements in that game, but the squad is starting to have a familiar look to it.

I’ve enjoyed the pre-season games all the more for the consistency of selection. In previous seasons, there’s often be a full squad of 35+ involved in the first two or even three games and it’s made it far less entertaining for the supporters, with players coming off and on all too regularly and with no real chance for the game to flow. Even the Broadstreet game was competitive and it gave us the chance to see some of the players who won’t feature too often once the league campaign gets under way.

Will Maisey and Sam Harry are out through injury, but with both of them apparently due to return to training next week, they are only short term worries.

With no Maisey to cover for Tony Fenner on the bench, I guess Brendan Burke is the natural replacement at fly half should Fenner have to come off  and although Burke made a real impact when starting against Ealing, it seems sensible to hold him back given he is not going to play more than 40 minutes at best…

Povoas gets the chance to start ahead of Ali Bone in the back row – and I have to make a slight confession here.

When putting together the pictures of the squad for a post last week’s,  I originally incorrectly matched up 3 names to the  photos. Povoas and Bone were two of them. Having swapped the order of the players round by name, I forgot to swap their photos. D’oh! I was mortified when Cov kindly tweeted my error and hugely grateful to them for quickly identifying where I’d gone wrong to avoid too much embarrassment.

The other mistake? Well I’d managed to include two photos of Phil Boulton and claim one was Scott Tolmie. That was just me being a bit of a dumbwit to be honest. I was  so relieved that it wasn’t the Jersey game last weekend…I don’t expect either player would have been too pleased to be confused with the other and an hour and a half on the coach to Luton could have had its awkward moments! Worse still, I could have had one either side of me on the plane…

Anyway, back to the matter in hand.

In the front row, Andy Brown, Matt Price and Jimmy Litchfield deservedly get the chance to start tomorrow. When the Coventry front row wobbled a bit after the half time restart against Ealing, RW brought the three of them on as a unit and they did a very good job of containing what was a big and physical Ealing front 5 in the set piece. In the last two games, Cov has replaced the front rows in a single substitution, with the two sets of three seeming to work as unit.

I do think the strength in depth that we have in the front row is going to give us a real advantage over most teams in our league and with Boris Stankovich, Scott Tolmie and Phil Boulton (I still think these last two have a similar look to them…) coming on tomorrow as legs start to tire, Newport won’t have an easy passage up front at any point in the game.

With no Rob Conquest this week following his injury last week (and at the time it looked a nasty one, so it’s great to see that it’s not as bad as was first feared), the partnership of Snyman and Jubb looks to be the likely one to start against Loughborough. I’m sure Tom Poole will come into consideration once he’s back to speed, but I’ve been really impressed with Tom Jubb thus far. Both the locks need to stay injury free as there isn’t a great deal of cover for them at the moment, until Conquest and Poole are fit again.

In the backs, there’s also little change. With James Pritchard on the bench, James Stokes goes to full back, allowing Max Trimble and Dan Rundle to continue on the wings. The only position that is really up grabs at the moment seems to be at inside centre where Rob Knox gets his second start. I’m not sure just how effective Rob has been out on the wing and if he can find something of the form he showed 12 months ago, then even with Corey Hircock and Callum MacBurnie pushing for a place in the squad, he could be the front runner. It is arguably the position where competition will be at its fiercest, especially as Brendan Burke could be required on the bench as cover for a number of positions along the back line. Callum and Corey would start for most National 1 sides so quite where the final decision lies isn’t clear as yet. Cov always looked stronger with Callum in the side, but with Cov playing a very different style of rugby this season, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod. Corey has excelled in the Championship so it’s going to be a tight call.

I guess it will be frustrating for those players who miss out when the final match day squad is whittled down to 20, but from a coaches point of view that’s exactly what you want – players having to be at the best because of the quality of those awaiting a chance to prove themselves.

And with the news on the injury front improving all the time, the Coventry coaches will have pretty much a full squad to chose from in two or three weeks time other than  the slightly longer term injuries to Cliffie Hodgson and Pete White, provided players avoid injuries in between time.

Just how strong a side Newport will be is a complete unknown to me. Both Newport and Cardiff, whom we played in a friendly last season, compete in the same league, the Principality Premiership. The danger is that we assume that because last season we beat Cardiff by 50 points plus, away from home, we should at least get the win tomorrow. Cardiff finished 9th (winning 8 from 22), Newport 6th(winning 12 from 22)…and it appears Newport have recruited well over the summer. The fact that they are a feeder to the Dragons suggests there will be some talented youngsters on show for Newport tomorrow and we’ve seen just how good such players can be (remember Northampton a few years back?).

This is going to be another very tough fixture. With Ealing and Jersey, I kind of knew what to expect, but with Newport I’m completely in the dark.  From the way the Newport side lines up on paper, it rather looks like the second half will see pretty much a new set of forwards, although there will be far less change in the backs, so it might be hard to gauge just how good a Cov performance it is, or isn’t, in the end.

Once again, tomorrow’s game is going to be as much about the manner of Coventry’s performance than it will be about the result.

Rowland Winter last week, and Brendon Burke this week, have both singled out for praise Cov’s discipline and they will be keen to ensure that Coventry show the same composure this week against Newport. Coventry’s games against Welsh sides have invariably been physical affairs and doubtless this will be another. If Coventry can keep their penalty count low, whilst putting of pressure on Newport, then I’m sure Rowland Winter will view this very much as a positive.

Doubtless, Cov will have worked hard to address the problems they had in the lineout last week, an area that will have to improve if Coventry are going to challenge at the top end of the league over the coming months. Whilst we’ve had plenty of possession and territory in the last two games, we’ve failed to be clinical and put away what chances have come our way, something that the Championship sides have excelled at. Two tries in 160 minutes of rugby is a relatively poor return given the amount of ball we’ve had over the two games. If there’s one thing I’d like to see come out of the Newport game, then it’s a more clinical, less profligate, use of the ball.

We weren’t  allowed the space in the last two games to give the backs the room to run at the opposition, but if we get enough quick ball and our handling and off-loading is near the mark, then we should be able to break the gain line and allow the likes of Stokes, Rundle and Trimble to turn the opposition defences.  And if they do that, I’m sure we’ll be able to use our pace to its full advantage. Before too long, teams are going to have to take notice of the speed of our backs…with a bit of luck it will start with Newport tomorrow.

Fingers crossed that the attendance will be up on last week, especially as members have the advantage of a 50% reduction in their ticket price provided they have their membership cards with them. But it is the holiday season still and the weather forecast isn’t great …

…we’ll just have to hope that with season tickets to be collected, the lure of Welsh opposition, Coventry City away and Wasps playing on Sunday, a Saturday afternoon at the Butts Park Arena becomes an even more attractive proposition.


And to finish…Chiicago’s – Saturday in the (Butts) Park (Arena)…


Nope, not a favourite of mine, either…




By Tim

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