The Friendlies: Episode 4: the one with the Dragon feeders (the report)

The e-letter that was sent out to all members earlier this week shed a little more light on what Director of Rugby Rowland Winter is hoping to achieve from the pre-season schedule.

Other than the obvious need to look at players in varying combinations against opposition that have been carefully picked to test us, the main targets are:

getting the basics of our set piece together (scrum, lineout and restarts) and setting target baselines for our discipline and passion of the ball

Once these are secure, the ‘fine-tuning of the attack, defence and finer details of play’ become the focus.

I imagine that RW will be relieved to have got the win under his belt following the two previous defeats, albeit against Championship teams. A third defeat might have made the members’ forum on Tuesday a little more difficult, although you’d hope supporters would have been understanding of the quality of the opposition.

However, with yesterday’s 56-40 win against Newport, and achieved in a hugely entertaining way, he won’t need to persuade supporters that the style of rugby he is bringing to Cov has the potential to cause problems for every National 1 team.

At it’s best, the rugby today was destructive…

…but always with the potential of being self-destructive, too.

Rowland Winter promised that supporters will be on the edge of their seats at times this season and that the rugby Cov play will be expansive and attack-minded. A bonus point and a 1 point win…that’s enough.

8 tries and a 16 point winning margin against a team that finished 6th in the Principality Premiership is a job well done, but it is still very much a work in progress with plenty of positives and some very obvious areas that need addressing before we take on Loughborough a week on Saturday.

The set pieces performed well overall, but with the lineout still causing some problems – we lost the ball on our own throw 3 or 4 times – although for the most part it performed far more reliably than it did against Ealing last week.

And that’s the important thing, there was clear progress from the week before.

The problem is identified, addressed during the week and clear evidence of an improvement seen the next weekend. It gives everyone a bit of confidence…

The scrum was solid, especially in the first half with Litchfield, Price and Brown causing the Newport pack all sorts of difficulties. A period of 5 minutes of so at the end of the first half saw Newport reduced to 13 as they had no answer to a series of Coventry scrums on, or near, their line. Perhaps the only surprising thing was that when Cov did score, it was from the ball going out wide and not from a penalty try.

In the second half, Newport regrouped and although changes were made to our front row, they weren’t able to achieve quite the dominance of the first 40 minutes.

Generally, restarts have been pretty good in all the games, with Tony Fenner today giving his players enough time to reach the receiver and create pressure on the opposition from the off. I thought Fenner had his best game for Cov so far, and much of the good work from the backs started through his ability to vary his pass so effectively. And, whilst Cov were guilty of a number of missed tackles over the 90 minutes, I thought he put in a good shift. When he hits the opposition in the tackle, he hits them hard.

Hopefully, the injury that seemed to force him off isn’t too serious and he’ll be up and running next week.

Much of this post is going to be positive…it would be rather churlish of me for it to be anything else, given the emphatic win…but equally, it will come as no surprise that within the victory are some areas of concern, so let’s get them out of the way now.

…even though we scored 8 tries, our handling at times meant we lost possession both in attack and defence and at key moments too. Try scoring opportunities were either wasted by us, or we conceded them to the opposition. At times, passes failed to reach the receiver or were wayward in direction, and this meant players were overstretching to reach for the ball or having to check their pace.

In defence, we made some unforced errors and for the second time in 3 games an interception in our 22 (on our line today) gifted the opposition a try. When you’re 20-30 points up, then it’s disappointing…but when you’re only 3 points in front at Billesley Common in injury time…well, put it this way, I wouldn’t like to have to face the supporters in the bar after the game!

We also missed too many first tackles that allowed Newport to gain good yards. Their packs had some pace and were able to capitalise on our defensive lapses. I’m not too worried about this because against even stronger opposition in the previous two weeks, we’d done pretty well for long periods.

In National 1, there will be far more space at times for our backs to exploit, but occasionally we do leave ourselves exposed when they counter attack from deep. On one occasion in the second half’ Newport broke from their half, we managed to chase them down, we counter attacked only to lose the ball in their 22 and for Newport then to run it back at us and score…the ball travelled the best part 250m without a break. It was frenetic and exciting…but not really what you want in a tight game. I’m probably being unfair because Cov might well have approached the second half differently if we hadn’t been 37 points up with 20 minutes to go…but even so…

The finer tuning probably begins here…

However, we played some fantastic rugby at times…and there were passages of play, lots of them, where  Rowland Winter’s vision of  end-to-end rugby, with Coventry running the ball from anywhere and everywhere, was clear to see. We blitzed Newport in a 10 minute spell in the second half and I can’t help but feel lesser teams might well have completely capitulated having conceded three tries in that period. The fact that they didn’t is of huge credit to them and their comeback in the last quarter helped make the game so enjoyable.

With the forwards providing plentiful ball, the backs were able to enjoy far more possession than against Ealing and Jersey Reds. Once again, both Max Trimble and Dan Rundle showed the damage real pace can cause and they look to have nailed the wingers’ spots, provided James Stokes is at full back. Quite what will happen when James Pritchard starts at 15 I’m not sure, but he also looked very sharp when he came on, although he (and Brendan Burke) missed their share of tackles too…

Burke once again showed just what an exciting player he is and whilst he might not have the physique of a modern day rugby player, he has  skills in abundance and made a couple of telling breaks in the short period he was on. He’s the type of player who occasionally comes to us in the twilight of his career and leaves supporters regretting they’d not seen him play at his peak…

Out of all the backs on display today, the one who had the most to prove was Rob Knox…I mentioned in an earlier post that he really only had this game left to make a statement of intent given that Loughborough is just two weekends away.

And that’s precisely what he did.

In the first 30 minutes he scored one try and made two others and had it not been for some poor handling, he would have been prominent in a third. He looked far more confident at 12 today and he and Tom Wheatcroft seemed to combine well together…places in the centres are going to be at a premium this season, but Knoxy has set his stall out now and made it a much harder decision for the selectors than it was this time last week. He showed his strength out there today and was able to break tackles or use his speed to create the space for others to feed off. It was much more like the Rob Knox of old…let’s hope he can stay fit this season.

The experiment of playing him on the wing doesn’t seemed to have worked, especially with Rundle and Trimble looking to be in such good form. Provided he remains injury free, then I guess he and Corey Hircock , (who scored when he came on and look pacey) are going to have a nervous few days waiting to see just who gets the nod.

Darrell Dyer and  Eoghan Grace were noticeable in attack and Grace looks to regularly be quickest to the break down, an area that we struggled a little in today. Also, in attack there were occasions where there was little support for the player making the break who became isolated, causing the attack to break down from what had been a promising position.

One of the most consistent performers in the last couple of  games has been Tom Jubb. For a big man, he is extremely quick and his sprint down the left wing in the second half resulted in a Cov try. He seems to enjoy carrying the ball and in an open game like today’s he’ll always be prominent amongst the forwards. Definitely a player I’ve enjoyed watching , but that’s no surprise as I remember him from the trip to DMP last year where he stood out in what was a disappointing Cov performance that day.

I’m pleased that Cov have produced a performance of this kind so early in the season. Despite Newport scoring 6 tries, this was a good effort at this stage of the season and it is clearly indicative of the progress the squad is making as that National 1 opener gets ever closer. There are some areas that need attention, we know that, but the opposition we’ll face in the coming months aren’t going to be a great deal stronger than that of today, if at all.

Games will be tighter because there will be more at stake, but we have seen Cov show just what the attacking game plan that RW has espoused from his very first interview back in February might look like…and it looks good.

Scary at times.

But good.

If I were Cov, I’d be pushing the season tickets again on the back of this performance – 8 tries, a strong opposition and a feast of running rugby. It’s what we missed last season and it’s something that should attract supporters back to Cov, if not in their droves, then certainly in bigger numbers than we’ve seen for the last 18 months or so.


And to finish…Moseley (I’m starting to twitch just at the mention of them now) also played Welsh opposition at home yesterday, in the form of Neath who are also in the Principality Premiership. They look to have had a decent result too, winning 31-14…

…however, whereas Newport finished 6th last season, winning 12 of their 22 games, Neath finished bottom of the league, winning only 1 of their games and drawing another.

Neath might have recruited exceptionally well, but even so…

…bragging rights are most definitely Cov’s on this one. It should give the whole squad some added confidence in the build up to the first of the derby games on 10th September.

That’s going to be a one tough game for the players…almost as much as will be for the supporters…


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