At half time and losing 9-12, Cov had done well to only go into the break just three points down, having withstood some intense pressure from a Hartpury team full of confidence following wins in their first four league games, scoring more tries than any other team in the process.
That Cov were only 3 points down after 40 minutes said as much about their resilience as it did about a change to their game plan that saw them take their first penalty kick at goal 10 minutes into the game and 330 minutes into the season. Perhaps it was an indication of the respect Cov clearly held for their visitors and the realisation that quick taps from their own 22 might not prove the most effective form of attack against a quick and well organised attack.
Whereas last week, against Blackheath Coventry were unable to turn possession into points and wasted a golden opportunity to score just before half time, this week they looked to be growing in confidence as the game went on and after a few minutes of sustained possession in and around the Hartpury 22, a third Will Maisey penalty on the half time whistle took Cov into the break still very much in contention and growing in self-belief.
Yet such a score line after 40 minutes looked highly improbable when Cov went 7-0 down within the first minute after some woeful defending in which the Hartpury no 9, who was for me the best player on the pitch on the day by a distance, ran 50 metres through a host of Coventry defenders without having a finger laid on him, following a quick tap.
It was poor defending at its poorest and one couldn’t help but feel that we all had a long afternoon of rugby ahead of us.
Another Hartpury try within minutes soon after, the result of more missed tackles, and I began to fear the worse.
But slowly Cov began to turn things round.
Hartpury, still having most of the territory and a fair degree of possession, were no longer able to break the Coventry defence and some fearsome tackling started to see Hartpury make mistakes, allowing Cov to take a grip on the game and keep the scoreboard ticking over, with Massey kicking 3 out of 4 attempts at goal. The silence that greeted that opening Hartpury try had turned to warm applause by half time, recognition for what had been a gutsy and determined Coventry fightback.
At the interval, Hartpury tweeted:
Pury playing all the rugby but the hosts hanging in there… All to play for after the break.
— Hartpury University RFC (@HartpuryRFC) October 1, 2016
which was a little harsh, given that Coventry were becoming increasingly dominant in the scrum, secure in the lineout and had started to gain plenty of possession.
However, Hartpury had looked sharper and far more likely to break the gain line in that opening 40 and their backs were dangerous every time they got the ball.
But Cov’s revival continued and after 70 minutes Coventry had nosed ahead, the Hartpury scrum was in disarray and for the first time this season Hartpury found themselves behind in a game.
That first thirty minutes of the second half was some of the most thrilling rugby I’ve seen at Coventry for a couple of seasons. It wasn’t expansive, it wasn’t played a great pace but it was compelling to watch. The momentum was with Cov and Hartpury had no answer as Coventry camped themselves on their 5m line and won 4 consecutive penalties as Hartpury were forced into dropping the scrum to prevent the forward movement that would surely have resulted in the penalty try Coventry fully deserved.
A lot has already been written elsewhere about those few minutes and what did and didn’t happen. But to me, Hartpury went about defending their line illegally and whilst they did lose two players to yellows, it was cynical and professional. With no contested scrums, we lost our most potent weapon and it was no surprise that after being awarded a fifth penalty Coventry, forced to kick to touch rather than take the scrum, forfeited the ball and thus the penalty try they clearly deserved.
Yes, we did score two tries in the 10 minutes Hartpury were down to 13, but that doesn’t make up for the farce that had led up to them.
13 might be an unlucky number for some, but it certainly wasn’t for Hartpury.
I certainly don’t blame the referee there, as I understand it he made the right decisions…nor do I blame Hartpury who did what they had to do. But the laws do need to be changed to prevent that scenario from happening again, as it undoubtedly will, to teams that have the dominance in the set piece that Cov has.
That said, it was fantastic to watch and with Dan Rundle urging the crowd to make their voices heard, it all made for great theatre, as did the following 15 minutes when Coventry hammered the Hartpury defence and scored the two tries to take them into the lead.
In the end it wasn’t enough, and there will be those who will be critical of a Cov team that has lost more games than they’ve won, but against a very good Hartpury side that looks as if it is capable of going all the way this season, then this was a much improved performance and was exactly the response that was needed following the Blackheath capitulation just 7 days before.
If heads had dropped then, they were held high yesterday and if this performance can be used as a springboard for the coaches to work from, then there is certainly plenty of potential. We had Hartpury on the ropes but we just couldn’t deliver the knockout punch, but we certainly weren’t fighting above our weight and you’d hope the squad will be raring to take the trip down to Esher next weekend and continue where they left off against Hartpury.
And fair play to Hartpury, it was a deserved win.
I was disappointed in Hartpury’s response to the Coventry performance though, bearing in mind Coventry had taken them to within 7 minutes of defeat. Had we set ourselves up for the drop goal when we had the chance at 23-22, things might well have been very different.
(Nb…forgot to originally include…when we had the two man advantage we decided to kick the ball deep from our 22, handing possession back to Hartpury who were able to take valuable time off the clock. It was a strange decision for me – logic said that with the opposition two players down you would have run the ball wide, spreading it both sides to create the gaps. Not sure what the idea was there…it certainly frustrated supporters!).
Almost immediately after the game, the official Hartpury Twitter account tweeted:
Another bonus point win for Pury who have enough to see off a big but limited Cov…
— Hartpury University RFC (@HartpuryRFC) October 1, 2016
I’m not sure that ‘big and limited’ does much justice to a Cov team that had Hartpury in all sorts of difficulties in the second half.
Blinkered I may be, but even if Hartpury were correct in their analysis of Cov, to say that about your hosts publicly isn’t something you’d expect…better to be gracious in victory than defeat. It was a shame really and whilst it did nothing to spoil my enjoyment of the game, it does come across as being patronising and condescending. I have to say though, that in response to some tweets from Cov supporters who were very complimentary about the Hartpury performance, the tone did change but even so…
7 points ahead of the team in second place already…a little humility might not come amiss?
We all know second best isn’t good enough, but I’ve always maintained that this is about the long haul and in the context of the progress Cov need to be making, then this was encouraging. Although I missed the opening three games, I’ve seen all the others and for me this was the best 80 minutes so far. An inauspicious start and 12-3 down in in no time, against a team that had pace and agility in all positions, could have resulted in another Blackheath scenario. But we saw a team performance out there yesterday, and with some big names missing, a lot of players put in some big shifts. And whilst we did let in two tries at least, the result of some poor tackling and cover, for much of the game the team we able to nullify the threat Hartpury posed, winning some turnover ball at last and causing Hartpury to make basic errors in handling and distribution.
I appreciate that won’t be good enough for some, but if we can’t win the game, then I’ll take that instead.
I wanted to see the signs that things are coming together, that players are listening and learning and I saw them out there yesterday.
The game plan was different to that of previous games, with Cov tending to opt for the kick to touch rather than the quick tap and against Hartpury it seemed to work. Getting points on the board meant we always stayed in touch, so that when the breaks came, we had enough points on the board not to already be chasing the game. The players coming into the side all put in a good shift and did themselves no harm at all and whilst I really don’t want to single players out, I will mention just three (!) – James Stokes, who had a nightmare of a game last week, looked full of confidence again, Tony Fenner, playing out of position at 13, put in a real defensive shift, making some crunching tackles during the course of the game and Eoghan Grace led by example and was audibly encouraging his team mates throughout the game.
I’m certainly not downbeat at all and I imagine that Rowland Winter and the coaches will have plenty of positives to take out of the game and the players will be looking forward to taking the kind of form they showed against Hartpury in that second half down to Esher who are presently struggling at the foot of the table. Nick Walshe, the new attack coach, was chatting to the players in the warm up and it will be interesting to see what impact he has over the coming weeks. At the moment, we seem to struggle to break down well organised defences even though we possess backs who have exceptional pace. Hopefully, we’ll see the influence he’s having before too long..
I really enjoyed the game yesterday…I know Rowland Winter has questioned what supporters mean when they refer to the ‘Covdog’ but for the first time this season we actually saw it emerge from its kennel.
So just what is the Covdog all about then?
It’s about players who take the hits and just get up and get on with it, who will get in the faces of the opposition and rattle them, players who feed off the atmosphere of a game and who will impact positively on the rest of the team because they lead by example. Yesterday, we saw the Covdog snap and snarl at the heels of a team that began the game looking quicker and stronger, but by mid-way through the second and down to just 13 players, looked anything but. It manifests itself in players who never give up, no matter the score or the situation they are in, who play on bloodied and battered because they are proud to wear the shirt and have a spirit and passion coursing through their veins.
And from what I saw yesterday, this team has it for sure…but it will take time.
It’s about patience and belief…
… and I’m blessed with both…