It was clear from training on Tuesday that there were going to be some enforced changes in the team to face Fylde on Saturday, but 8 is rather more than I had envisaged.
However, whilst it sounds a lot, only two are a real surprise, the rest being a mixture of rotation, injury or unavailability.
I can’t remember a season in which, whatever the combination of players selected to play, you’ve a pretty good idea that Coventry’s impressive front row are going to cause the opposition a problem or two.
Whereas in some positions you might worry about the absence of a key player, that is simply not the case up front these days. I have to say, I do like Boris starting…he is able to inflict a fair bit of damage early on and RW made the interesting point to me on Tuesday that he’ll quickly get the ear of the referee; his experience might well be very useful in that respect.
I really don’t understand a great deal about the secret arts of the front row, but Boris seems a destructive force in almost every scrum. I can only remember a handful of set pieces in which we’ve been under any sort of pressure up front and, even then, any dominance the opposition have had has been ended by the referee penalising them, suggesting perhaps that they’ve had to resort to a bit of skulduggery in order to get anything over the Coventry front three.
When the team is announced these days, the front row isn’t an area that I think too long and hard about.
Last year, probably our strongest line-up in the front row was Brown, Price and Thorne and even they weren’t nearly as dominant as any of the combinations RW has been able to select this season. I thought Hope always looked capable of stepping up if Matt was injured or needed resting and probably should have got more game time, but Kivalu and Joe Foreman, good as they were, didn’t pose quite the same threat, although in Joe’s case he shows real promise at such a young age.
In the second row, Tom Jubb is rested and Tom Poole comes back in – on the face of it looks like another example of squad rotation but I do think that RW and the coaches will be a little concerned about Tom Jubb’s current disciplinary record (which I think is two yellows and a red in six games, two of which two he’s been side-lined as a result of the sending off against Moseley which, having seen the tape, was an exceptionally harsh decision).
Tom is the best attacking second row we’ve seen in a Cov shirt since Sam Herrington’s scored a ridiculous number of tries a few years back and he’s a player whom I love to watch. But he’s a bit impetuous and hot-headed and in games that are close, a yellow card is going to cost us dear. You certainly don’t want to curb his natural on-field belligerence, but it does need to be channelled a little at times. If this sounds like I’m being overly critical, that’s not the intention at all; he’d be one of the first I’d pencil in were I playing PC Rugby Manager 2016 from the comfort of my armchair.
And Tom Poole is never going to let you down. He’s not going to be as noticeable in broken play as his namesake, but he always puts in one hell of a shift, especially defensively and is one of those players who by going unnoticed is often having a good game (I know what I mean there!). When it was announced that most of the squad would be leaving at the end of last season, I really didn’t expect to see him back playing in a Cov shirt; he didn’t seem happy last year and was left out of one or two games for no apparent reason, even though I thought he was one of the more consistent performers.
100 appearances for your club is a pretty impressive achievement, especially in an era where movement of players is so common place. I’m sure that when he leads the team out onto the pitch tomorrow, he’ll get the applause he deserves…
…nice one, Tom.
The back row is all change, with an injury to Brett Daynes and Eoghan Grace unavailable. Ali Bone comes in at No 8, with Sam Harry and loanee Jack Willis on either side of him.
For me the back row is the one area that just hasn’t fired for most of the season. We don’t seem to be getting to the breakdown quickly enough or slowing opposition ball down and there have been very few turnover balls. There’s plenty of pace there, but I do think we lack another good no 8. With Olly Povoas injured, Ali Bone needs to make a case for him being given a lengthy run – at the moment it’s a position which I think at least 4 players have been given a try (Dyer, Povoas, Grace and Bone) and I’m not sure if the coaches have really yet seen what they’re looking for. Darrell Dyer looks better coming off the bench and will surely have a part to play in the later stages of the Fylde game, especially if it has opened up by then.
With Tom Wheatcroft picking up another knock (and how frustrating must that be for him), Corey Hircock goes back into the centre, alongside Will Maisey, where I think he looks the part. Will is fast becoming the club’s utility back which is hardly surprising given he has been pretty consistent all season. He is probably second to Tony Fenner at the moment, but has performed well when he’s played in midfield on previous outings.
A surprise for some will be that even though Tom Wheatcroft is out, Rob Knox remains on the bench.
RW was full of praise for him on Tuesday and made the comment that when Rob plays well, invariably the backs do, too. He is a natural finisher, and the tries he’s scored so far haven’t been run-ins by any means. But he has found himself isolated at times, without the space he needs and with a lack of support around him. I don’t think the Will Maisey/Corey Hircock pairing is anything other than a tactical, short term selection and imagine that Knoxy will be back in the centres before too long…and if the game provide the backs with space to run into on Saturday, then Rob could well be a player to exploit those gaps in the last 30.
It’s hard to know what to make of the decision to play both the Wasps loanee backs out wide on Saturday. It’s always exciting to see talented youngsters come in, knowing these are players who are being fast-tracked to Premiership rugby and are likely to be appearing regularly in top tier fixtures before too long. But their opportunity obviously comes at the expense of Coventry players and in particular, in this instance, Dan Rundle. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened for Dan so far. He’s clearly not lost his pace since returning, but he’s not had much of the ball at all and opportunities to run at defences have been few and far between.
With Coventry on the back foot for much of the last three games, it’s Dan’s defences skills that have been tested more than any and whilst he is clearly improving all the time, and will do so even more under the watchful eye of Nick Walshe and James Pritchard, it is not the strongest part of his game. If Cov return to the full-on, enterprising rugby that saw the ball spread wide and at pace in the earlier games, then Dan and Max Trimble will create mayhem in opposition defences. But with Coventry not giving much width to the ball of late, Dan is finding it much harder to get himself involved. He’ll get his turn again soon, of that I have no doubt, and hopefully in a Cov side that has recaptured some of it’s pre-season form. Dan will still end up one of Cov’s top two or three try scorers this season.
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I’m really looking forward to seeing Pete White get involved in the tomorrow’s game at some point. He joined Cov as the first choice scrum half but his injury has side-lined him until now and having completed his first week of full contact training, he’s already on the bench. He looks like he plays with a sense of urgency and I think he could be pivotal in Cov getting back to the attacking game that is RW’s preferred style. I remember RW saying in a conversation back in Jersey that White is a natural leader, a real talker on the pitch (he might even have used the word ‘gobby’, although I could well be making that up!)…if that is the case, he might well be the catalyst needed to get the forwards rumbling again and provide the early ball to unlock the backs.
I’ve enjoyed watching Rhodri Adamson though, he’s done well in difficult circumstances – at times his pass can put the receiver under a bit of pressure, but generally he’s given a really good account of himself.
The weather might yet play an important part in the outcome of the game. Even with RW’s intention of getting back to a running game this weekend, a wet pitch and slippery ball could mean that the forwards get more and more into the game and if that is the case, then you’d have to fancy a Coventry side that has been so dominant in the set pieces. If it remains dry, then the outcome could be a lot closer, with much depending on Cov’s ability to strangle Fylde’s possession at source and use the ball they get more effectively than they have over the last three games.
It has all the makings of a great game of rugby with Fylde coming into some decent form, but away against a Cov side that has underperformed on its travels but one that will relish playing any side at home and certainly won’t be lacking in confidence after their last display in front of Cov fans two weeks ago, against Hartpury. Both play a brand of rugby that is exciting and frustrating to watch, and there’s bound to be lots of opportunities created for both teams. I remembered writing in a post last year that if I had to watch another National 1 side regularly, other than Cov, I would always choose Fylde. I love the way they play their rugby and I admire Paul Arnold a great deal…I guess he’ll put in a shift tomorrow as well…
I’m really looking forward to seeing Cov get back to the type of rugby that we all want to see – fast, expansive and, ultimately, winning rugby. I hope that Cov can really turn it on for their supporters and produce the kind of performance that will ensure everyone leaves the ground believing that with some ‘easier’ fixtures to come, Cov can begin to put a run together. The arrival of the three Wasps loanees will send a message to the rest of the squad that RW is not against adding greater strength and depth where it is needed and that no place in the team is guaranteed. If players ever need motivating, then surely this is one way of achieving it.
Will the addition of the three Wasps youngsters add a sting to the tale…a roller coaster of a story that certainly is providing it’s ups and downs already this season?
Confidence is key; if that returns Cov are going to do some serious damage to someone. That’s a way off yet, but it will happen.
I’ll be praying to the great god of rugby tonight that we see something special from Cov tomorrow…
…and hope He’s not a Fylde supporter.
Coventry need a good performance against Fylde.
And I really think we’ll see one…