Sometimes there is a fine line between winning and losing.
In yesterday’s game against Plymouth, it was pencil thin.
A 4H pencil at that.
And whilst there will rightly be lots of concerns expressed about a Coventry second half performance in which we almost contrived to lose a game that we were 26-5 up in at half time, the positives will always outweigh the negatives for me.
And the biggest positive of all…?
Having conceded a penalty in the last 2 minutes of normal time to go 31-33 down, we kept our heads and played 5 or 6 of the best minutes of rugby of its kind I’ve seen Cov play for a long time.
In past seasons, more often than not the game would have been over at that point, but there was no evidence of panic or of players unable to cope with the occasion. After another piece of individual skill from James Stokes, we worked the ball left and right around their 22, and after several phases of play Plymouth, desperate to stem the Coventry tide of possession, infringed in front of their posts and Will Maisey duly kicked us into a one point lead.
To huge cheers.
But Cov still had a bit to do.
Plymouth kicked deep into our half from the restart. Too often in the past, we would have either been turned over or succumbed to the intense Plymouth pressure and incurred the wrath of the referee and lost the game with the last kick of the match.
But not this time. The forwards kept the ball tight, the pods that Rowland Winter has talked about worked the ball, phase after phase, to count the clock down and eventually Rhodri Adamson was able to kick the ball into touch and the game was ours.
To the immense relief of the crowd.
It was as good a 5 or 6 minute passage of play from Cov as you could have hoped for. We looked completely in control, even though to the partisan home supporters it probably didn’t feel like it.
Seldom has victory tasted so sweet; not because this was a barnstorming victory à la Macclesfield or Loughborough, but because we manned up and showed we can play a type of rugby that we’re going to need every now and again in this league.
A while back Rowland Winter talked about the absence of a ‘shared experience’. This is a ‘new’ team, with limited previous experiences on which to build. There was nothing to draw on in terms of coming back from the metaphorical dead as we did yesterday. It had to be ‘learned’ for the first time.
But now it’s another experience in the bank; the squad has proved it can win from seemingly difficult, if not desperate, positions. We have that shared experience and we’ll be all the stronger for it.
And it was an experience worth sharing.
Even if it was a bit of a roller coaster of a ride for the supporters.
It was a fantastic game of rugby and had there been neutrals in the ground yesterday, then they would have left having seen a pulsating game in which both teams played running, expansive rugby and in the end probably feeling the better team prevailed. Plymouth were immense and hardly deserved to lose and for their supporters it was another long journey back home.
And a word for the Plymouth supporters, too. They were there at the BPA in numbers, always able to be heard and a credit to their team. I hope other clubs see our away supporters in the same way as we saw Plymouth’s yesterday…you couldn’t ask for any more than that.
At half time, we looked to be cruising. Three converted tries in front and playing the sort of fast, expansive rugby that makes Cov irrepressible at times. Plymouth had had their moments too, but they couldn’t live with Cov when they started to hit overdrive. We should have had another 15 or more points in the bag, but a couple of forward passes meant tries were disallowed and a failure to pass resulted in another 5 points going begging.
And at the other end, Cov had to resort to a couple of last ditch tackles, one from James Stokes in particular stood out, to prevent Plymouth from crossing the line and they certainly will have felt they missed their chances, too.
Whereas it seemed like our decision making in the second half had gone awol, in the first we got it just about spot on. When we earned ourselves penalties in kickable range, we declined option to go for the corner and Will Maisey, growing into the role as the first choice kicker, duly obliged. And it won us the game in the end, giving us that crucial cushion going into the second half without which Plymouth would have been home and hosed in the final 10 minutes.
But if the decision making was good in the first half, come the second half it was poor. Very poor.
Or at least the decisions might have been the right ones, but our ability to play to them was poor…
The decision to throw long, 5 metres from their line, might have been the correct option, but for whatever reason the throw flew over the head of the last man in the line, allowing Plymouth to pick up the loose ball, run the length of the pitch in a flowing move and after a couple more phases, score the try that put us under increasing pressure. I’m sure there’s a really good argument for throwing to the back of the line-out n that situation, but it’s always more risky…
And then there were the couple of occasions where we tried to be too clever in the scrum and hold the ball in to earn ourselves a penalty. Close to our line perhaps isn’t the best place to do that and as the scrum seemed to break up and the referee waved play on, Plymouth were able to steal the ball and use it to deadly effect.
Another five points…thank you very much.
Christmas is getting close and all we needed was the wrapping paper.
The third try Plymouth scored resulted from another Cov error. From our own scrum Pete White, who had such an impressive first half, threw a poor pass under the shadows of our posts, Plymouth pounced and over they went.
Three tries that will probably have frustrated the coaches as much as they did the spectators.
But there was much that was good and it would be wrong to dwell on the mistakes. There were some notably performances out there on the pitch yesterday. Darrell Dyer was given the Man of the Match Award and certainly he stood out all game, but there were plenty of other notable performances.
James Stokes continues to terrorise defences when he runs at them and must have carried the ball a good few yards. Rob Knox, who came on for the injured Tony Fenner in the first half, again caused some problems for the Plymouth defence, although had he did hang on to the ball too long on his first run…in a similar position second time round, his off-load lead to an Owain James try.
Will Maisey performed well and his kicking in some respects won us the game, missing just one conversion as I recall…? He’s such a useful player to have in the squad and his ability to play fly half and/or centre gives the coaches a lot more options.
Pete White look sharp for the first 40 minutes and he’s clearly going to have a big impact over the remainder of the season. However, it speaks volumes that RW could turn to young Rhodri Adamson in the final quarter at a time when Coventry were under considerable pressure and be confident he would do the job.
And he did.
For those of you who haven’t watched Cov’s cross-bar challenge, run by Rugby Nats, Rhodri is anything but….!
If you watch the clip below, Rhodri’s last up…
— Rugby Nats (@RugbyNatsUK) October 19, 2016
The scrum didn’t have it all its own way yesterday, but it was good enough to put Plymouth under pressure and win several key penalties, forcing Plymouth to change 2 of their front row very early on. The back row was busy both in attack and defence with Jack Willis again prominent, supported by Darrell Dyer and Eoghan Grace who does a lot of hard graft. without getting the accolades he probably deserves. Perhaps the one disappointment was that Freddie Tuilagi wasn’t able to produce the kind of performance that we’d all hope for…maybe the situation got the better of him, but he dropped a couple of passes at key moments and looked a bit out of sorts. His moment will come, but having made his entrance at the start of the second half, the decision to replace him well before the end was clearly the right one.
It was the second rows, though, who stood out for me on the day. Rob Conquest was strong in all that he did and put in a massive shift in defence and Brendon Snyman was everywhere, running a good 40 metres at one point down the right wing in the first half and putting in a try saving tackle the other end a little later. I’m sure his experience was invaluable in those last 10 minutes or so and he would definitely have been my MoM (talking of which…don’t forget to vote if you haven’t already done so – see below).
And the biggest crowd of the season did their bit, too; even when the wheels looked like they might be coming off in the final quarter, they got behind the players and the noise was cranked up a level or two. It’s games like yesterday’s that are going to entice back those supporters who have been absent these last 20 months or so.
No one will have left feeling short-changed in any way…it was the pulsating, end-to-end game, edge-of-your-seats sort of game that leaves you drained but hugely satisfied. Those who attended the first members’ forum will probably recall Rowland Winter saying that the style of rugby his teams play will sometimes result in games like this – a win by a point and at times with a defence that can be frustrating to watch.
But a win it was and I certainly left the ground happy and relieved. If rugby was ever to be measured by the value for money it provides, then games like this would certainly top the league.
Not one for the purists, or for the faint-hearted for that matter, but in terms of excitement…
And another important psychological boost to come out of this win is that we’ve beaten one of the top four teams for the first time this season. If that’s the sort of position we ought to be aiming for come the end of the season (and it is), well…we’ve set out our marker. We know that if we can play with the freedom we showed at times yesterday, but tighten up a lot more defensively and make the right decisions in the right areas of the pitch, then when Moseley and Blackheath come and enjoy our hospitality off the pitch, we can ensure that on it we are rather less welcoming.
We have started a much needed run, albeit of just two games.
Up to 7th and the gap between us and 4th place just 5 points. This is a tight league this year and a run of any sort is going to make a big difference.
Hull next week…always a tough place to go, but this win should give the squad a big confidence boost.
And doesn’t a win make for a much happier weekend if you’re a supporter?
I began the week with a quote from the Plymouth Herald:
WHISPER it softly, but Plymouth Albion’s bunch of newbies are starting to look like a pretty decent team.
Guess what…maybe, just maybe the same is true of Cov, too.
Off to prepare the registers for the coach to Hull…
See you there.
Just in case you haven’t yet voted for yesterday’s ‘Man of the Match’ award…
If you were at the game and would like to take part, all you need to do is click on the circle next to the player who is your choice of Man of the Match. The software only allows one vote, although you can change your mind provided you do so before clicking on the ‘Vote’ button.
The more people who participate, the more accurate an indication it is of who supporters who have voted for…
Please give it a go.
Results on Monday.