Coventry v Blaydon – plus ca change…
…plus c’est la même chose.
The more it changes, the more it stays the same.
Make 11 changes to the starting XV (and 2 positional), and in most seasons the team you’d end up with would be pretty much a 2nd XV. A team considerably weakened by the addition of a large number of fringe players who haven’t been able to hold down a regular 1st team place.
But not so this season.
There’s nothing ‘fringe’ about this team whatsoever. The more changes that Rowland Winter makes, the more we see just how strong this present squad is… arguably stronger than any we’ve had at any time since we were relegated into National 1 back in 2010.
And here’s a scoop for the blog – Dan Rundle comes into the side to replace James Stokes who was injured in training yesterday evening, with James Pritchard moving to full back to accommodate Dan on the wing.
JP will also take the kicks.
The team announced to play Blaydon at home on Saturday looks strong on paper, one that is more than capable of beating what might be a resurgent Blaydon team fresh from winning its first game of the season last weekend against Fylde.
However, we know to our cost that if you take the opposition too lightly in this league, you do so at your peril.
The point was made early on in pre-season that there was genuine strength in depth in this squad and we are now beginning to see the real benefits. It might be a relatively small squad, but an emphasis on the prevention of injuries as much as on their treatment has ensured that we haven’t been hit, as yet, by the annual injury crisis that seems to befall us most seasons, and usually well before game 10.
Rowland Winter has been in the enviable position of not only being able to make 11 changes, of which 3 are just to give key players a ‘rest’, but to do so without apparently weakening the side to any great extent. To do so is a massive bonus and to have those sorts of options available suggests that RW and the coaches got their recruitment over the summer pretty much spot on. Whether the team performs on the day is an altogether different matter, but with all the players coming into the side on Saturday having already played in National 1 this season, the consistency is there and, hopefully, the players should be able to slot straight into the team from the first whistle.
In the longer term, it also means that as conditions get heavier and other teams’ squads suffer more from injuries and fatigue, RW can select from players who are much fresher and far less affected by a run of tough and demanding fixtures, especially in the forwards.
And the bench includes 5 replacements whom the coaches could happily include in any starting line-up. Last season, once we had to rely on players outside of our best starting XV, we were in trouble and because injuries struck so early into the league campaign, we never really recovered. I kind of think that the situation we are currently seeing at the moment is what Scott Morgan and Phil Maynard had envisaged would be the case 15 months ago< But it just didn’t happen and, having seen all the support structures that have been put in place by the coaching team this year, it’s not difficult to see why last year went the way it did. Under RW, the backroom support staff , including Rob Norman and Hannah Walker, are so professional in their approach that they can identify injury concerns before they even happen and players can be rotated to prevent long term lay offs. It’s not something that has really been highlighted to any great extent, but I do think it is beginning to make a significant difference.
This year there’s a squad of around 33-34 players, any one of whom could slip into the match day XV without there being any adverse impact on the team. Take the backs …from last week out go the Wasps players James and Howe as well as Stokes, Hircock who is rested (and who I think has played more minutes in Nat 1 than any other Cov player), Maisey and White. Only Knoxy remains and he goes on the wing. That’s a significant turnover of players. In come Pritchard, Rundle, Hodgson, Wheatcroft, Fenner and Adamson. What you lose in pace with the absence of Stokes, then you definitely gain in experience with James Pritchard’s inclusion and should we need to defend, JP is definitely the man to have out there. Wheatcroft looked very sharp when he came on last week and would probably be first choice in that position anyway and Cliffie is always at his best when the game opens up and he should bring Rob Knox more into the game (so the theory goes anyway). The late call up for Dan Rundle will certainly add extra pace into the backs and like the player he’s replacing, potentially he can win you the game in one moment of brilliance. It’s a big game for Dan…
Rob Knox hasn’t yet been able to settle to any one position, having started out on the wing, returned to the centres and is now back out wide again. I don’t know Rob at all, but he appears to be what I’d term a ‘confidence’ player – the better he plays, the more his confidence grows, the better he plays…two or three decent games under his belt and I think we’ll see the Rob Knox of old and, when we do, it will spell trouble for the opposition. There have been glimpses of it from Rob this season, he’s made a few of those signature breaks from deep and scored a couple of individual tries which remind of us of just what a talent he is, but it’s still not quite there for him. It will come and tomorrow’s game is an opportunity to stake a claim out wide, especially as Max Trimble was injured earlier in the week and could be out for another month or so.
Pete White’s performance at scrum half last week was as good as we’ve seen from a number 9 for a while, but the decision to play Rhodri is, in my view, absolutely the right one. Blaydon is his former club and I do think it is a nice touch that the DoR and coaches have recognised that and given him a starting spot. Pete won’t need a rest as such, although he has been out for 6 months or more, and I’m sure he’ll be itching to carry on from where he left off last week butthere won’t be any need to motivate Rhodri and he’ll be desperate to be on the winning team, I’m sure. He has earned the right to play out there on Saturday with some really strong performances this season, which makes it an even better story, given he was probably at one stage fourth in the pecking order of scrum halves when Sam Grasso arrived a couple of weeks into the start of the season.Who knows what will happen when Sam returns to full fitness, but it seems pretty clear to me that Rhodri, along with Will Maisey, are key members of the squad and between then they can cover all areas in the back division with perhaps the exception of the wings.
Both Tom Howe and Owain James will be missed (I think James is now the leading try scorer for the club with 5 tries after just 3 games!). The Wasps youngsters have brought a lot to the team but we showed against Macclesfield and Loughborough just how devastating we can be without them, so I’m certainly not overly worried on that front and you’d hope we won’t be stretched on Saturday quite as much as we were by Plymouth, or Hull for that matter. Their defensive play was a big factor in our wins against both teams and whilst both James and Howe have scored in the games they played for us, it is their defensive work that will be most missed.
Apart from the absence of Brendon Snyman, who for me has had as big an influence as anyone in the side this season, that could almost be a first choice set of forwards anyway.
I know Tom Jubb has a question mark over him as far as his discipline is concerned, but from a spectator’s point of view he does have something about him that always makes him so interesting to watch…another one of those players you’d want to have a match cam on all game. Given he’s played a lot of his rugby in the back row anyway, the move to blind side could be a really positive one…another one of those ‘left of field’ decisions which we should be getting used to by now! There was a belief for a couple of seasons that Danny Wright could play in the back row, but it never worked out for him. However, Tom Jubb is a very different kind of player and having played his representative rugby at 6, including for England in the U20s World Cup, it shouldn’t be a worry. I did ask RW whether it was a risk – and you know when sometimes you ask what you think is a reasonable question and as soon as the answer comes back you wish you’d never opened your mouth…that was me yesterday. RW smiled sympathetically, reeled off all representative honours Tom Jubb had received playing at 6 and made it obvious that it was anything but. I should have known better than to ask…
Boris and Scott Tolmie start with Andy Brown and Matt Price to come on later in the game when the opposition forwards are starting to tire – there can’t be a coach in the whole of National 1 who won’t be envious of having that sort of depth. It does gives us a big advantage and once again, as in every game so far, you have to believe that Coventry will have the edge up front and provide the possession and territory (through the forwards’ ability to put so much pressure on the opposition scrum that the referee has to penalise them) to give the backs enough ball to do some damage if we hold onto the ball, stay patient, break the gain line and off load to the flyers. Simple.
And then, of course, there’s the small matter of Daynes, White and Maisey to come on as and when required! Now as benches go, it’s pretty damned strong – especially when you then realise that there are a number of decent payers who haven’t even managed to secure a place in the match day squad. Cov appear to be in a really good place at the moment and if we can get the win against Blaydon, and that’s by no means assured, then it does set us up well for the trip to Ampthill.
Now that, too , is going to be a real test, the kind of test we failed so poorly when we travelled down to both Esher and Blackheath. Ampthill really will be an indicator of just how much the squad has come on and how much they have learned in the 4 or 5 weeks since that Esher game. With Ampthill in mind, the decision to rest Snyman, Corey Hircock and Phil Boulton seems an eminently sensible one to me, a precaution if nothing else, as is the decision to start Pete White on the bench.
I rather suspect that there will be a full supporters’ coach for the visit to Ampthill next week and I understand that places are filling up quickly, so if you are intending to travel down with the SC, I suggest you make your way over to the Supporters’ Club desk in the clubhouse before kick off on Saturday and book your seats.
Hopefully, Cov will get off to a flyer again on Saturday and it will be a case of Blaydon not even reaching the races, let alone taking part in them. It’s a great chance for the likes of Cliff Hodgson, Rob Knox, Rhodri Adamson, Tom Jubb, Matt Poole and co. to press their cases for a more regular starting place and it should add a little something extra to the intensity of the game.
The size of the crowd, too, will be of interest on Saturday. With Cov hoping for a fourth consecutive victory, you’d expect another decent gate, but that has to be weighed against Cov facing at home a club struggling at the foot of National 1 and as such they probably aren’t going to be the crowd puller that, say, a Plymouth or Blackheath might be. Anything over the 1164 we saw a couple of weeks ago would be a fantastic effort, even if that is below what we might have hoped for at the start of the season. Another 1000+ crowd would be a positive and anything lower and I think, in all honestly, that would be a bit disappointing, although that might not be quite how the club sees it.