Club talk

Blood and Sand – a why and a few wherefores

In yesterday’s post I asked if anyone could offer an explanation as to why Cambridge RUFC is often referred to as ‘Blood and Sand’, especially by its supporters.

It wasn’t an act of laziness on my part as I had genuinely spent some time ‘googling’ the Internet for an answer. Failing dismally, I thought I’d throw the question open via the blog in the sure and certain knowledge that there would be someone out there in the ether somewhere, far better informed and willing to put me out of my misery.

And hey, there was…

So the ‘why‘ first, and  a big ‘thank you’ to JJ Jeffrey for providing the answer:

And there it is…the club was formed in 1923 to honour those who died in the ‘Great’ War.

I would imagine that with the loss of so many young men of rugby playing age during the ’14-’18 conflict, together with the millions who must have suffered appalling injuries, both physical and mental, the pool of players to select from in the early years post 1918 would have been greatly diminished. I rather suspect that the formation of Cambridge RUFC mirrors the growth of the next generation of young men, some of whom might still have been playing around the time of the outbreak of WW2, some 16 years later, as would have been the case with the more established Coventry RFC

The club’s existence, therefore, is a rather timely and  poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by so many young men, and women, in the service of their country and the relevance of this can not be understated coming so soon as it does after the Ampthill debacle.

Anyway, many thanks to JJ for answering my query…he’ll be at the game on Saturday and hopefully I’ll be able to say my thanks in person.

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And now, here are the ‘wherefores

Thanks is definitely something I won’t be directing Fylde’s way this week…

Cambridge played themselves into some decent form against Fylde last weekend, beating them by a whopping 36 point margin and ‘nilling’ them in the process. Having lost three tough fixtures prior to last weekend, Cambridge will be full of confidence and eager to face a Coventry side who hardly did themselves justice against Ampthill last weekend. Coventry might have hoped for something more from Fylde and Cambridge must fancy their chances against a Coventry team that is proving a little inconsistent at the moment.

The defeat last week against Ampthill though shouldn’t have done anything to damage the confidence Coventry must have when playing at home in front of a big and, at times, partisan crowd. And there’s nothing wrong with being partisan in my book, provided you are respectful to the opposition at the same time – which I think Coventry are, by and large.

Cambridge look to be similar to Coventry in that they don’t travel too well, having won only one of their six away games, against Rosslyn Park back in Week 2, something that I’m sure won’t have gone unnoticed by the Coventry coaches. They also like to play an open, attacking brand of rugby, similar to that which Coventry have produced at times this season.

That said, the ‘expansive, quick taps, no kicks, run everything from deep’ game plan that was so evident pre-season, hasn’t been quite so prominent as the weeks have worn on and Coventry has shown that it is far more willing to take a more pragmatic approach to its rugby than we might have expected back in September. There are times when we still produce the odd champagne moment, often when the likes of James Stokes or Rob Knox receive the ball in a bit of space deep in our own half, but we have tended to kick out of hand far more in many of the games of late. That’s no bad thing, but it does require the kicker to find the spaces rather than the player, otherwise the ball tends to be run back at us or returned with interest.

I thought we chased the kicks down far more effectively against Ampthill, led particularly by Rob Knox, James Stokes and James Pritchard, and the only try we scored came from pressure exerted on the receiver by Knoxy. Quite whether we’ll kick as much against Cambridge remains to be seen, but with Cambridge looking to attack far more than most sides, perhaps Coventry will want to exploit some of the gaps that are sure to open up as a result, especially if we counter attack at pace.

Judging by the Cambridge’s own match report, they were able to put together a near 80 minute performance:

It was the first time under coach Ross Stewart that Cambridge have remained completely focused for the full 80 minutes, and demonstrated they can put in a complete performance with excellent organisation and very few individual errors, which at times have been costly for Cambridge this season…

…something that Coventry has yet to do. Despite having some big wins, there have been spells in every game where we have let the opposition back into the game, something we can ill afford to do against a Cambridge side that is more than capable of taking full advantage of the ill-discipline that has been the hallmark of one or two of our encounters this season.

Coventry are averaging 40 points a game at home and if Cambridge do find themselves making errors, then Coventry have the players throughout the team to cause them real problems. It’s hard not to believe the forwards will have dominance in the set pieces, especially the scrums, given that with the possible exception of Blaydon’s pack, we have had the edge in every game. In the backs, so far this season we have been somewhat inconsistent and have struggled to break the line at times and although we’ve had territorial advantage, as well as plenty of possession, we haven’t been able to turn it into a points’ advantage. Too many times we’ve come out of the opposition 22 with nothing to show on the scoreboard and that is something of a concern.

It might well be that we see the return of the Wasps Academy players this weekend with the resumption of the Aviva Premiership fixtures, following a two week lay off to allow the Anglo-Welsh games to take place.  Although Jack Willis has taken most of the plaudits, and rightly so with a couple of eye-catching performances, both the young wingers made significant contributions in the games they have played and have given the team far more attacking options than we have seen since the injury to Max Trimble. If they are to return to the team, they will provide  far more balance to the three quarters, both in attack and defence.

Indeed, it was their almost innate ability to be in the right place at the right time when we are defending that was the real difference for me.  Would we have lost against Ampthill last weekend had they been playing…impossible to say, but I do think we might have played a slight different game which wouldn’t have involved quite so much kicking and with ball in hand, both Tom Howe and Owain James are a real threat. Incredibly, Owain James remains Coventry’s leading try scorer having only played in three games this season!

It’s another one of those games where it’s hard to see if being anything other than a high scoring game and it wouldn’t surprise me if the losing team still gets a 4 try bonus point. Perhaps I’m doing a disservice to our players here, but I do think a lot will depend on whether they allow the occasion to get the better of them. There could be 4 or 5 of the Coventry team facing their former team mates, and that is bound to change the dynamics a little, however professional you are in your approach. It could certainly impact on the intensity of the game and therefore, as likely as not, on the possible discipline of the players.

Points to prove? The odd score to settle?

Perhaps…

Which is why Coventry need to start the game as we know they are capable…direct, fast, with quick ball sucking in the Cambridge defences before spreading the ball out wide to the likes of Knox, Stokes  and Hircock to exploit the gaps. A few times this season already, we have seen the damage Coventry can do to teams that struggle with the pace and power we sometimes exert early on, with the likes of Macclesfield, Loughborough and Fylde all succumbing to a blitz of first half tries from which there was no real recovery. We will probably know Cambridge’s game plan better than they will know ours and hopefully Rowland Winter and Brendan Burke will have been able to use their inside knowledge to good effect out on the training ground this week.

And team selection this week could be interesting with the possibility of the Wasps players’ involved again, as well as a few injury concerns following the bruising encounter last week. Olly Povoas will be out of the reckoning, and the injuries to James Stokes and Eoghan Grace looked to be serious enough to cast doubt on their  involvement in this weekend’s game. That would be particularly unfortunate for James Stokes as Saturday is also his birthday, and I rather expect he would have enjoyed nothing better than a win against his former club and a few friendly beers afterwards. If he is unavailable for selection, it might be that RW turns to Cliffie who might well relish the chance to play in what I’ve always felt to be his best position and in a game that would probably give him plenty of chances to link up with the three quarters in what would in a more attacking role than when we last saw him at centre a couple of weeks or so ago.

Whilst Callum MacBurnie has gone across to Birmingham Solihull to get some much needed game time, Cliffie appears to have remained at Cov, so perhaps it is felt there will yet be chances for him here over the next few weeks….?

I hope we see Callum back at Coventry before too long…he remains very popular with Coventry supporters who remember the part he played in the 2014/15 season when for a while we looked to be promotion contenders. Whilst that isn’t in itself any reason to warrant a place in the match day squad, I’d like to think that he still has something to offer Coventry between now and the end of the season.

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I can’t help but feel that the sooner this weekend is over, the better.

For both clubs it is a game that inevitably is going to viewed differently to the other fixtures and for obvious reasons, although probably more so for Cambridge than for Coventry.

A bit of a distraction.

It’s one both teams need to get out of their system; once the initial fixture has been played then subsequent ones won’t carry quite the same emotional baggage.

Games like these are always difficult to predict. On form, Coventry at home will take some beating. But Cambridge won’t need any greater motivation than that of  having an opportunity to put one over the coaches and players at Coventry who left Cambridge just a few moths ago to join an apparently bigger and more ambitious club. Yet Cambridge are just a handful of points behind Cov with the chance to be on the same number of points should they beat Cov on Saturday.

Cov bigger and more ambitious?

Maybe so.

But at the moment not a great deal better.

Should be a belter…

…although not literally, I hope.

 

 

 

 

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