Coventry v Cambridge…Enjoying a No. 2
At home, against newly promoted Cambridge, a team 5 points below us in the league and one that had only won one game in six on their travels, Coventry held all the aces.
Or so it seemed.
Yet as favourites for the game, the pressure was very much on Cov. And the pressure was always going to be more than for most games, given the fact that so many Coventry players have Cambridge connections.
And we all know what pressure can do to a team, or to individuals within a team. Too often it’s been Coventry’s undoing in the past.
That Coventry won, and if truth be told, in the end won with some ease, says much for this group of players.
There were plenty of personal duels going on out there, little points to prove and probably scores to settle, but as the final whistle blew Coventry had certainly earned the bragging rights for the next few months. And credit must go to both teams for playing such an open and expansive game, with no apparent niggles or loss of self-control from either side. I’d been prepared for the occasional pushing and shoving, the odd throwing of handbags, but we witnessed nothing to suggest that there was any dissention between the two sides, whatsoever.
The final 24 hours prior to the game saw the late withdrawals of James Stokes and Matt Price.
Interestingly, of the two, the loss of Matt Price was arguably a greater concern as it left us short of a replacement hooker. With Jake Byrne drafted on to the bench, it was Jimmy Litchfield who was practising throwing into the lineout in the pre-match warm up, so presumably had Scott Tolmie left the field, it would have been Jimmy who would have played at 2? I might have misread the situation there, but I’m not sure who else would have replaced him.
Maybe with Coventry often not opting to hook the ball directly this season, relying instead on the 8 man drive over the ball from the whole pack, they felt they were better served with the inclusion of another prop.
Coventry opted to turn to their Development Squad for a replacement and whilst Will Priestley could have been expected to come into the side, instead it was Jake. And it proved absolutely the correct decision. Called into the game with 20 minutes or so to go to replace Boris Stankovich (now there’s something he can tell his future grandchildren), Jake slotted into the team like a natural and the biggest compliment I can pay him is to say that you would never have known he was making his club debut, and at just 19, too.
I’m pretty sure it’s his birthday tomorrow – I should think the celebrations started early in the Byrne household this weekend!
And whilst I know I’m going slightly off-piste here, Rowland Winter (and indeed Jon Sharp) should take some credit here for creating the Development Squad as one of his first initiatives when he arrived.
Taking promising young, and mostly local, talent and nurturing it with a view to bridging the gap school and senior club rugby always seemed an innovative move. Whilst Henley College is on our doorstep, having our own youngsters attached directly to the club always seemed a good idea, making them rather less accessible to the overtures of premiership teams.
And how that decision has already paid off…Jake, a local lad, has now sampled the bigger, if not big, time and will surely have enjoyed the experience. What greater motivating force is there for those in the Development Squad who see Jake’s inclusion and believe their day will hopefully come too.
James Stokes’ absence, whilst significant, was less difficult to cover, with Cliffie Hodgson stepping into the team from the bench and James Pritchard replacing him. James must have been really looking forward to playing against his former club and on his birthday as well. As Coventry’s most effective attacking weapon, there was a danger that as a result of his absence we might have lost some options with ball in hand.
Ever the crowd favourite, the disappointment of James’ exclusion was greatly lessened by Cliffie’s presence on the pitch. He must have been pleased with his performance as well, settling quickly into the pace of the game and almost finishing off a flowing move with a try following a little shimmy/dummy that left the defender standing.
For a minute or two, it looked as if he had damaged his shoulder again as he went over (or didn’t as the case may be) but there was huge relief as Hannah applied her magic sponge and it became clear that Cliffie would continue. Psychologically, every bang and bump in that area must create a bit of uncertainty but having got through the game and had such a big impact on the eventual outcome must have put him in great heart. And his kicking out of hand, especially in dead ball situations, was impressive and we gained good metres time and time again…another real positive to come out of the game.
The opening 10 minutes were a pretty dour affair, with little evidence that Cambridge would end up conceding 8 tries (I can’t count!) in what would become a pretty one-sided contest. Scott Tolmie’s opening try seemed to release any pressure that Coventry might have been feeling and gradually the team began to play with a little more freedom as the backs got more and more into the game. That said, the fact that five of the eight tries scored by Cov were claimed by the forwards is indicative of just how dominant they were.
And how fitting was it that Scott Tolmie should score the opening try.
His was a commanding performance out there yesterday.
There are lots of players, especially in the forwards, who put in the graft and barely get a mention…the Brendon Snymans, Andy Browns, Phil Boultons, Brett Daynes’ and Jimmy Litchfields for instance. Players without whom Cov would struggle, doing the basics so effectively as to allow the rest of the team to do the showy bits. Players like Tom Jubb and Darrell Dyer always get themselves noticed simply because of their mobility and impact with the ball, or without it on occasions…but Scott Tolmie is different.
When he has a good game, you tend to know about it.
I can’t recall a game in which a Coventry hooker has carried the ball quite such a distance as Scott did yesterday. I mean this in the nicest possible way, but he’s not the fittest looking of players, yet he clearly must be to put in the kind of performance we saw yesterday. We’ve had some good hookers at Cov in recent years, often hookers who score their fair share of tries too, as was the case with Matt Price and Devlin Hope last season, but I can’t recall such a good ball carrier at 2 for Cov since…well, a young Richard Cockerill, perhaps? Or John Gray before him…?
He has real pace for such a solid player and his 70-80 metre run down the right wing in the first half left a couple of players for dead – he can even be forgiven for not passing to Darrel Dyer out to his left, such was the enjoyment the crowd got from that run (but probably not by the coaching staff!). The try Owain James scored, the video clip of which has been kindly posted on the Messageboard by Camera Shake, was the result of another Tolmie break with a little more awareness of the man outside him this time – or two in actual fact, as both Pete White and Darrel Dyer (again) were queuing up to receive the pass.
And with no obvious replacement as hooker, Scott stayed out the full 80 minutes, something he has rarely, if ever, had to do with Matt Price on the bench. It was a great individual performance and one that will live long in the memory.
In a previous post I mentioned that I felt the Pete White would be centre stage, marshalling the players around him and controlling the direction of play.
For once I called it right.w
Pete White had a very effective game, alternating between short passes out to the forwards lining up to receive the ball and the quick pass out wide to release the backs. He read the game really well and was akin to a midfield general in football, slowing down or speeding up play to such good effect. His inclusion has added another dimension to Cov’s game and with Rhodri Adamson waiting in the wings, as well as Sam Grasso, Coventry have three quality scrum halves – something we’ve not had for many a year.
Much of the attacking play we saw yesterday was built on the back of another immense display from the forwards. Cov enjoyed complete dominance in the scrums and the penalty count in our favour gave us a huge territorial advantage as we opted to kick for touch rather than run the quick tap. It must be demoralising for the opposition to work their way up the pitch and get themselves in a decent position from which to launch an attack only to be awarded a scrum and then find themselves back where they started as quickly as Cliffie can swing his boot.
Your feed should mean your advantage, but that wasn’t always the case yesterday such was the dominance of the Coventry pack. The lineout performed well too, for the most part, and when you have that sort of platform, well it makes life that much easier.
The backs were effective in much that they did, although without James Stokes in the side, they lost a little in attack. The combination of Fenner, Wheatcroft and Hircock worked well and provided plenty of ball for the wings to prosper from, Rob Knox again looked a threat whenever he got the ball and, of late, he seems to be breaking the gain line every time he gets the ball. He is settling into the side now and despite initial reservations about him playing out wide, he seems to be fitting into the role well.
This was a game won by a team that included a couple of Wasps Academy players, not won because of their inclusion. Both Jack Willis and Owain James had very good games, but they weren’t the standout players this time around.
Which is as it should be.
They add much to the squad, but we mustn’t be over reliant on them and yesterday we saw very much a 15 man performance. Jack W and Owain J both contributed to the overall performance, with Willis again prominent particularly going forward and James scoring, as he has done in every game he’s played (?). We didn’t have cause to defend as much as we have done in recent occasions so perhaps that explains why they weren’t quite so noticeable as in previous games; I have a feeling we might see a little more of that side of their game next week!
This was a really encouraging performance. Still not the 80 minute performance and had it been so, Cambridge might well have left the game with little to show on the scoreboard at all.
But however good the win was, it must be put into context…
At the moment, Coventry are in danger of becoming the equivalent of cricket’s ‘flat track bullies’, with the exception of an improving Blaydon, putting 50 points past teams below us in the league more often than not, but unable to produce anything like as convincing a performance against teams in the top half of the table. It’s not a huge worry at the moment, this squad is still very much a work in progress, but at some stage we need to be beating the top teams every now and again and sending out a signal to the rest of the league that Coventry is a team that is hunting down the clubs above us and before too long we will up there, looking down, rather than down in sixth place, looking up.
It was great to see the club shop open…more on that later in the week. It was a fantastic effort from all involved.
Rosslyn Park is going to be a real test next week. Although below us in the league, they are in a rich vein of form at the moment and to come away with a win from any London based team this season would be a real bonus…
Place on the coach already booked…
Should be an excellent day out…