Well, I certainly didn’t see that one coming…
The announcement of the Coventry team to face Old Albanian on Saturday is predictable only in its unpredictability. I’m sure there weren’t many supporters expecting to see Brendan Burke in the match day squad, let alone the starting XV.
Not that I’m complaining in the slightest.
Quite the contrary in fact.
On the two or three occasions pre-season that Brendan made an appearance, he showed what a talent he still is either at fly half or at centre. He looks to be the sort of player capable of influencing a game with one or two moments of magic, making things happen in situations where others might struggle.
In short, exactly what we’re missing in the absence of a player like James Stokes, or an out of form Dan Rundle.
Given we’d heard little of Brendan Burke on the playing front since the beginning of the league campaign, I think I’d resigned myself to not seeing him play any competitive rugby for Cov. Only last weekend he was the subject of a discussion amongst a group of travelling supporters, the overriding feeling being that he’s someone we all would have relished seeing playing in his prime.
He’s clearly fit enough (I think he came out as one of the fittest in the squad when the original testing was done back in July), so it strikes me as being a good move to get him out there and see if he can bring ‘something different’ (to quote RW) to Coventry’s attack.
Whenever he’s played, he’s produced flashes of inspiration to either break the line himself or set up those around him. A magician weaving his wand to create something out of nothing.
And sadly, with that kind of build up I haven’t really done him any favours :).
My only slight worry is that we’ve only seen him play 20-30 minute cameos and in match conditions I imagine he’ll be expected to put in a bigger shift than that…
Still, I’m excited at the prospect of watching him play in a league game for the first time. Hopefully, he’ll settle into the pace of the game quickly after having been on the sidelines for a while and show the Cov crowd just what they been missing all this time. And I have no doubt the Coventry crowd will warm to him on this, his debut league appearance wearing a Cov shirt.
I suppose the only downside of Brendan’s inclusion is that in a way it’s a tacit admission that the backs just haven’t been able create the chances we’d been hoping for these past few weeks, despite benefiting from a fair amount of possession.
I imagine given his lack of game time that he’ll do well to last beyond the 60 minute mark, so Tom Wheatcroft’s presence on the replacement bench is a good call. I think Tom has grown in confidence and stature in recent games since his return from concussion and he could well have a real impact coming on with 20-25 minutes remaining with fresh legs and hopefully with Cov having a few points in the bag.
And the good news continues with the return of Max Trimble.
He looked really sharp pre-season and in the opening couple of league games and I rather doubt we would have taken on two wingers from Wasps had Max remained fit, despite the injuries/loss of form to other players. However, with Max starting and Owain James at full back, there’s a fair amount of inexperience at 11, 14 and 15, although Corey Hircock could go out wide allowing Tom Wheatcroft to go into midfield, or Will Maisey could go to 15 and James move across to the wing. Definitely options there should they be needed.
No mention of Dan Rundle. He has looked out of sorts a little and whatever the reason, he hasn’t been able to recapture the form he showed back in the second half of the 2014/15 season prior to his injury in the summer of 2015. He doesn’t seem to have lost his pace, but at the moment the gaps just aren’t opening up for him and he’s missed a few important tackles which hasn’t helped. I’m not sure what the answer is but playing odd games here and there probably isn’t it – perhaps he needs a decent loan spell somewhere to get his confidence back and come back into a side where we aren’t struggling quite so much to get the ball out wide.
We all know what Dan’s capable of when he’s on song…he just seems to be lacking the sheet music at the moment. It’s been one of the biggest downers of the season for me because on form he’s one of the few players who really captures the imagination of the crowd – in a similar way that James Stokes does, too.
I thought there might be more changes in the front 5 given both the scrum and lineout didn’t function as well as expected last weeK. However, RW has kept faith with them, the only change being Phil Boulton in for Jimmy Litchfield.
Another surprise is the return of Freddie Tuilagi at 8. I’m glad we’re keeping hold of him as I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet by any means. Like Brendan Burke in the backs, Freddie will offer something a little different and not just because of his size and power, he is also good with ball in hand and is more than capable of creating gaps through off-loads in the tackle.
Another change in the back row sees the return of Ali Bone. It would be fair to say that Ali hasn’t yet produced the kind of form that he showed at Darlington last season. A good game tomorrow could ensure a return to his former club the weekend after, so there’s plenty of incentive for him there, not that he needs it of course.
A lucky break for Ali is very much an unlucky one for Olly Povoas who who has been forced to sit on the sidelines with yet another injury, this time to his hand. A tough few weeks it’s been for Olly, but I’m sure he’ll back in the side before too long…clearly he’s well thought of by the Coventry coaches and it he’ll get his chance again no doubt.
It’s a side that on paper looks to have a blend of youth and experience, although I don’t think it’s quite as mobile as last week’s team, though still one that will be quick around the pitch. With the likes of Jubb, Tolmie, Snyman, Bone and Tuilagi, the forwards have plenty of big ball carriers and, hopefully, we’ll see them run hard and direct at Old Albanian, committing their players to the breakdown and allowing Pete White to get the backs up and running early on.
A couple of wins now would set us up nicely, thank you very much, for the one that fixture that most of us have been waiting for these past 6 seasons…Moseley at home on the last Saturday before Christmas.
It should be a corker and who’s to say we haven’t got the squad to beat them, especially at home…? It would be great if we had a bit of forward momentum going into the game; good for the team and for the crowd which will doubtless be the best of the season, if not the last two seasons, such is the draw of our local rivals.
This weekend Moseley take on Hartpury College in a top of the table clash that could yet be decisive, even at such an early stage of the season. If Moseley lose over at Hartpury and Plymouth come unstuck away at Ampthill (been there, done that), then Hartpury could open up a 19 point lead…in effect a four game cushion which would be very difficult, but not impossible, for the chasing clubs to reel back in.
In ‘Cov on track, says Winter’, RW seems happy with the way things have gone thus far, even taking into account the disappointing away performances. The fact that he believes, ‘ Coventry are on course for a good finish to the season’ suggests that he feels that Cov will, ‘kick on’ over the remaining games to go into the close season in good heart.
Having given the players ‘plenty of opportunities to demonstrate what they’ve got and what they can add to the team’, the coaches should now have a pretty good idea of the best combinations of players and will no longer have to experiment, giving them greater consistency in selection barring any unforeseens, like injuries. Much now depends on the players getting it right away from home.
No one has yet alluded to the fact that of the teams in the top 7 places (discounting ourselves for obvious reasons) we have played all but two, Plymouth and Hartpury, away from home. Now normally that would give us a significant advantage, and it still might, but I have to concede that if we continue to show the same form away from the BPA over the remainder of the season, then any of the bottom nine clubs are equally likely to do us over! That said, I’d rather be playing the likes of Macclesfield, Fylde and Cambridge away than Moseley, Blackheath and Ampthill.
So the second half of the season should be a little kinder to us in terms of the fixtures, and with no more journeys down to London planned until next season at least, we should have a bit more success on our travels.
But we still have to make sure that our home form remains as reliable as it has up to now and that means we can’t let teams like Old Albanian come to the BPA and stop us from playing at our natural tempo. Hopefully, we’ll take the game to OAs on Saturday and do what we failed to do last weekend and run the ball from deep and put them under pressure from the word go.
With the support of the home crowd behind them, Cov will overcome Old Albanian, but I don’t think we’ll rack up another 50 points in the process,with the game being ending much closer, perhaps within a couple of scores. That said. if Cov do get their game going from that first whistle and can put in that elusive 80 minute performance, then OAs could be on the wrong end of a cricket score.
It’s going to happen one day…and tomorrow’s as good as any.