Sometimes reality can be a bit of a bummer.
5 games unbeaten, supporters talking about the remainder of the season with increasing confidence, performances improving significantly over the last few games…
…and then along comes Hartpury College.
And with Hartpury, along comes the reality check.
However good we are and, in terms of National 1, I saw nothing in the game to make me believe we are anything but a top 3 or 4 side at the moment, we have a long journey ahead of us if we are to reach the levels that Hartpury achieved out on the pitch yesterday.
And not just reached…maintained for the duration.
We must aspire to reach those levels – (and well done to Covkid for saying as much…). We’ve heard talk several times over the course of the season about producing an 80 minute performance. Well, yesterday we certainly saw one.
Sadly not from us though.
To bastardise Pierre Bosquet’s infamous quote:
C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas Le National 1….
Before we get too despondent, having watched a pretty decent percentage of Coventry games both home and away in the last 6 years since we dropped into National 1, I don’t think any of the promoted sides during that period have been as strong or as clinical as Hartpury College have been since September…
Richmond, Ealing, Doncaster, Jersey – all very good sides – but none of them would have headed this Hartpury sided over the course of a full season.
Hartpury weren’t just good, they were very, very good. And whilst it’s easy to be critical of Coventry for what was a disappointing second half, there were reasons why we leaked 37 points in the last 45 minutes.
Not excuses, but reasons nonetheless.
Worrying ones, too, in terms of injuries, but in fairness we just haven’t got the strength in depth, or even the skill level across the team, to have left Hartpury with a win yesterday.
I don’t think I can remember a game when we’ve conceded 50 points and yet I’ve enjoyed the spectacle of Coventry being on the receiving end of such a drubbing and, whilst I have all sorts of concerns about the way Hartpury are funded, their relationship with Gloucester and the uneven playing field it creates especially at this level, they are nevertheless an exciting team to watch.
Whatever moans I might have, they are certainly nothing to do with the players who represent Hartpury – they just did what they are paid to do and did it outstandingly well.
No complaints from me at all.
£8 to watch such a talented group of players.
Shame it had to come at such a cost to Coventry though…several injuries and I would imagine a bit of wounded pride.
But it was a great afternoon’s entertainment. Some standout performances in the Hartpury side too, both in the forwards and the backs…none more so than from their No 6, Jake Polledri, whom I believe has just been offered a 3 year contract with Bristol (?). Some player…
Those who have followed the blog for any length of time will know I’m not a great one for concentrating on the opposition and I’ve been critical even this season of Cov’s performances away from home against the likes of Esher, Blackheath and Rosslyn Park where we were beaten and played poorly in the process.
But Coventry actually played pretty well for the first 40 minutes, competing effectively with Hartpury in most areas and had a searing Fenner break not ended with Stokes coming up a metre short of the line, or a deliberate knock-on not prevented Cov from possibly (but not probably) scoring, well things could have been very different going into the second half.
The game seemed to be played more in Hartpury’s half than in the ours and whilst possession might have been more equitable, defensively we arguably had our best 40 minutes so far this season. We seldom missed a tackle and if we did, the cover was there. A poor restart and a faltering lineout gave Hartpury a couple of chances in those first 35 minutes and that’s all they needed. They were clinical where we were a little profligate, but even when they scored just before the break to go 20-12 up at half time, the game was still wide open.
At least it seemed so at the time, but in all honestly Hartpury had by then exposed some cracks in Coventry’s game that were widening with each play.
To have matched Hartpury any longer than we did, we would have had to have had lady luck on our side…but after 35 minutes she took a look at both teams, saw we were struggling and deserted the cause. She could have learned something from watching the Cov support out there yesterday – it was immense.
In that opening 35 minutes we quickly lost Eoghan Grace with a ruptured bicep (?), a disappointment in itself as by all accounts Eoghan had played particularly well against Blackheath last week, but one that was compounded by the loss of Josh Peters following what looked like concussion after a crunching tackle in the final minutes leading to the end of the first half.
From the moment Peters went off, we were always going to struggle and I remember tweeting at the time that it could be a long second half. Limited options off the bench meant that Tom Jubb initially took his place – not a huge concern as he’s played there before, but when Peters came off, Jubb went into the second row and for the remaining 45 minutes or so Scott Tolmie replaced Grace in the back row, with Price coming on as the replacement hooker.
Now willing though Scott Tolmie is, he’s not a back row specialist and although the lad ran his blue and white socks off all afternoon, against the quality of Hartpury it does mean that you’re going to be exposed somewhat. And we were.
And further injuries in the second half didn’t help our cause – to Cliffie (a gash to his knee that required 10 stitches) and Owain James (I’m not sure what the injury was there, although earlier in the game he was involved in a massive collision with one of the Hartpury players that required Owain receiving a couple of minutes of treatment).
By the end of the game we had players out of position and were struggling to match a Hartpury team that had seen blood after Peters’ exit and had stepped up their attacking play to another level when they realised we were so exposed. It’s a tribute to Cov in a way that Hartpury opted to take every kickable penalty going for the first 60 minutes, only kicking to the corner when they were sure they had stifled any chance of a Coventry recovery.
Fair play to them…in the first 10 minutes of the second half they scored three tries and we were left reeling and from then on in, it was always going to be a case of damage limitation.
Addto this the two yellow cards we incurred – at one point we were down to just 13 players for several minutes (well, it seemed like it anyway) – and it’s not difficult to see why the second half unfolded as it did. I wouldn’t swear to it, but at one point it looked as if we were down to 12 players, but maybe it just seemed that way, given we were on the backfoot at the time.
However, that said, in the final 15 minutes or so we steadied the ship and when we were back to our full complement of players we did manage to stem the flow, despite the team being held together by a combination of Elastoplast and determination. It was a gutsy performance and one that was certainly appreciated by those who travelled down from Coventry in the hope, and perhaps even expectation, of watching Cov test Hartpury rather more than they ended up doing.
I’ll mention the Cov support a little more tomorrow…
Hartpury deserved to win and win by a considerable distance, too.
50 points probably flattered them somewhat, but we just weren’t able to match their speed of thought or action in the second half. I’m not sure we got the tactics quite right, especially in the second half, when we kicked the ball away and lacked the chasers to run the opposition down. However, the defensive work was much better for most of the game and only one of the tries, the one following a Polledri break in which we seemed to back off tackling him, I’d put down to really poor defending.
There was no dropping of heads, and whilst they looked physically much stronger in the last 20 minutes, we managed to halt what was fast becoming a try fest in the opening minutes of the second half and prevent what could have been a far higher score differential come the end of the game.
Whereas in previous games where we’ve suffered a heavy loss, the opposition has opened up huge gaps and run in tries from a distance, many of those scored by Hartpury, even those from the backs, were from fairly close in.
Although defensively our backs looked well-organised and managed to contain the free flowing Hartpury three quarters for much of the game, we lacked attacking options ourselves.
Tony Fenner make a couple of incisive breaks and James Stokes looked dangerous when he ran at the opposition and his try, the last of the game, was extremely well taken.
Corey Hircock made inroads a couple of times but the Maisey and Hodgson combination struggled to find any space with which to attack the opposition and much of what they did was defensive in nature (which they did well, it has to be said).
As was mentioned on the coach on the way back, this isn’t a game by which Cov should be judged. Hartpury are head and shoulders above anyone else in our league and to make comparisons between the two sides is probably unfair – we were watching a Gloucester reserve team in effect and I can’t help but feel that, even with this present side, they will hold their own in the Championship.
There are things we can learn from the game and certainly there are positives to come from it, which wasn’t necessarily the case when we visited the far weaker London sides before Christmas.
I am rather concerned about the injuries we picked up yesterday, especially as it seems that we won’t have the Wasps’ Academy players with us for the coming weeks.
Just how this will effect selection will become clearer when we see the team to play Esher at home next weekend…now there’s a game I would like to win given our lacklustre performance down there earlier in the season.
The table sees us in 7th place but the teams above us have yet to play Hartpury with the exception of Plymouth (I think), so the stagger will unwind as the season goes on.
Moseley’s defeat against Ampthill makes them eminently catchable and Ampthill and RP have yet to come to the BPA, so there is still much to play for. We’ve got the Hartpury game out of the way now and can concentrate on trying to remain unbeaten over the rest of the season. A difficult, but not impossible task, with the away trip to Plymouth and the home game against Ampthill looking the most difficult of the remaining fixtures.
It will be interesting to see just how Cov react next Saturday to yesterday’s defeat…I rather suspect that Esher might suffer the consequences.
In the nicest possible way…I do hope so.
Just a few random photos from before yesterday’s game…