England Counties v Scotland Club XV – it’s all in the stars
Some game that…
After a pretty even first half which ended 14 a-piece, Counties eased away in the second 40 to win convincingly, and in some style, 45-28.
If ever there was ever a game to show off the talents of National One, then this was it…hard-hitting defence, attacking and inventive play from deep with players of considerable skill and ability across the team.
And, despite only having been together since Wednesday, Counties settled pretty quickly into their routines and the second half was pretty much one way traffic, other than Scotland scoring the first and last tries of the half – in between which it was pretty much all England.
According to Scotland Club XV captain, Peter McCallum, Scotland had come down to Moseley intent on playing some ‘stellar’ rugby…
…but it was very much England who possessed the real stars.
This was my first England Counties game and I wasn’t sure what to expect – certainly not the quality of rugby, that’s for sure. A scratch team often underperforms, especially with as many as 10 different clubs represented. However, as well as an all-round team performance from the Counties side, there were some notable individual efforts, with the Coventry contingent more than holding its own.
Clearly, the 57-27 pasting in the same fixture last year still rankled, and although England had then gone on to beat France following that heavy defeat, revenge was clearly something of a motivating factor.
In the programme notes, Matt Long, the Team Manager, thought the senior players needed to ‘set an example’ pre-match:
Last year we had a pretty new squad and Scotland played very well but we’re confident in our players and I expect there to be a big response.
Well, a big response there was and it proved too much in the end for a resilient Scotland Club XV.
The only disappointing thing about the evening was the size of the crowd, which didn’t seem great by any means.
Fair play to Moseley – the whole event was well-organised and everything seemed to run very smoothly, but the main stand wasn’t much over half full, the far stand was empty and there weren’t many watching from the sidelines. I don’t know what the anticipated numbers were but it was certainly a game that deserved a bigger crowd, both in status and outcome.
It’s the kind of fixture I’d love to see coming to the BPA – with a large fan base anyway and with facilities that are a good deal better, especially in terms of the main clubhouse and bar areas, I think we could have attracted a greater audience, especially had there been some promotion across the rugby playing community within the city.
Sadly, I guess the Counties won’t be back in the area for many a year now, by which time, of course, we’ll be either fighting for promotion in the Championship or battling it out somewhere in Europe…;)
It was good to see a fair few Coventry supporters there too and I don’t think any of them will have gone away disappointed, either by the game or the contribution of the Coventry players.
Rowland Winter was also there and he popped over to say a hello – it must have felt strange for him, and a little awkward – having just announced the signings of Grove and Preece, I guess he will have been ‘persona non grata’ as far as Moseley was concerned last night…
I did ask about signings – hard not to really!
He wouldn’t give too much away, other than to say that the squad for next season is pretty much complete and that there would be more announced on Tuesday, although it might be a mixture of retentions and signings. From what he was saying, the squad will definitely be more competitive at National One next season.
If the players yet to be announced are of the calibre of Jack Preece and Alex Grove, then there’s every chance…
It was great to see Pete White, Jimmy Litchfield, Andy Brown and James Stokes line up for the anthems wearing the English rose…ridiculous as it may seem, as the anthems played I did feel proud, proud for Cov and proud of the players.
The announcer did make one amusing gaffe with cause a titter to run through the crowd…having duly stood silently for the ‘Flower of Scotland’, he asked everyone to remain upstanding for England’s version..
Chests puffed out, arms round the shoulders of the person next to them, the England players gave it large.
Great to see…
The first half ended on level terms and although England had much the better territorially, Scotland looked a threat in the backs and really dangerous when running on to kicks from deep, with their chasers outnumbering England’s defence.
England looked to be growing in confidence as the half progressed and after an initial scrum when they were driven backwards on the Scots put it, the forwards didn’t go backwards again.
At the interval, it was still anybody’s game and when Scotland scored in the opening few minutes of the second half, it looked as if it could go down to the wire. However, Scotland seemed to tire as England began to turn the screw and we had far more options on the bench than perhaps they did.
Following the visitor’s try, England responded initially with a penalty to close the deficit to 17-21 and then scored four unanswered tries of their own, playing some enterprising and exciting rugby in the process.
So, how did the Coventry players get on?
It was really interesting to watch James Stokes – he played a very similar game to that which we expect of him at Cov. He’s was always looking to attack and in the first half he was often off his wing, looking for the ball, almost scoring but for a last-ditch tackle.
In the second half, he was a constant thorn in Scotland’s side, scoring one try (slipping, yet still having time to pick himself up and go over), and generally seeing much more of the ball and making the odd incisive break to create chances for others.
Pete White was at the hub of everything whilst he was on…firing passes, long and short and constantly putting pressure on Scotland’s defences. One pass was intercepted which led to their second try, but other than that, I thought he had a really strong all-round game. No tries, but as good as I’ve seen him. At one point, when England were under some pressure in the first half, he cleared the ball from his own 22 to a point well beyond their 40m line from an acute angle and he was all smiles as he trotted past the England bench – yesterday we saw a man very much enjoying his rugby.
A slight knock forced him off fairly early on in the second half, in fact in the move leading up to Scotland’s third try.
He got a very warm reception from the crowd as he left the field.
Job well done.
Jimmy Litchfield and Andy Brown both put in good shifts, not just in the set pieces, but also defence as well. The scrum got stronger and stronger as the game went on and it was the platform for plenty of good ball. Both looked comfortable in such elevated company – if we can keep them together next season, together with Phil Boulton and presumably a replacement for Boris and another hooker, we will have an exceptionally strong front row again.
Jack Preece was outstanding.
Yesterday was the first game that I’ve actually sat and watched him closely – and his work rate was phenomenal. The man is a machine. He reminds me a bit of a Back or and Eves – the same sort of physique and the same sort of physicality to his game.
In attack he invariably forced Scotland back…and he liked nothing more than to take a short ball off the shoulder of one of his teammates and drive into the opposition, which he did with great effect. He’s not going to make long breaks, a la Scott Tolmie, but he is going to turn the defence and that is such a big asset.
In defence, his tackle count for the period he was on the pitch must have been as high as anyone’s – I don’t think he missed a single tackle and was always up on his feet quickly. He’s going to add some real class to the back row next season – a really exciting player.
However, there were a couple of other outstanding performances for me amongst the England team. Man of the Match for me would be the Hartpury centre, Steve Leonard, who looked head and shoulders the best player on the pitch…his incisive running was just too much for Scotland and he was a constant threat all afternoon.
Blackheath winger Leo Fielding was also a real handful, a bit in the Tom Howe mould, big and powerful and with plenty of gas. He scored a couple of tries and caused plenty of damage whenever he got the ball.
The Blaydon blind-side, Keith Laughlin, who captained the side, was also prominent and Coventry will have do their homework on him and find ways to ensure he doesn’t get too many opportunities to run with the ball.
The two second rows, George Oram (he of the beard) and Nile Dacre (he who caused Cov so many problems when we went down to Plymouth earlier this month), both had excellent games – secure in the line-out and very noticeable going forward. Oram, in particular, is a player who seems to relish having ball in hand.
I’ve said for a while now that he would be on my radar…
I was impressed with both.
Brazier and Williams, the Moseley half backs, came on in the second half and they brought much to the game as well. At only 20 (it was his birthday yesterday) James Williams is definitely one for the future – although he’s doing pretty well in the present, too.
I think what was so refreshing was that this wasn’t a game where one team made a lot of mistakes and the other capitalised. The drop passes, missed tackles, forward passes, poor line-outs and wayward kicks that we have often seen in National One league games just weren’t happening – this was a case of two strong sides playing to their strengths and demonstrating plenty of skills in the process.
It was very well refereed and just a great advert for semi-professional rugby. And the great thing for me was that there were at least 5 of the England team who will be wearing Coventry shirts next season.
If few can recruit more players capable of playing to this standard, then without the likes of Hartpury next season, we will certainly have the potential to do a good deal better in the league than this season…
A great evening’s entertainment…
Well done to all involved.
The clip below, a pre-match interview with Scottish players Peter McCallum and Chris Laidlaw, certainly suggests that they were coming down to Moseley full of expectations and ready to play some attacking , incisive rugby.
Which they did…
England did too, only better…