Coventry v Ampthill – a real team effort (all 20 of them)
Four tries, a bonus point and another one of the top teams in the league that has come to the BPA full of expectation and left with nothing other than the realisation that Coventry is probably a far stronger side than its current position in the table suggests.
Coventry, the perennial underachievers, are beginning to show some signs of consistency now the coaches and players have been together for the best part of a season. In the last 12 games, Cov have won 8, Drawn 1 and Lost 3 including against Hartpury, a record that would put us right up there with Plymouth and Ampthill over a similar period.
The second half of the season was always going to be the bigger test and, so far, we are on course to be in the top three, certainly four, in the league over the last 15 games.
If it is the bigger picture that we’re really interested in, then we are progressing well after a predictably slow start before Christmas.
Hartpury apart, we have played three of the top four teams above us in the league at home and won them all – Plymouth, Moseley and now Ampthill – having lost to them away from home.
No team has yet recorded the double over us (the leaders excepted) and with only Rosslyn Park and Darlington to come, you’d hope a 93% home record for the season would be a target very much on Coventry’s radar at the moment.
Very few fans would have expected us to be quite so dominant at the BPA this season and, whatever the trials and tribulations experienced on our travels, Coventry have always performed in front of the Coventry supporters – not necessarily quite as decisively as we might have hoped, but enough to secure the points, Hartpury aside. Even against the champions-elect, we still prevented them from picking up a bonus point whilst collecting one ourselves..
And whilst some of the 12 wins we have watched at home so far this season haven’t been that convincing, sometimes having to rely on the boot of Will Maisey to see us home, yesterday’s most certainly was.
For much of the game Ampthill, whose away record this season has been especially impressive, played second fiddle to a Coventry side that produced one of its most impressive performances to date under Rowland Winter, a performance that suggested that Coventry are definitely moving very much in the right direction.
Following our defeat down at Dillingham Park back in November, another one of those away games where we played well for much of the game only to be outthought and outplayed in the final quarter, the coaches will have known exactly what to expect.
And in fairness, Coventry produced the perfect game plan on the day.
Other than a 15 minute period at the start of the second half , Coventry were pretty much dominant for the rest of the game and thoroughly deserved the win. And a team as good as Ampthill were always going to get back in the game as some point.
It was a performance that was widely applauded at half time and even more so come the end of the game.
And rightly so.
The most noticeable difference to me yesterday was the sheer physicality displayed by a Coventry side that tackled Ampthill into submission in the first half.
The visitors actually had a fair bit of possession but Coventry’s defence proved too strong and time and time again Ampthill were forced either to kick the ball away, which they did effectively for the most part, or they committed errors simply because of the pressure we applied in the tackle.
And they made far too many.
Not unforced errors, the kind made simply through a lack of concentration or poor handling. No, Ampthill were forced into making errors as a result of the physicality of the Coventry tacklers that prevented them from gaining any real territorial advantage.
That first half was arguably the best of the season especially, somewhat bizarrely, when Ampthill were in possession…
Some of the hits were big…very big…the kind that bring the odd oohs and ahhs from the crowd and a grudging respect from the opposition.
Such was the stranglehold Cov placed on Ampthill that it was fully 29 minutes before their first foray into our 22.
The 30th minute – this from a team third in the league, having won 8 games away from home…
After 15 minutes it was noticeable that Ampthill’s forwards were much slower getting back up to their feet and clearly they had few answers to the power and physicality of a Coventry team that had barely missed a tackle.
It’s easy to dismiss this game as just another home win…
It was more than that, though.
It was a statement.
The talk back in August and September was very much about Cov’s determination to play fast, expansive rugby that most teams wouldn’t be able to live with, the sort of rugby that would be end to end and, as long as we won by a point, then all’s well and good.
Ok, that’s a very simplistic summary but it’s not a million miles away from what we were expecting.
And Coventry have certainly shown they can play that sort of game, scoring their 100th try of the season in the 25th game – not a bad record by any standards.
But, as they showed yesterday, this team isn’t just a one trick pony. The win was very much about the power and dominance of the forwards, a hugely improved defence and backs who can create opportunities from good ball and who will punch gaping holes in opposition defences given decent ball. There real pace and strength there in abundance.
It was very much an all-round display, but built on the dominance of the forwards up front.
Ampthill are third in the league for a reason. Their forwards showed exactly what they are capable of down at their place in November, and if they are given opportunities to get their driving maul working close to the line, well they are going to cause teams problems all game long.
And immediately after the half time restart, that is exactly what happened…presumably after a roasting from Paul Turner during the break. A very comfortable 22-7 lead at the interval turned into a nervy 22-19 one within the space of 15 minutes or so.
But Cov regrouped and despite a yellow card for Jake Byrne that was down to inexperience as much as anything else, they began to exert dominance up front again with some powerful scrummaging and defence that one again prevented Ampthill from getting their rejuvenated forwards back into the game and then age began to take its toll.
One of the big differences from this season to last is that Coventry play a 20 man game – and the ‘finishers’ have just as big an impact as those who start the game. Cov can make changes without losing any continuity and the players coming in know exactly what their roles are.
This was a 20 man team effort if ever there was one.
With the coaches happy to rotate, Sam Grasso can start a game (and I thought he was outstanding yesterday, for the second week running), and Pete White can then come on and take over, seamlessly.
The same with Price and Tolmie, or Wheatcroft and Hodgson.
There is real depth in the squad, something that will be even more evident next season when the squad will be that much stronger.
Brett Daynes is another great example – he’ll start the odd game but often comes on off the bench, as he did yesterday to replace Olly Povoas (another player who did himself no harm at all yesterday). He’s got exactly the experience you want in the last 20 minutes and he rarely has an off day…he’s Cov through and through and whist he’ll seldom stand out in terms of what spectators see from the stand, he’s Mr Consistent for me.
I hope he’ll be back next season.
A word too for Jake Byrne.
Another baptism of fire for the youngster and one that he coped very well with…Ampthill certainly isn’t the easiest of packs to come up against. He came on for Jimmy Litchfield just after Ampthill had scored their first try and, before he received his yellow, he did little wrong.
The scrum looked just as solid and he put himself about in the loose – I’m sure he’ll have taken heart from his performance and despite his yellow, which fortunately didn’t prove as costly as it might otherwise have done, it was a good day all in all for Jake.
He’s recently been promoted into the full squad, having moved up from the development squad – yesterday we saw why. Under the tutelage of Boris and Phil Boulton, Matt Price and others, he’s promises well for the future.
There were plenty of impressive individual performances on display out there yesterday, too many to go through here – maybe in tomorrow’s post…
However, I would like to single out two players who stood out for me for very different reasons.
The first is Tom Jubb…
Last week Tom scored two tries, had a hand in the other and he and Tom Poole formed a very effective partnership at 4 and 5. Yesterday, no tries but an equally dominant performance, both in defence and attack. He worked tirelessly and together with the likes of Tuilagi, Dyer, Poole et al, he put in a heck of a shift.
Early in the season, his temperament was probably a little questionable…he was hot-headed and inclined to show a little ill-discipline at times. The red card, a yellow (or two?) and a few weeks on the sidelines and he’s come back and looks to have learned from his mistakes, producing some excellent performances whilst showing much more control and a greater sense of the bigger picture in terms of the team.
It was interesting just listening to the comments made by those around me in the stand – ‘Jubby’ is clearly already a very popular player amongst the Cov faithful who always warm to those who wear their heart on their sleeve, as TJ does.
There’s going to be plenty of competition for places at 4 and 5 next season, with Nile Dacres coming in and probably at least one more second row yet to join us, if the rumours are correct.
Tom, though, has been staking his claim these last few weeks and with the coaches happy to rotate and the odd injury more than likely, there’s going to be plenty of opportunity for a player who is fast becoming a Cov favourite…
Was it just me, or did anyone sense the irony when TJ was taken out by their 14 (?) at the restart?
The Ampthill player received a yellow…
…Jubb got a red against Moseley for a not too dissimilar offence???
Fortunately, the Cov players showed good restraint at the time – it was one of those moments that could have got a little unpleasant had someone reacted in the wrong way. Good discipline all round.
He wasn’t my choice of MoM though…
That went to Will Maisey.
Hand on my heart I am really torn between Will and Tony Fenner, who I really rate as well. If I’m honest, in the big games, I’d probably start with Fenner because I think his all-round game is probably a little stronger, especially in defence.
That said, Will has seldom had an off day when he’s played this season and he’s such an improved player from when he was last here. If there were an end of season award for the player who has performed most consistently to his potential, then Will would get my vote.
Yesterday, he showed what a great attacking game he possesses. In recent years we have had some good fly halves – Matt Jones was one of the best to have worn the 10 shirt for many a year – but they haven’t been out-and-out line-breakers in the way Will is.
He has a surprising turn of pace and when he sees a gap he has the confidence to go for it; several times he broke through the initial tackle making good metres, often unleashing the likes of Stokes and Howe.
He is also a very good distributor of the ball and has a flat, long pass that gives the likes of Wheatcroft and Stevens the opportunity to run onto the ball. He is an exciting player to watch, different to Tony Fenner in many ways, but someone who fits perfectly into Cov’s preference to play attacking rugby wherever possible.
Will has been something of a revelation this season. And interestingly, when supporters are discussing the various positions where players might be brought in to strengthen the squad next season, fly half isn’t one that is mentioned.
I thought that yesterday was the best I’ve seen of Will this season, and he’s played well before then. He has rightly received great praise for his cool head under pressure, especially when kicking in the final moments of a game to secure the win…but yesterday we saw just how good he is as an attacking fly half.
He led the line exceptionally well and together with Sam Grasso and Pete White, he controlled the game for long periods.
Darrel Dyer got the sponsors vote, and I wouldn’t argue against that, but purely from a personal point of view, I thought Will and Jubby were fantastic yesterday.
If you haven’t already voted for Cov’s ‘Man of the Match’ v Hull Ionians, and would like to do so, please do so below: