Cambridge v Coventry – another wobble, another win
Well, I kind of got it right…
A win and five points on top of an entertaining afternoon’s rugby.
But that’s just about all I correctly predicted.
Cov were made to work extremely hard for the win by a Cambridge side that pretty much dominated territory, and indeed possession, for much of the second half once Cov had scored two tries in the opening 7 minutes after the restart..
By the 72nd minute, Cambridge had pulled it back from 15-36 to 27-36, with the home crowd beginning to believe something special was unfolding in front of them and Cov making a series of errors and with a rapidly growing penalty count against us.
It was all getting a bit too close for comfort for the large contingent of Coventry supporters there to witness what they’d hope might be a far easier ride.
To be fair to Coventry, a couple of changes in key areas and the some older headers taking control and Coventry saw out those last 8 minutes fairly comfortably, with the pack at last getting the better of Cambridge in the scrum and the team playing the ball deep in the Cambridge half for much of that time.
And that was definitely a positive – we’ve lost games away from home this season where we’ve thrown away the lead and could well have done so yesterday. But this is a Cov squad that is beginning to develop some resilience, one that is able to tough out situations where previously we might have been bullied about a bit.
It’s all coming together, slowly, and it’s another away win in a season where before Christmas they were few and far between, to say the least.
And that was probably the difference…Cov always had just that little bit more to call upon when it was needed in terms of experience, with the bench having to earn their corn once again following some forced reorganisation following a second yellow card on 61 minutes, the result of a deliberate knock on from Pete White which prevented, in the ref’s opinion, Cambridge from scoring.
And whilst I appreciate I’m already getting side-tracked here, a word about the cards.
There will be those who’ll latch on to Coventry’s ill-discipline and cite the yellow cards as examples – but I’m not altogether sure that is fair , not yesterday at least.
The two yellows came at times Coventry was under immense pressure, especially Pete White’s.
The ref had little option but to card Pete, but had he not tried to intercept the ball, Cambridge might indeed have scored. As it was, Cambridge scored pretty soon afterwards, but it was the constant pressure being placed on the Cov side at that time that led to the carding and not some moment of indiscretion from Pete.
Tom Poole’s card in the first half was similar in may respects. The ref had spoken to Cov a couple of minutes previously for what looked like killing the ball, following three consecutive penalties conceded on our line…Tom P’s card was the culmination of Cov desperate defence, rather than a lack of discipline on his part. He took one for the team in effect.
Sometimes the opposition need to be given credit for applying such pressure, rather than players criticised for being irresponsible. Such criticism usually comes from those not actually at the game, but from what I saw Cov were really stretched on both occasions and whilst that doesn’t excuse the cards, it does explain them.
As was mentioned at the Referee’s Evening last week, sometimes you have to weigh up the risks…Coventry scales probably just need a bit of re-calibrating, that’s all. It hasn’t been a huge issue since Christmas, as the results show.
Okay, they’ve got to sort out the number of penalties being given away – the count was far too high yesterday – but that’s a team problem as much as anything.
Anyway, that’s got that out of the way!
Cambridge were definitely fired up for yesterday’s encounter.
Having failed to turn up back at the BPA in November and against some old friends from last season, there were definitely some points to be proved, if not scores to be settled.
In the opening couple of minutes, defending deep in their own 22, Cambridge were awarded a penalty and from the fist pumps and backslapping amongst the Cambridge forwards, it was evident this was going to be a very different Cambridge side from the one that, in all honesty, didn’t do itself any justice at all back in November.
As it so often does, Coventry motored into an early lead, with the team showing a willingness to run the ball wide wherever possible, scoring two tries in the first 10 minutes. On each occasion, Cov found an overlap for the two wingers to score, with Max Trimble gliding over from 30m to score the second, with a much easier finish for Tom Howe for the first.
A period of intense pressure from Cambridge, following the referee’s warning to Cov and then Tom Poole’s yellow card, resulted in their prop, who played well all game, finding himself in space on the blind side to bring Cam back into the game.
By now the wind was starting to be a factor and conversions and restarts became that much more difficult and it’s to the credit of both teams that, despite the wind, this was a game where the ball was kept in hand far more than one might have expected.
After Cambridge’s try, they were on the attack again almost immediately and the pressure was relieved only when Tom Howe intercepted a Cambridge pass on his 40m line and raced away for his second try.
Often such scores are seen as fortuitous, but I think Howe deserves some credit here…in the warm up prior to the game, he had done exactly the same thing, and both Sam and I commented on the fact that he was definitely looking for the intercept…
It was an important score at a time when Cambridge seemed to be coming back into the game and that 5-19 lead after Howe’s solo effort had become 12-22 by half time, following a very well worked Cambridge try and a penalty from Will Maisey.
The Cambridge backs looked sharp and whenever they got the ball in a bit of space Cov were stretched, with Albert Portsmouth being a real threat.
It was clearly very much game on at half time as Cambridge looked to have their tails up at the break. A quick penalty after the restart confirmed that the home team were going to continue where they left off.
Two Coventry tries in the space of just two minutes immediately afterwards looked to have killed the game though, the first from Rob Knox who bulldozed his way over when he looked as if he had no right to score and the second from James Stokes who finished a flowing move off with a strong run out wide.
15-36 and Coventry very much in the ascendency following those quick scores.
Rowland Winter had moved to behind the Cambridge goal line at this point, pacing up and down, in contact with his team via the radio mike.
I remember tweeting at the time that he must have been happy with the start his team had made to the second half, although in retrospect perhaps he had an inkling of what was to come…
But this is Cov and there’s always a wobble, although this one probably was of pretty seismic proportions and must have registered on the Richter scale.
For the next 25 minutes it was pretty much all one way traffic and Coventry defences was put to the test on several occasions. The crowd became noticeably louder, the Cambridge players responded and Cov were under the cosh.
They pulled back 2 tries and the seats on which the Coventry supporters were sitting were getting squeakier and squeakier.
That said, Coventry did enough, and for me just about deserved the win, although it wasn’t pretty by any means. It was a tough and at times feisty affair with no quarter given.
There was one moment that encapsulated it all really…in the first half the Cambridge hooker powered free and made good metres, finding himself with a clear run with only James Stokes between him and the line (although it was a distance away!).
Irresistible force v immoveable object.
You could tell Stokes was preparing for the impact well before it occurred. He was going to give no quarter and it was a thumping hit…
…and the Cambridge hooker required a bit of assistance from the physios to get him back up on his feet.
A ‘concerned’ Stokes walked across and there was a grudging tap of the hands, but it was very much Stokes 1 – Cambridge hooker 0.
I think Cambridge supporters will justifiably have felt disappointed to have fallen short – they got the bonus point but deserved another at the very least. That said, for me Coventry had too much in their tank at the end and their forwards were pretty dominant in the final minutes, but it had taken them a long time to get themselves into that position.
I’ll mention a little more about the game tomorrow, but a brief word about Olly Povoas. Having had a run of a few games in the back row now, Olly is starting to look a really promising player – yesterday was his best game for me by a distance. He popped up all over the pitch and his work rate was phenomenal – for a relatively small man he shows great strength and he carried the ball time and time again, driving back into the Cambridge defences with impunity.
He’ll hurt this morning, that’s for sure.
Coventry certainly work hard for their away victories at the moment (they work their supporters fairly hard, too!) but it was an entertaining game on a fantastic pitch (something everyone commented on), in a lovely setting, in front of some of the friendliest supporters…
Cambridge will hopefully stay up – they definitely will on this showing, although their game against Hull next week could yet be crucial. They have shown they can mix it with the clubs at the top end of the league and survival this season should enable them build a platform on which to consolidate their National One status next year.
Good luck to everyone involved…
And well done, Cov.
Four more games of the season left, with perhaps the biggest challenge of them all next week.
Rosslyn Park at home.
They did us over at their place…
Time to reciprocate.