The day couldn’t have gone much better.
A warm, sunny Spring day, a larger than expected crowd, a bonus point win…
..and, to cap it all, Esher beating Moseley, thus allowing Coventry to leapfrog our neighbours and move into fourth place with a 3 points cushion going into the last game.
Few complaints, surely?
That said, the performance wasn’t great and with Darlington Mowden Park back to within 5 points of us just a couple of minutes into the second half, the result was far from guaranteed for a while.
A little bit of ill-discipline crept back into our game and we seemed to try and throw the ball around a little too much which suited DMP just fine and, as the gaps opened up, their backs, always dangerous with ball in hand, looked as if they might take advantage.
A bit of magic from Max Trimble, following some good work by Will Maisey and James Stokes, steadied the ship.
Ironically, though, it was two yellows in quick succession for Tuilagi and Stokes that saw Coventry slow things down and play some canny rugby and, for 9 minutes and with only 13 players, we effectively killed the game as far as a DMP comeback was concerned.
And that was probably the most impressive thing about the Cov win for me.
We showed we have learned from our past mistakes.
Yes, we scored some wonderful tries, with Trimble’s kick and chase and Maisey’s individual effort from almost 45 meters out both being good enough to grace any try of the month competition, but it was our response when we were reduced to 13 players that impressed me most.
We retained the ball well, scrums had to be reset, a bit of cramp set in here and an odd injury there and we played the clock as well as the opposition. DMP were no mugs and to prevent them from scoring when they had a 2 man advantage for so long was a real bonus.
Young heads are beginning to grow wise already and I would imagine the coaches will have been pleased to see such an experienced response from a side that before Christmas, at a time when we were struggling so much against Esher, Blackheath and Rosslyn Park, would have probably shipped several tries and lost the game from thereon in, even at thome.
Once we were back to 15, confidence was restored and Coventry finished the game as they had started, totally dominant, and had they been a bit more ruthless and clinical, could have scored another two or three tries such was their profligacy.
Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on Cov…they did exactly what they needed to do and extended their winning run to seven games. Fourth in the table probably matches most supporters expectations back at the start of the season, especially as no one could have predicted Hartpury’s dominance of the league back then.
But will fourth be good enough next season?
Probably not, if the truth be told. Plymouth, now 12 games into an unbeaten run, beat Blackheath (away, mind you) 7-48, scoring 8 tries in the process. If Albion are our marker, we still have some way to go to get to where we will need to be. So, good a result as it was, context is important even as we celebrate the win.
Darlington looked to be a big side, especially as they warmed up before the game and I did think it might end up a more physical game than it eventually was. We were dominant in the scrum once again, although we wobbled for a few minutes whilst Jimmy Litchfield took a breather, but by the time Jake Byrne came on for his second stint, we were in compete control and the youngster showed just how effective he is in the loose as well as the set piece.
Paul Ingleston made the comment to me after the game that DMP flattered to deceive and he’s spot on (again!)…they had some very skilful players out there, but they seemed to play as individuals and not as a team.
Their no 8 was excellent going forward and it was a great contest between him and Freddie Tuilagi. Defensively, Freddie had another very strong game, despite the yellow which look justified from where we were, although when he carries the ball he doesn’t yet make the metres that you’d expect from a player of his size and strength.
Their backs also looked sharp, the wings and scrum half in particular, but they only looked dangerous when we tried to be a bit too clever, especially in the opening minutes of the second half when we were almost playing Sevens at one point.
Once we re-gathered our shape and were forced to think more about our game when we went down to 13, we negated any threat they posed and thereafter we re-took control.
Yet again, the strength on the bench was very noticeable, although this week with Scott Tolmie limping off so early, the ‘finishers’ almost became the starters as Matt Price came on well inside the first quarter.
If Scott’s injury is such that he won’t be fit for next weekend’s finale against Loughborough, we might get to see a first appearance for Will Priestley – Will has been involved in first team training for a number of weeks now and perhaps Scott’s loss could be his gain…?
Despite some areas of Cov’s game that weren’t quite firing yesterday, it was still a good performance. When we got it right we looked like a top two side, the scrum totally dominant, the maul working well and the backs finding space to run at the opposition from deep. Handling wasn’t always as accurate as it will need to be against the better sides and we must have been called back from scoring opportunities 3 or 4 times at least during the course of the game for various infringements.
Pete White and Will Maisey ran the backs so well and Maisey’s decision-making was particularly impressive. I remain a big Fenner fan, especially in the tighter games, but Will has shown that he can lead the line as well as anyone in this league at times and his distribution yesterday was sublime…quick and flat, looped, missed passes, we saw the whole range and he also is starting to break the line with a pleasing regularity. It’s a long time since we’ve had such a running fly-half and with the pace outside him of Trimble, Stokes/Hodgson, Knox, Stevens and Wheatcroft we are able to frighten most opposition defences with ball in hand.
And then there’s his kicking…just one missed (?) yesterday and the conversion out wide from Tolmie’s opening try, into a stiff breeze, was as good as I’ve seen all season. He’s scored over 22o points so far this year (in third place overall in the list of National One points scorers) and that despite playing second fiddle to Tony Fenner for much of the earlier part of the season (Fenner’s conversion rate is the best in the league…).
Surely if there was a poll this season for the player who has achieved over and above what was originally expected, then it would be well and truly closed by now…
There were plenty of other strong performances yesterday though.
I thought Tom Poole was once again really impressive in all that he did and the more he plays, the more you realise what an important member of the squad he is. Nile Dacres and George Oram certainly aren’t going to have everything their own way next season and with Tom Jubb also looking sharp, once again we have some real strength in the second row. Tom offers a degree of physicality that Jubby doesn’t and whilst he’s not one of the go-to jumpers in the pack (and we’ll miss Dyer in that area next season), he’s herculean elsewhere. However, the longer the came went on, the more influential in the loose Jubby became.
Olly Povoas had another strong game…he’s not the biggest of players but he is fearsome in the tackle and he has boundless energy. He put one huge tackle in on one of the DMP wings (I think) right in front of the main stand during the second half that really lifted the crowd, causing them to respond in the time-honoured way…(although I wish we could come up with something a little more catchy than ‘Coventry, Coventry’).
The front row, including Jake Byrne, was magnificent again and despite its size, the DMP pack had no answer to the power and technique of the Coventry scrum…Boris was watching them pack down pretty intently for much of the game and was able to get messages to the players as and when; once again, his influence can’t be over emphasised.
Heath Stevens and Tom Wheatcroft looked good in midfield, with Stevens scoring his 7th try of the season which is a decent return given he hasn’t been with us that long. Rob Knox was quiet out wide I thought, although his interception came at an important time of the game when we were down to 13 and DMP were on the attack…it’s a shame he didn’t quite have the legs to finish it off.
All-in-all, a good day, made that much better by Devlin Hope’s mum, Julie, who was tweeting me updates from the Esher game where Dev was playing (coming on from the bench following a hamstring injury)…She follows Cov on Twitter every week and knew exactly what an Esher win against Moseley would mean to oldies like me! Thanks for the tweets, Julie…
By the time the final whistle had blown, it was clear that Coventry had done enough to ensure that they go into the final game of the season in fourth place and just 4 points shy of the 100 for the season, a target which seemed virtually unattainable after those 4 losses in the first 6 games. I’m not quite sure what Rowland Winter’s take on the game will be this week…job done for certain, and pleased we didn’t concede when down to 13…but it wasn’t as complete a performance as we have seen in some of the games of late.
However, 1770 people watched a thoroughly entertaining game and will have left happy with the result and probably with raised expectations as to next season, both of which are criteria by which to judge the success of the game (and the season in some respects).
Anyone who bought a season ticket back in August and who has been to every home game will have certainly got a good return on their original outlay – and with a price freeze and free entry to the friendlies as well, next season will hopefully provide even more of the same.
It’s been one heck of a blast this season.
Especially when you think back to this time 12 months ago….
Rowland Winter has ensured an excellent Spring and with a decent Summer’s preparation to come and hopefully no fall to follow later….
More on polls tomorrow, especially Player of the Season ones…
However, f you haven’t already voted the poll for Cov’s ‘Man of the Match’ v Rosslyn Park, and would like to do so please see below: