Friendlies Season 3 – Episode 2: the one with the Nuns (the review)
A 48-0 win.
A good result and a decent performance in the end, but at times Nuneaton made us work very hard for the points and I imagine they will have been just have pleased with their efforts over the 80 minutes despite the one-sided scoreline.
When Coventry had possession they used it extremely effectively and even though at times the handling was a little loose, they put together some excellent passages of play and Nuneaton struggled to cope with the power and the pace Coventry had in abundance both in the forwards and backs.However, the referee seemed keen to redress the balance all too often and for long passages of play Coventry were forced to defend, at times deep in their own half, as the referee penalised Cov time and time again, especially at the breakdown.
Whatever it was that was upsetting him was unclear to me, but I would imagine the penalty count against Coventry was greater than at any time since Rowland Winter has been in charge and it looked as if at half time the Cov DoR was exchanging some observations with the referee on his decision-making whilst the players stayed out to take their half time break.
I don’t know enough about the nuances of the game to know whether Coventry’s play necessitated quite the response it got from the referee – however, it was a pre-season friendly and, to some extent, it was spoiled by the willingness of the referee to make his presence felt.
Maybe I’m being too harsh, but the constant blowing of the whistle meant that for long periods the game stuttered and started and as a spectacle it all became a bit frustrating, especially in the 20 minutes before half time and 15-20 minutes after it.
That said, it did mean that Coventry had to defend against a series of penalties in their own 22 and the fact that Nuneaton were unable to break our line speaks volumes for the organisation of the Cov defence. Even after multiple replacements, the players coming on to the pitch knew exactly what their role was and Nuneaton were rarely able to break the gain line. In the final 5 minutes, when the light was fading and the game was all but over, Nuneaton had a couple of excellent chances to get themselves on the score sheet but poor handling meant the opportunities were wasted when probably Nuneaton deserved at least a score for their efforts.
I’m sure the fact that Coventry kept a clean sheet will give the coaches particular pleasure, especially as for the most part players held their positions extremely well and the hours of training ground drills clearly paid off out there yesterday evening. If the first team squad can show the same sort of resilience under pressure against Jersey on Saturday, then they should fair much better than they did 12 months ago.
The heartening thing is that may of the players on show against Nuneaton yesterday will be called upon to join up with the 1st Xv squad on various occasions this coming season and because they will have been playing with some of the senior players week in, week out, using very similar game plans, they will all know exactly what is expected of them. It will give us a big advantage over previous seasons and it is one of the factors that will give us the edge come the second half of the campaign when some of the other clubs in National One don’t have the strength in depth to fall back on that we do.
As you’d expect, the scrum was dominant throughout, even when the experienced front row of Andy Brown, Matt Price and Harry Morley had been split up. Will Priestley was very fired up when he came on and he particularly enjoyed winning a penalty at a scrum deep in our own half after once against the team had lost the territorial advantage following a series of infringements.
Cameron Gray and Kailus Hutchinson performed well in the line-out and were prominent in the loose, as were both Olly Povoas and Latu Makaafi. I’ve been very impressed with Makaafi, he’s certainly very evident in everything he does – he’s ferocious in the tackle, runs hard and straight and looks like he’s keen to off-load wherever possible. In the warm-up before the game he was very vocal and supportive of the younger members of the squad, too. He’s another player I’ll have to add to my ‘I wish I’d seen him play regularly when he was 10 years younger’ list, a list headed, of course, by Zinzan Brooke, with Sam Tuitupou not too far behind him.
Talking of Sam, he came on for a short cameo and managed to put in two frightening hits in that period. I don’t think Sam is going to be the club’s leading ball carrier this season, but he does tend to see opportunities that aren’t there for others and he’s very much a creator – short passes to free a player into space or just making the ball available when others would take it to ground. He is a fearless tackler and whilst you can read all the comments on the Messageboard or elsewhere about the sheer power of his tacking, it’s not quite the same as being there when he makes the hit.
3000 packed into the BPA and Sam takes out one of the Moseley centres with a thundering tackle – well that will be something to remember.
There will be players in the second half of the season who will have played against Sam before Christmas who will have fear in their eyes when they see him line up against them.
There were lots of Cov players stood out on the day – James Neal is extremely quick and has great acceleration and made a couple of blistering breaks.
Dave Brazier is another scrum half who likes to keep the ball moving and he’ll challenge Pete White for the no 9 shirt – he’s certainly going to get a lot of game time this season and looks to be an excellent signing. Tony Fenner had more room than he would normally have in National One and he made a couple of telling breaks, one of which led to the opening try. He’s a bit of a marmite player for some, but part of the reason for that is because Will Maisey was so influential last season. Me, I’m definitely a big fan of his and I’d always start him in the games where we know it’s going to be tight…Moseley, Plymouth, Blackheath for instance, although he’s definitely not as creative as Will and doesn’t seem to be quite so attack-minded. He does control a game well, though.
That said, you know Will is going to be influential in any game he starts – we are exceptionally fortunate to have two such classy fly halves. And of course there’s also Ben Palmer – he had a very good game yesterday and is another player who is going to get opportunities this season in the 1st team. He started at 15 and then moved to 10 when Fenner went off – he’s surprisingly quick, certainly over shorter distances anyway, and he has the ability to beat his man which makes him a dangerous runner with ball in hand. He also has a good right foot on him either in open play or from dead balls situations. In many respects he is the ideal utility back, although I’m not sure that is how he would want to be viewed. He can cover either 15 or 10 and with only James Stokes and Cliffie Hodgson at the moment as full backs (although there are a couple of players in the Academy side to come through) he might well end up playing there, especially if James Stokes is ever called upon to play out wide again, as he is for England Counties.
Alex Grove started the game and he looks to be someone who will bring a bit of consistency to the centres. He does the basics really well, making some excellent tackles, one of which saved a try in the first half out on the right wing, and he has the vision to give the players around him the space to attack. I can imagine the likes of Heath Stevens or Rob Knox benefitting greatly from having his experience around them.
There were also a couple of players who made favourable impressions, but whose names as yet I don’t know. One was a big, strong running centre who I’ve seen at training during pre-season and initially mistook for a prop (I’m not sure I should really be writing that but it’s meant very much as a compliment!). He scored a try late on in the second half, something of a training ground move, taking the ball just on the 22 and hitting the perfect angle and at pace. He broke through two or three tackles and for a man of not inconsiderable size for a centre he was extremely quick.
I know he was on trial and we have signed him up – he’s out on loan at one of the Leicester sides, I think. He reminds me a little of Bastareaud, the French centre, in terms of his physique and certainly he was unstoppable when he scored. There are some very good players ahead of him at the moment but he’s one to watch provided he remains fit and trains hard.
The other player was a prop who scored the final try – now I might be completely wrong here but I don’t think I’ve seen him before – however, the light was terrible by this stage (it was after 9.00 pm and there were no floodlights, and in addition I couldn’t wear my glasses because I was texting scores at the same time – it was, from my perspective, the perfect storm). It might well have been someone like Jake Byrne, but I just couldn’t see clearly enough in the half light, but whoever it was, he made a couple of searing breaks and looked to be a really good ball-carrier (a bit like Rob Hardwick was).
Anyway, whoever it was, he made a big impact in the final few minutes of the game.
I thought Anthony Matoto looked dangerous, but he didn’t look as sharp as some of the others, which is only to be expected as he’s only been training with Cov for the last 9 days. He made a couple of good tackles and is another strong runner, but he gave the ball away on more than one occasion by trying to make it available when tackled. He’s big and likes to take the ball to the opposition – I think much will depend on just how quickly he’ll adapt to playing out wide (the clips on YouTube have him playing at centre).
All-in-all it was a good work out, one that clearly demonstrated the benefit of having senior players play alongside youngsters from the Development Squad. The team that started the game yesterday was as strong as some of the starting XVs we’ve seen represent Cov in recent campaigns, and that’s without taking into account the 15 or so senior players who weren’t involved in the game.
It’s a great position to be in and there wasn’t a single supporter I spoke to yesterday who doesn’t feel optimistic about the season ahead. That doesn’t necessarily mean in terms of promotion, but does suggest that the expectation amongst Cov fans is that Cov will have a better season than the last one and that we should finish at least a place higher than we did back in April.
Would third be seen as an acceptable position, given the apparent size and strength of the current squad?
I can feel a poll coming on – but maybe after we’ve seen a couple more friendlies…
Forgot to mention – think the away strip is a big improvement.
If only it was pink…