Jersey: the rematch – the thriller in St H(i)lier
Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like on
A-Jupiter and Mars
Fill my heart with song and let me sing for ever more
Frank Sinatra – Fly Me To The Moon
Okay Frank, maybe not quite so far as the moon, the Parish of St Peter in Jersey will do me just fine and, whilst I’ve no real wish myself to play among the stars, let’s put the Coventry lads in amongst them instead and see how they get on.
Is there as big a gap between us and teams from the Championship as was the case last season – what is life like on Jupiter?
The Championship certainly has certainly seemed a world away at times over recent seasons.
Time to narrow the gap…
It’s what we’ve been waiting for since Cov first began to release the names, back in March, of the players the club was bringing in to strengthen its squad for the 2017/18 campaign. Big names, names of players already known to us…a rare thing for Cov over the past few years. No disrespect to Leicester Lions or to Nuneaton, but the first couple of pre-season fixtures were always going to be the undercard, the warm up prior to the main event.
Jersey away. Star billing…the rematch that we all wanted…the thriller in St H(i)lier.
That took a bit of working in, I can tell you.
And to continue the boxing analogy, Cov won both its opening games by a technical knockout, but against Jersey they’ve got to prove they can go the distance at the next level up and hopefully, unlike last season, stay off the ropes to deliver a few body blows of their own this time round.
And full marks to Coventry for releasing the team to play Jersey a day earlier than was expected. An extra 24 hours to digest the team news always creates a little more excitement in the run up to the game, especially for those making the trip over to Jersey, of which there will be a fair few.
Ok, it’s hardly going to be a case of ‘We’re on the march wi’ Rowland’s army’, but there will a few voices to be heard during the game, presumably singing something along the lines of:
We’re representing National One
And we’re gaunny do or die
Moseley cannae dae it
Cause they didnae qualify
Cause Coventry is the greatest rugby team
I’m sure there is someone reading this post who could translate the above into a Coventry dialect…
And a sea of blue and white, or perhaps a small lake at least, will be just as effective as swathes of Scottish tartan.
(Apologies if you weren’t around in ’78 as the above probably won’t make a great deal of sense).
There aren’t too many shocks as far as the match day squad is concerned.
The inclusion of Kwaku Asiedu might surprise some, but as far back as the Olney 7s it was clear he was going to be in the running for a place in the match day squad sooner rather than later, even though he was hampered by a slight niggle in his hamstring. In training he’s worked really hard and with Max Trimble unavailable through injury, Kwaku has got his nose in front of the others who might be considered out wide. He fully deserves his chance. And it’s hardly that much of a surprise given that he would have been a regular for all conquering Hartpury last season had he not been plagued by injury.
Kwaku’s inclusion also sends out an important message to the other youngsters in the Development Squad, namely if you’re good enough and committed enough, the opportunities are there for you. Others on the fringe of the team and already in the gold group will surely take heart from Kwaku’s selection. Indeed, Cameron Gray is on the bench as well, so it’s more than likely two of the Development Squad will be take to the field – and against Championship opposition that can only be a good thing both for the youngsters and for the club, too.
And Rob Knox gets first dibs on the other wing – and he’s looked sharp in training and seems to have got over a few niggles early on in pre-season. It might be just my imagination, or the fact that the O’Neills shirts are a particularly tight fit this season, but he looks to have thickened out, especially in the upper body. If he’s not lost any of his speed, a fit Rob Knox could be a real asset – hopefully, the decision has been made now that wing really is his best position and he can have a decent run in the side and produce the kind of performances that a couple of seasons ago made him such a crowd favourite and why supporters would love to see him recapture some of the explosive form that he showed alongside Will Hurrell in the Coventry midfield in the 2014/15 season.
Whilst I’ll be interested to see the impact that Latu Makaafi has when he comes off the bench at some point on Saturday, I’m really pleased to see another Cov favourite, Brett Daynes, in the starting line-up once again. He hit a rich vein of form during the second half of last season and has continued to look sharp in pre-season. Brett has made 132 appearances for Coventry in his two spells at the club and he as a wealth of experience under his belt now…he celebrated his birthday earlier in the week so hopefully a good performance tomorrow should be the icing on the cake, so-to-speak.
One of the problems Cov had against Jersey last year was that we only brought 21 or 22 players in total, 2 or 3 less than this season. It meant that players, unused to the pace and physicality of Championship teams, stayed on longer than they might otherwise have done with the result that we faded badly in the final quarter.
I think it would be fair to say this season’s bench, containing the likes of Phil Nilsen, Andy Brown, Dave Brazier, Tony Fenner, Latu Makaafi, Anthony Matoto and Alex Grove is somewhat stronger. There’s premiership, championship and international experience there and I can’t see us tiring in quite the same way tomorrow.
Hopefully, the finishers will do exactly that…
How the Coventry coaches must wish for a bench of 7 players, not five, as is the case in the higher leagues, particularly with the strength in depth that we now possess in this current squad.
National One now includes several teams with genuine aspirations of playing national tier 2 rugby, with squads big enough to cope with the addition of a further two more players on the bench. A change in the rules to allow National One clubs to do this would involve more players in regular first team rugby and potentially protect them from playing when injured or when physically spent and in danger of injury. Clubs who haven’t got big enough squads to work a 7 man bench could opt for 5, but realistically if the extra numbers involved turned out to be problematic for them, then they wouldn’t be competing at the top end of the league anyway. It just seems it’s another way of the RFU widening the gap between professional and semi-professional rugby.
Anyway, gripe over. The fact that Cov do have a larger bench tomorrow should certainly work in their favour, although just how much of an advantage it will offer over last season remains to be seen. It will also be interesting to see how the various alternative combinations of players evolve during the course of the game, with players on the bench in direct competition with those starting for a place in the team for the league opener against Hull Ionians in three weeks time. Tolmie/Nilsen, White/Brazier, Maisey/Fenner, Stevens/Grove. It should be fascinating.
A good individual performance against Jersey won’t seal a place in the side as there still a number of games to go, but it will put said player in pole position.
It might well be that players don’t see it in such black and white terms and that as member of a large squad they expect to be in and out of the team at various times during the season. I can’t help thinking though, indeed hoping, that there is an edge to it as well. Competition for places presumably ensures training is more intense and players more focused which as a coach is something you would be looking for all the time, surely…?
It is definitely an exciting squad that Cov is taking over to Jersey and with three key players in Trimble, Oram and Jubb still unavailable there are options throughout the team.
By all accounts Jersey are hoping for a bigger than usual pre-season crowd for the Coventry game as this is the only chance Jersey supporters will get to see their team play at home before the start of the Championship season in September. At £5, the cost of entrance shouldn’t deter locals who might not see Coventry as quite such a threat as some of the Cov supporters do… 🙂
Jersey Reds are something of an unknown quantity this season with so many players moving on and the club having to rebuild their squad. However, they remain a Championship side and as such they will almost certainly be stronger than any other team we play this year, including Rotherham. A good performance away from home will set us up nicely for the remainder of the pre-season, although just how you define ‘a good performance’ when talking ‘Championship at home to National One’ is open to discussion.
I am hoping for a closer game against The Reds than last year certainly and some signs that we have more attacking options away from home against better sides than perhaps was evident in our league campaign before Christmas – Esher, Blackheath, Richmond to name but three. I think we will be stronger defensively and I’d be disappointed if we leaked quite so many points…but above all I’d just like to see us take the game to the opposition and dictate more of the play rather than be reactive, which was what I remember happening for periods of the game 12 months ago.
Flight bag packed (no check-in fortunately), boarding pass printed and phone charged. All systems go.
It’s a early-ish flight for me this morning and I should be in St Brelade by late morning which gives me a chance to explore the area and soak up the sun which wasn’t the case last year given the later flight.
Fill my heart with song and let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for
All I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
Ol’ Blue Eyes makes his first appearance, and long overdue it is too…if I could be any crooner, it would have to be Frank…
….although he wasn’t just any crooner…
Fill my heart with song
Let me sing for ever more
You are all I long for, all I worship and adore
In other words, please be true
In other words
In other words
I love you