Friendlies Season 3 – Episode 3: the one on the island (the review)

Getting so much better all the time!

It’s getting better all the time
Better, better, better
It’s getting better all the time
Better, better, better

Getting so much better all the time!

The Beatles – Getting Better

I read it pretty well in the end.

In yesterday’s post, the morning of the game, I wrote:

Put the opposition under a degree of pressure at times, score a couple of tries and frustrate them – job done (with no injuries!). I hope we take our points early on and play it as a proper game, not declining the three points should they be on offer – points on the board make a big difference, friendly or otherwise…

…which is pretty much what happened. Job done.

Although a job that in the end felt somewhat unfinished.

As I start this post I can’t help but feel just a little disappointed because we could, should, have got even closer. The more I think about the game, the less the gap between the two sides seems.

Had I not been at the game, missed the various media updates and logged on to the Messageboard to find out the result, I think I would have settled for a scoreline of 26-17.

In fact I know I would…

In fairness, Jersey were the better team in the first half and in the second quarter they played very well, but even then, in injury time, we scored arguably the best try of the game following a James Stokes break, with Scott Tolmie popping up to run in the try.

Jersey’s back row were particularly impressive early on, quick to the breakdown and winning penalties as Cov players were forced to hold on too long. Their scrum-half also caused us some problems, although I thought Pete White looked sharp too.

That said, Jersey benefited from some poor discipline from a Cov team that gave away far too many penalties and whose handling was decidedly average at times; we should have had a couple of tries early on from chances we created. They scored two tries from penalties that resulted from our infringements which is exactly what you’d expect teams in the league above to do – capitalise on the opposition’s errors. It has to be a lesson learned from yesterday…make mistakes and good teams will punish you.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a really good performance, one of the best we seen against Championship opposition for some time. The fact that I am a little disappointed is only because, had we played with a little more self-discipline, we might well have got to the Moseley/Plymouth/Old Albanian scenarios of last season – a  few points down and a couple of plays left  and Will Maisey in the wings. And the way we finished the second half, it wouldn’t have been out of the question.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that at home, in front of 2000 plus Coventry supporters, Coventry might well have beaten Jersey. The Reds are going to be alright this season despite all the changes to their squad. Just how well they’ll do is difficult to tell because as yet they haven’t played anything like their strongest side.

I reckon we were watching the top end of National One playing mid-table Championship, with the side National One showing that there isn’t a huge difference between the two at the moment.

That might sound a bold statement, but the second half of yesterday’s game exemplified exactly that…

In the open couple of minutes, Coventry pushed Jersey back into their own 22 and after a series of phases in which we looked in control close to their line, we knocked on. From there we were penalised and Jersey kicked to half way.  From the lineout, Cov failed to roll away and Jersey kicked to our 22…two plays and we end up 70 metres back.

A further pen from the lineout and Jersey were now just 5 metres away – a catch and drive and the referee awarded a penalty try.

4 penalties in less than a minute of actual play and from 19-10 down at the start of the half, we suddenly find ourselves 26-10 down and with something of a mountain to climb.

And here’s where Coventry showed real character and whilst in the past previous Coventry sides might well have capitulated against such strong opposition, as it was we just got stronger and stronger ourselves. For a few further minutes Jersey looked to step up the pace and they ran hard and straight but our midfield was immense, with barely a tackle missed and suddenly it was Jersey’s turn to drop the ball or infringe. Yes Jersey had their moments with Cov defending well against a couple of lineouts deep in our 22, but the momentum shifted and Cov had the upper hand by the end of the game.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the defence already is looking stronger. I thought we finished last season looking as if we were more organised defensively and the additions of the likes of Sam Tuitupou and Alex Grove are certainly making a difference, I can’t see Cov leaking too many points this season on this form.

Coventry began to find plenty of spaces to work in and when they kicked the ball behind the Jersey back line, we had the runners to put them under considerable pressure and on a couple of occasions we almost scored, but for some last ditch defence from Jersey.

Both sides made a number of changes and I think I’m right in saying that Cov used all 9 replacements by the end of the game, but with no apparent tailing off in performance. Jersey, on the other hand,  also used a number of replacements but looked a lot more tired by the end of the game and Coventry was very much in the ascendancy come the final whistle.

The bench could make a big difference for us this season…the likes of Nilsen, Grove and Makaafi are all ex-Championship players and their experience is going to win us games, that’s for sure. Latu is like a raging bull when he gets the ball and is so difficult to stop and he helped turn things around when he came on – obviously much loved by Jersey supporters (having played for them before Doncaster),  they gave him a good reception when he came on. And if it’s not them on the bench, then there are others with the experience to control the final quarter of the game, something Cov struggled to do at times last season.

Phil Nilsen was prominent in the loose and whereas Scott T likes to stand off and receive the ball in space, Phil N is the kind of player who seems to relish the physicality ruck and maul – no wonder his nickname is Asbo (mind you, the closely cropped hair helps!).

When we took the game to Jersey, especially when the ball went wide, they struggled with the power and pace of our runners. James Stokes looked sharp and his quickness of thought and fleetness of foot troubled the Jersey back line. Heath Stevens was able to break the Jersey defence on occasions and Rob Knox looked more confident out wide and had a couple of good runs.

However, this wasn’t a game of individual performances, it was very much a team effort and for once Cov weren’t able to rely on the total dominance of the Cov pack. Whilst we did win a couple of penalties from our scrum, we also lost a couple and there were times when Pete White had to take the ball from the base of the scrum when it was either wheeling or going backwards. Jimmy Litchfeld and Harry Morley did well in the final quarter and Harry M scored his first try for the club (I think)…certainly the first I’ve seen him score anyway ;).

I know there was some concern about the way the front row was binding which was causing us problems, but I’ll let others explain that one…

Cameron Gray played most of the second half and he certainly did well in the line out and put himself about in the loose – whilst the four senior locks, Poole, Dacres, Oram and Jubb will be in front of Cameron at the moment, if he continues maturing at such a quick rate, we’ll be seeing a fair bit of him over the course of this season, and not necessary in the Zooey Shieldy Thingy Cup.

The crowd, announced as 1075, seemed to enjoy the game and I think there were a number of Jersey supporters, including those around me, who were fairly relieved when the final whistle went.

It would be easy to get really carried away with yesterday’s performance, but I’m not convinced yet of the quality of the opposition. Once they’ve got a few matches under their belts, I think they’ll do ok, but no one as yet really knows how good they are. If we repeat this sort of performance against Rotherham, then we’ll have a much better idea of where we are – Rotherham, remember, would have been relegated had it not been for the demise of London Welsh last season.

Unless Rotherham have recruited and recruited well, at home Coventry could prove too strong and a Championship scalp under their belts, the week before the National campaign begins, well that wouldn’t do the old confidence any harm, would it?

At times the Jersey runners looked dangerous – strong and powerful going into the tackle and there will be a few Coventry players nursing sore bodies this morning. Pete White got a knock, but he came back on in the second half so he should be okay and Kwaku Asiedu was injured after he had a decent run down the left wing in the second half. There was some concern initially but he got up and carried on, but was quickly taken off – hopefully, he’ll be back in contention for a starting place next week..

With no training on Monday, the players have a bit longer than normal to recover and I’m sure a few quiet(ish) drinks in St Helier in the evening will have helped.

After most friendlies one or more coaches will at some point say something along the lines, win or lose, that they learned something from the game; it’s something of a cliche these days. After yesterday though, having seen 25 players all get a decent amount of time on the pitch, Rowland Winter will  surely be that much closer to knowing his starting line-up for the Hull game.

With a double header next week, against opposition that shouldn’t be quite so testing as Jersey, I wonder if RW will give some of the fringe players a chance in the senior game against Sale (with Broadstreet playing beforehand), although with two full squads to put out, plus benches, that might not be as straightforward as it sounds. If Cov play the way they did against Jersey with a similar side next week, then unless Sale have a stronger squad than I’m anticipating, they could struggle.

Anyway, all-in-all, a highly satisfactory afternoon’s work, providing as it does further evidence of the progress Cov has made over these past 12 months. I’ve mentioned before that these sorts of games, against opposition a level above what we might expect to see during the course of the season, serve as reality checks, reminding us of just where we are in relation to the big(ger) boys.

Well, if this performance is the reality of where we currently are, then we’re clearly not that far behind.

As one Jersey supporter wrote on Rolling-maul soon after yesterday’s game:

Coventry were brilliant and did their fans more than proud.

although sadly he preceded it with:

If someone beats them to promotion this year I hope its Albion or Mose

How not to endear yourself to a Cov fan.

And whilst it is probably an overstatement, a kind one nevertheless,  given the number of unforced errors we made, especially in the first half, the result was encouraging. Very encouraging, indeed, even if I have been, as my wife would say, a bit of a ‘pissy-pants’ in suggesting some disappointment at the outcome.

But if we are to improve further we have to look beyond the ‘what went wells’ to the ‘what ifs’.

Get those right and we can reach the next level.

The coaches will look critically at the game and there will be things that they highlight that need sorting before the league kicks off in September. Criticism, when made constructively, can be a good thing; it can make you better.

Getting so much better all the time!

It’s getting better all the time
Better, better, better
It’s getting better all the time
Better, better, better

Getting so much better all the time!

Apologies, I couldn’t find a clip of The Beatles singing this – just Macca, but if you’ve ever owned a copy of Sgt Pepper, it will very be familiar…


6 thoughts on “Friendlies Season 3 – Episode 3: the one on the island (the review)

  1. It was a game that Cov needed. Tough opposition, some problems that had to be dealt with quickly on the pitch and a reminder there is still plenty to do despite a very encouraging performance. A great weekend all round

  2. From my perspective I initially felt somewhat frustrated after the game due to the penalties & handling errors from Coventry, However, having had time to reflect and looking at the game somewhat objectively, rather than emotionally, Coventry put in a very, very good performance. Certainly this team will cause many teams in a National League One big problems this season. We have Centres & Wingers who can tackle & tackle hard, unlike previous seasons where teams have too easily at times run through us, this won’t be the case this season. The view from the Jersey supporters I spoke to were that Cov are, & I quote “There or thereabouts”………and that “we will enjoy watching some excellent rugby this season”.
    This was a good Jersey side, just how good remains to be seen, but Coventry were certainly a good match for them and as Tim says, if it has been at BPA in front of the Cov faithful, it would have been a Coventry win.
    The score line between the sides could so easily have been much closer. A good, hard pre-season game, which has definitely benefited the Coventry players in terms of confidence. This team can compete with the likes of Jersey, yesterday proved that by the bucket load.

  3. Thanks for clearing that up Peter…would never otherwise have known about the penalty try incident! Certainly felt the Pete White (?) try that wasn’t in the first half down in the far corner was an odd one. Still, Jersey were a strong side and we did well to take the game to them as we did…bodes well for the future. Safe journey back and all the very best to Jacky for Tuesday.

  4. The dubious penalty try was due to a misunderstanding between the referee and his assistant, the assistant had called for a jersey infringement but the referee made an error and awarded the try penalty. We were standing next to the Jersey cameraman who had a link to the officials.
    We also missed out on a dubious knock on decision where we would have scored a perfectly good try.
    This being said the distance the team has come forward compared to last year was plain to see, especially with the level of fitness and the Jersey committee and management staff were very complementary regarding the progress the squad has made.
    In all a very satisfactory visit to the great club and island that is Jersey.

  5. Just as Phil Nilsen is nicknamed ‘Asbo’, let’s hope ‘Pissy Pants’ doesn’t stick as a nickname for you! I can imagine it being shouted around the bus on the away games, especially on the longer journeys.

Any thoughts:

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