Sale ended yesterday…
50-0 is certainly a significant scoreline…
But of even greater significance, perhaps, is yesterday’s 47-21 scoreline in the Harlequins v Jersey friendly, a game in which Quins fielded a very strong side including the likes of Care, Robshaw and Brown. Jersey only managed to score 6 more points against Cov last week and in the final 34 minutes of that game failed to score at all. Their performance against Quins makes our result over there last week all the more intriguing.
Coventry’s defence last week was as good as I’ve seen it for a long time, which is why it didn’t come as too much of a surprise yesterday when a weakened Sale FC side struggled to break Coventry’s defensive stranglehold and generally toiled all afternoon against a Coventry side that were just too strong in all areas of the game.
Whilst Coventry played well and did everything they needed to beat Sale so convincingly, I left the ground yesterday unsure really as to just how good a performance it was from a Cov side that wasn’t really tested to any great extent.
On the day, I thought Sale were a little disappointing in that they never really put the home side under any pressure, the kind of pressure that Cov needed to experience going into next week’s game against Championship side Rotherham and the start of the league season the week after.
Sale offered plenty of spirited resistance but little else and I can only remember them having one clear line break during the course of the game. Whilst they saw plenty of possession, too often they moved the ball laterally and Coventry’s defence was so strong that either it forced Sale into making a number of unforced errors or to kick for territory, which they did with limited success.
What the game did show, though, is the gulf between a side that looked like a mid-table to top National Two and a top end National One side. Had Coventry taken their chances, the score could have been a lot more one-sided, with 4 try-scoring opportunities going begging in the final 10 minutes alone before James Stokes crossed the line for his fourth, and Coventry’s eighth try of the game.
Forward passes, knock-ons and crossings all contrived to prevent Coventry from really compiling a scoreline that would have been a more honest reflection of the gap between the two sides, with Rob Knox being the player who seemed to miss out most. Rob could have easily had a hatrick had Coventry’s accuracy been just a little bit better.
It was a still a good performance from Cov, though.
50-0 against any side represents a pretty decent performance, but even at half time with Cov 24-0 up, it felt as if Cov hadn’t really had to do a lot to be as far ahead as they were. Coventry’s ability to press up on the Sale attackers meant that the visitors were always harried and hassled with ball in hand and Coventry were quickly able to stifle any threat from the Sale backs.
Cov didn’t miss too many tackles either, and at times when they hit, they hit hard, so much so that one or two of the Same backs were a little too quick to get the ball away at times. But in truth Sale were poor in attack and bereft of ideas as to how to break down an organised and resolute Coventry defence.
Coventry’s midfield looks so much stronger already this season and in Sam Tuitupou, Alex Grove and Heath Stevens, Cov have centres who are organised, work well together and have the vision and creativity to make the spaces for the likes of Stokes, Knox and Matoto to run into. (I also thought Tom Wheatcroft look really sharp in the opening game against Broadstreet.)
In all honesty, I’m not a great follower of rugby outside of National One and England, so when Sam Tuitupou’s arrival was mentioned, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I’d heard of him, but (and I guess this is somewhat embarrassing, but what the heck) I had to Google him to find out anything other than the most basic of information.
Too often, players coming to Cov don’t live up to the hype…this season this isn’t going to be the case and in the games I’ve watch so far, the likes of Tuitupou, Makaafi, Grove, Preece, Narraway and Nilsen have all shown exactly why Rowland Winter was so keen to bring them in. But Sam T does stand out, even amongst them.
For such a small man, relatively, his tackling is frightening and even though he has a tendency to go a little high under the new guidelines, he has already brought far more organisation to the back line. In attack he is so creative and the thing I’ve noticed most about him, and Latu and Grove, is that they tend to make the ball available far more than most players at this level.
Sam in particular, but also the others, don’t want to take the ball to ground and they are always looking to off-load. On a number of occasions Sammy T fired short passes out to allow players to come in at unusual angles and open up spaces, as well as making the odd break himself.
By 40 minutes he was off, replaced by Heath Stevens.
I think he might have picked up a slight knock as he was given an ice pack for his foot/ankle (?) straight away, but it didn’t look to be a real problem and he spent the rest of the game as a spectator, watching on and with a permanent smile on his face. In 40 minutes he’d shown exactly the sort of influence he can have on a game, a game that was already over by the time he left the pitch. It was exactly the right call from the coaches.
Protect your assets…
The pack looked solid but hasn’t yet reached the heights we saw last season. It wobbled a couple of times and went backwards, was even penalised. However, the longer the game went on the better it looked and the latest recruit into the front row, Nathanael Titchard-jones had a very solid game and was noticeable in the loose, too.
One of the highlights for me was Jimmy Litchfield propping against our own Development player, Phil Ackuaku loaned to Sale for the afternoon. The youngster came on when the Sale scrum was finding it tough going and after the it had gone backwards at a rapid rate yet again and Cov had been awarded a penalty, Jimmy gave Phil a pat on the head in commiseration.
There were plenty of strong individual performances. Phil Nilsen looked to be enjoying himself, with the lineout holding up well and his first try for Cov (I think?). The second row looked solid with both Nile Dacres and Tom Poole being prominent, Dacres with the ball in hand, Poole without it. When Oram came on 50 minutes we saw immediately what he has to offer with a strong bullocking run that led directly to a Cov try. He’s another player who will definitely be in the mix once he regains his match fitness.
The back row selection is going to be interesting this season, with RW having a number of options across all three positions. I would have bet at the start of the pre-season that Narraway, Latu and Jack Preece would have been nailed on certs to start against Hull, but once again Olly Povoas is playing himself into contention, just as he did in the second half of last season.
He is so quick around the pitch, gets to the breakdown early and is a ferocious tackler. He is fearless and put in such a big hit early on in the Sale game that the unfortunate player in receipt of Olly’s attentions had to have treatment. He’s a player who is going to get a lot of game time this season.
And then , of course, there’s still Waila Setu to come.
How good does that sound.
Luke Narraway seems to be one of those players who gets on with things, isn’t showy, but is at the heart of what’s going on. The most telling thing for me was that when he came off, he stood in the coaching area and was constantly barking out instructions to the players – he’s another that has come in and appears to be embracing the challenge.
Amongst the backs we didn’t learn a great deal, other than how improved they are as a unit defensively. Brazier was solid and did a good job, White came on and looked very sharp, although by then it was more a question of damage limitation for the visitors.
Will Maisey hasn’t yet found his running game, but as always his distribution was very good. I though Ton Fenner had a good first half, often making the break or half break and controlling the game well…he’s another player who is strong in defence as well.
And James Stokes, well he showed what a destructive runner he is in a game that was made for him, with the opposition kicking deep, allowing him the time and space to run it back at them – Stokes against Caolan Ryan next week could be interesting, both similar in many respects, although I think Stokes is the more destructive of the two.
Rob Knox had a good game and was unlucky not to score and whilst Anthony Matoto was quiet for the most part, he looks to be a powerful runner but has yet to really find his feet, having only been with us a short while.
It was a good run out certainly.
I’m not sure it was exactly what was needed just now, but a 50-0 win is indicative of the confidence in the Coventry camp at the moment. I would have like to have seen Cov tested a little more at various times in the game, in the way that Broadstreet tested Coventry in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
Against Jersey, when it looked as if the floodgates might open when the home side scored in the opening 5 minutes of the second half, Coventry responded brilliantly – there was never any need yesterday because at no point in the game were they under any real pressure.
I’m not sure Sale FC are as good a side as perhaps we thought they might be. Certainly not on yesterday’s performance….and if that is the case, we have to be careful getting too carried away with the result.
There were a fair few errors out there yesterday, with again too many penalties conceded (although after a poor start when we gave away 3 in the opening 3 minutes things settle down somewhat) and whilst the lineout functioned particularly well, the scrum still isn’t quite where it needs to be.
Rotherham will be a real test. They lost 59-14 yesterday to Newcastle Falcons so they will be looking for a morale boosting performance against us before their season starts. They struggled in the Championship last year so it might be a good reflection of just where the two sides currently are in terms of their pre-season – one that we are certainly capable of winning.
It’s another double-header, too, with the Development/Academy/A side playing Newbold.
Yesterday’s crowd of 570 odd was ok, but hopefully we’ll see rather more next week. In fairness, many of those 570 arrived early to watch at least some of the ‘Street game and by the end of the opener there was a decent crowd there, so hopefully that will have added to the Coventry coffers somewhat. .
I haven’t as yet even mentioned the opener yesterday, against Broadstreet, something I’ll address in tomorrow’s post. I thought a number of players impressed and other than a short blip after half time, it was probably the better game to watch. In fairness, ‘Street at one point looked like they might well shock Cov.
Five hours at the BPA – but it went so quickly. The double-header format seems to work well and the good news is that the pitch stood up well to the extra wear and tear, even after the heavy overnight rain.
I imagine Eric Richardson must be a happy man this morning.