Young at heart
Yet what a start
Old before their time
Bluebells – Young At Heart
As a game of competitive rugby, the opening game against Broadstreet was the more enjoyable of the two in last Saturday’s double-header.
Although the Development Academy side ended up comfortable winners, they were pushed much harder than the first team squad were against Sale. They had to dig a little deeper than might have been expected at half time as Broadstreet scored three unanswered tries in the opening 16 minutes of the second half.
Losing 28-7 and looking down the proverbial barrel, ‘Street clawed their way back to within just four points of the Academy side and at that stage it looked as if a shock might be on the cards.
As it was, Coventry were able to move up a gear or two and in the final 25 minutes scored 5 tries to move out of sight and end up deserved winners.
The Development Academy side had just five of the senior squad in its starting line-up and, finishing with even fewer, produced a really encouraging display that demonstrates the strength Cov in depth now possesses throughout the club. Broadstreet are a National Two (North) side, just a division below us at the moment, and showed plenty of enterprise and ability, but a second string Cov side proved too strong in the end and I can only imagine the pleasure, and pride, the likes of Brendan Burke, Matt Price and Rowland Winter will have felt watching the youngsters compete so effectively at this level.
There have been times in the not so distant past when full strength Cov sides haven’t won by such a big margin over teams from lower divisions in pre-season friendlies. That Cov can put out such a strong Development side and compete at this level is a major step forward for the club, meeting yet another one of the targets set out by Rowland Winter last season, and ahead of schedule too.
And most pleasing of all was the way in which such a young pack equipped themselves so well, with only Matt Price and Harry Morley from the senior squad there to add their experience. Matt Price was taken off at half time and Harry Morley after 49 minutes which meant that for over half an hour the pack were made up purely of Development squad players – a real plus to come out of the game for me. And it was at the time when Broadstreet had started to work its way back into the game, so full marks to the youngsters for pushing on and negating the Broadstreet threat.
They had to regroup at 29-25, with Broadstreet full of confidence and within just a try of taking the lead.
Such experience is invaluable, something that just can’t be taught on the training ground. The Development players involved in the opening game on Saturday should take great heart from that final quarter in which they completely dominated the opposition.
Having Matt Price in the side is so important. He’s a leader and he’s never going to be a player whose head will drop – the ideal man to have in there. And whilst Matt can sometimes play close to the edge at times, that commitment and determination is such a great example to the younger members of the squad. He’s obviously a player the youngsters look up to. someone for whom they will play – a player who wears his heart on his sleeve. They get their introduction to the Covdog the moment they step onto the pitch with Matt Price,
He and Harry Morley worked exceptionally hard and provided the stability in the scrum that might have otherwise been lacking early on and it’s no coincidence that when Matt went off, the Development side wobbled a little.
All the senior players had strong games. At 15, Cliffie Hodgson was strong in defence and looked to regularly come into the line, enjoying the time and space to link up with his backs. Tom Wheatcroft looked like he was back to full fitness and was involved in much that was good about Cov. He tackled well, won good ball in the loose and was always looking to be inventive and to keep the ball in play wherever possible. He really looked like he was intent on giving the coaches a nudge to remind them that he is hungry to get back into the match day squad.
Of the 5 senior players on show, Ben Palmer probably had the most impressive game, though. He controlled the play well and caused a lot of damage when looking to run the ball out of defence. He’s far quicker than he looks and is deceptively quick over the first 15-20 metres and his two tries, the first and last of the game, oozed quality.
He also has a thumping right foot on him and his kicking out of hand was impressive all match long. If he gets the chance to play in the senior games (which surely he will), he’ll definitely do a good job, he’ll fit in really well.
In recent years, we’ve been blessed with some really good first choice fly halves, in particular Matt Jones, but we’ve seldom had anyone in reserve and have had to often use players playing out of their natural positions to fill the 10 shirt (eg Caolan Ryan and even Cliffie Hodgson). Now we are blessed with three players who could all lead the line at National One in Tony Fenner, Will Maisey and Ben Palmer .
There were a couple of other notable performances in the backs out there on Saturday. Joe Lane looked to be a very promising centre and caused the Broadstreet defences some very uncomfortable moments before he was replaced after 50 minutes. I don’t know anything about him before the game, although a quick search on Google unearthed a Joe Lane from Southam College:
Lane is a promising attacking full back who represented the Midlands last season a year young. He has missed much of this season through an ankle injury suffered playing for Warwickshire against Leicestershire, but recovered in time to claim a Midlands spot before going on to win red rose honours.
I might have got that horribly wrong, and apologies to Joe if that is the case – and irrespective of the above, the Lane who played on Saturday looked hugely promising, even to the point of someone else in the crowd texting me to see if I knew where the lad was from… that’s always a good sign!
Kwaku Asiedu seemed to enjoy the game and it was no real surprise when he got on the scoresheet. He looked like he might have been limping after the game so I hope he hasn’t picked up another knock as the wide positions are those, for me, where there is still room for players to stake their claim.
In the forwards, the back row seemed to get better as the game progressed. Tom Price had a good second half and Ryan, after a couple of years in the wilderness, might yet repay the faith Cov has shown in him.
Cameron Gray led the line well and was very visible in the loose and at a time when Coventry’ scrum just looked like it might struggle following the Matt Price’s exit at half time, the arrival of Phil (?) Ackuaka seemed to steady things somewhat. Ackuaka is a dominant figure in the pack and for someone so big, he gets around the pitch very effectively. As a scrummager, he’s still very inexperienced but if he can improve technically, he could be a very useful acquisition to the squad this season (I think he might be on loan from Northampton, but someone is bound to correct me on this…).
Will Priestley game on at hooker and showed his versatility by finishing the game off in the back row a la Scott Tolmie and Jake Byrne more than held his own in the front row, following the late withdrawal of Andy Brown.
One player who particularly stood out for me, and he only came on for the last 20 minutes or so, was Gabriel Oghre. Another, whom I hadn’t come across before.
Again using Google to search his background (and I’m pretty sure I’m right on this one!), it seems he has been loaned out from Wasps:
Wasps announce the signing of hooker Gabriel Oghre…to the Senior Academy ahead of the new season.
19-year-old Oghre, who represented England Under 19s against France in April, was at Bath Rugby, having joined their Senior Academy from Millfield School before the start of last season.
During the 2015/16 season Oghre captained Bath’s Under 18s side, catching-the-eye with his strong carrying and solid set piece work.
He certainly got himself noticed and ended up playing the final 19 minutes for the senior side against Sale FC as well. Even with the likes of Scott Tolmie and Phil Nilsen in the full squad, the presence of the young Oghre could be really useful and would be excellent cover should one of them be injured or unavailable. Definitely one to look out for next week if he’s down on the team list!
The fact that by the end of the game Cov, with only Hodgson and Palmer remaining of the senior squad, was so dominant against a Broadstreet side that had given them a good test earlier in the game says much for depth of talent the club possesses. The players haven’t been together for long and yet they have clearly bought into what the coaches are expecting of them and you could see in their play plenty that was similar to that of the senior side.
It’s still very early days, but this is a group of players who have learned quickly, as they will need to continue to do if they are going to be competitive in the Zoo Sports Shield this season. It is a massive learning curve for them, playing against teams that will contain far more experienced players.
However, as we saw on Saturday, the squad has talent in abundance and watching the progress of some of these youngsters, and hopefully seeing some of them put pressure on those in the senior squad, will be one of the highlights of the season.
As a Coventry supporter, it greatly widens the level of interest in the club – and at no additional cost. Most of the games at home will be double-headers which provides excellent value for money, as well as a far deeper understanding of selection and how the Development Academy squad is linked directly to the success of the main squad and vice versa.
Plenty of people turned up to see the Development Academy side in action on Saturday, with relatively few choosing only to watch the Sale game. With Cov entertaining Championship side Rotherham at 3.00 pm next Saturday, hopefully generating an even bigger crowd than for the Sale game, then maybe there will be a few more to watch the Academy side in the opener against Newbold as well.
With the quality of rugby played by the youngsters over the weekend, they deserve a bigger audience.
12 months ago this was very much a long term vision for the club…a vehicle for the progression of local young talent from school to seniors rugby whilst, hopefully, ensuring that Coventry kept hold of some of the best of the home grown talent.
On Saturday, the vision became very much the reality and it was great to watch.
The Bluebells – one major it, one album, not much more than one hit wonders. But it was a classic…and a video well worth a watch, with Stratford Johns (he of Z Cars fame) having a little cameo role in it…