Two pre-season games against two Championship sides and two losses.
Enough there for the doubters to work with.
Two games against Championship sides in which we came up a little short and in which we competed well and could even have won, but our lack of discipline and accuracy arguably cost us the result.
Enough there for the optimists like me to get their teeth into.
One of those games where you pays your money, you takes your choice.
It wasn’t the performance that I’d hoped for, to be fair. We are still falling foul of the referee on too many occasion to give ourselves any real chance of putting one of these bigger sides away. I’m not sure what the penalty count against us was, but Rowland Winter has said before that once it gets into double figures the odds against a win drop dramatically.
And it was well about ten.
We had a purple patch in the second quarter where we really took the game to Rotherham, so much so that we scored a couple of tries and by half time we were had a 14-7 advantage and looked good value for the lead at that stage. We’d opted to run the ball, rather than kick it away, and with the forwards appearing strong both in the scrum and maul, the break came just at the right time for Rotherham.
We struggled after half time and whilst the opposition were able to step it up a gear, and with their numerous replacements adding a greater intensity to their game, our bench didn’t seem to have the same impact.
There was clearly some post-match disappointment amongst Coventry supporters and rightly so. We underachieved in some areas, mainly because we made far too many errors, the result mainly of poor execution rather than the dominance of the opposition.
The lineout faltered badly for the first time this season. It wasn’t as if Rotherham were stealing our ball, either. It looked like all the various elements involved, the call, the timings of the throw and the jump were out of sync and as a result we were on the back foot more often that was healthy.
Take their opening try, for example, the result of us losing our own lineout 30m out (ish) from our own line. Strong sides will punish us when we make these sorts of basic errors and that’s exactly what Rotherham did. The ball quickly went out wide, the receiver hit the perfect angle and was over without anyone getting near him.
From our throw at the lineout to Rotherham scoring took less than 15 seconds.
Small margins. But small margins can win and lose you games. And one lost game can lose you the league.
It’s something that the coaches will be drilling home this week, I’m sure. Discipline is crucial and it’s an area that Cov are going to have to work on if we are going come away with wins against the top teams in National One.
One of the big differences between the two sides for me wasn’t that Rotherham were more skilful, or even fitter or better organised, it was that they took the right options at the right times and had the discipline and confidence, which grew visibly in the second half, to stick to the game plan.
Few penalties, little wasted ball.
We didn’t play clever rugby at times and Rotherham played to their strengths. They carried the ball well, their support play was good and although their backs never looked as if they were going to tear Cov apart, what they did, they did competently. Rotherham had the luxury of knowing they could rely on us to concede territory, the result of our inability to read the referee. When they were in our half they were able to keep the pressure on us because they were far more disciplined in almost everything they did, especially in the final quarter.
Very few National One teams overcome Championship sides in pre-season friendlies. so there’s no need to beat ourselves up about yesterday.
Very few indeed.
We got close to Rotherham with an underpar performance, but there were some real positives too, which in itself shows how much we have come on. I thought ours was a solid display and at times during the game there was little for the neutral to tell which of the teams was the Championship side.
At various points in the game we put Rotherham under some real pressure, so much so that they were forced to take the points rather than kick to the corner, an indication of just how much we were hurting them. Rotherham needed the win yesterday, they had suffered at the hands of opposition from a higher league last weekend and another loss would have really dented their confidence.
As it was, Cov made it extremely difficult for them and despite Rotherham’s win, I think Cov’s supporters would probably be more confident about the season ahead that Rotherham’s, based on the relative performances of the two sides yesterday. The Cov coaches, players and supporters have all set themselves really high standards and with that comes high expectations too. We didn’t live up to them yesterday which is why I guess we’re feeling a little deflated. But there were always going to be setbacks along the way; it’s what we take from them that is so important. Let’s get them out of the way early on in the season.
There were two main frustrations for me.
First, having decided to kick the ball, the kicking itself wasn’t accurate enough and the chasers, by-and-large, didn’t put enough pressure on the receivers. Too often the territory we gained initially was lost as Rotherham either kicked or ran the ball back. Yet, when we forced Rotherham back through some powerful mauling following some decent line breaks, we looked an altogether better side.
My other was our inability to read the ref – and not for the first time this season. We infringed far too often, whether it was offside, failing to roll away at the breakdown, not staying on our feet or playing the ball on the ground…sadly, it’s becoming something of a pattern and having been to a few practice sessions now, I know this is something the coaches are addressing.
It all starts in earnest next week with that opening league encounter against Hull Ionians, so there’s not long to get it sorted.
This was a Championship side and, yes, they might have finished bottom of the league last season but it is a very different squad and they didn’t seem noticeably weaker than Jersey. And we matched them for long periods of the game, even at times when we were ill-disciplined and making what looked like some strange decisions on the field.
There were plenty of positives to take away from the game. The scrum again looked strong and whilst Brazier and White did have times when they were having to deal with a retreating pack, our scrum seemed to get stronger and stronger and Roth were penalised on a few occasions too, as we put the Rotherham pack under a lot of pressure. We got little joy from the referee, especially when their front row stood up a couple of times. Jimmy Litchfield had a particularly strong game yesterday.
The back row that started against Rotherham surely has to be the one that starts against Hull.
Preece, Narraway and Makaafi were really prominent in the first half, winning the breakdown and constantly slowing down Rotherham ball. Jack Preece managed to steal the ball a couple of times, Makaafi was everywhere and when he wraps up a player, he stays wrapped. He is phenomenally strong and despite his goodly age, he doesn’t appear to slow down any more than the rest of the team.
I watched Luke Narraway closely yesterday and although he made the odd strange decision with ball in hand, including a couple of ill-judged kicks and a wasted pass, I thought defensively he was a rock. He made a number of really telling tackles and marshalled the forwards well…he also carries the ball strongly, although not enough for me. Yesterday was his best game so far in a Cov shirt.
Rotherham struggled to keep possession when our back row start to dictate the play in the second quarter.
With Waita Setu showing promise in the opener against Newbold, there are plenty of options available and we know both Brett Daynes and Olly Povoas will also have a part to play sooner or later.
As for the idea that the coaches are experimenting with players out of position, especially in the backs, I don’t think that is actually the case. I’m pretty certain Rowland Winter knows his team now for Hull and, I imagine, for Moseley too, but he can’t afford to lay all his cards on the table before the opening two games of the National One season.
Just as he’s been doing his homework on Hull and Mose, so their coaching staff will have been doing theirs on us. RW was never going to play the same starting team against Rotherham as he will against our next two opponents. Keep them second guessing.
And keep us guessing, too.
And besides,Tony Fenner at fullback might have to be an option if Cliffie Hodgson is going to play a lot of his rugby in the Zoo League. With Cliffie out of the equation, there isn’t another specialist 15, so an injury to Stokes might necessitate moving players out of position.
Same with both wings – which is where perhaps selection is less certain than anywhere else. With Trimble and Neale injured, options are limited, so it makes sense to give the likes of Stokes a go out wide, especially if Maisey or Fenner drop to 15. Knox? Matoto? Stokes? Perhaps even young Louis Roach from the Development Academy who is impressing with every game…?
Maybe it’s me with my rose-tinted spectacles again, but this wasn’t a poor performance by any means.
Rotherham struggled at times to compete with our starting 15 and it was only in the second half that they gained the upper hand, and much of that was down to our lack of accuracy and discipline.
What it did show is that if we aren’t at our best in the coming weeks and aren’t clinical in all that we do, there will be teams who will feed off our mistakes.
Cov needed that game – the loss, or rather the manner of it, won’t have done the players any harm provided it is a lesson learned. With the experience currently in the Coventry squad, you’d expect a reaction next week in training as everything builds up to next Saturday and the league opener.
And an even bigger response on the pitch against Hull.
Pre-match nerves already.
Can we do it?
(For anyone who watched one or both games yesterday and who hasn’t already voted….thank you in advance, Tim)
…although with the likelihood of most players completing a lot less than a full 80 minutes, it’s more a case of which player stood out the most on the day.
If you were at the either the Newbold or Rotherham games and would like to take part, all you need to do is click on the circle next to the player who is your choice of Man of the Match.
The software only allows one vote, although you can change your mind provided you do so before clicking on the ‘Vote’ button.
Whilst there won’t be as many taking part in the poll this week, given the lower attendance than at a league game, the more people who participate, the more accurate an indication it is of who supporters would probably have voted for…
The polls will end on Sunday evening.
Names are as they were going into the game, unless I managed to catch the changes immediately before the game.
There will be a couple of erroneous names, I’m afraid….to busy texting, snapping away to make a note.
Please give it a go!