Habits change into character
This was a disappointing Coventry performance against a good Bishop’s Stortford side that on yesterday’s performance look to be one of the few promoted teams in recent seasons that appear strong enough to do more than just survive in their opening season in this league.
Despite what seemed a rather ill-disciplined Cov display compared to the standards the team has been setting for much of this season, they won.
It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t an encounter that will live long in the memory, but it in the end Cov ensured that they took five very hard-earned points from the game and with them, top spot in the league.
If Cov are going to win National One, there are going to games where they just aren’t able to run in the eight or nine tries that we’re growing accustomed to, especially at home. They are going to come across sides that embrace the challenge of playing one of the top sides in the league, spurred on by the some good away support and the chance to perform in front of one of the biggest crowds that, as a team, they’ll have probably ever come up against.
It was a weekend of surprises, with Moseley humiliated at home by Blackheath, Plymouth only narrowly beating Cambridge and failing to score a bonus in the process and Darlington finding, as Coventry did three weeks ago, that Old Albanian is a difficult place to go to as one of the league favourites. Whilst Coventry managed to come away from St Albans with a win by a margin of just two points in Week 3, DMP lost by a similar amount yesterday.
As a result, it is Coventry that currently heads the table with a fifth of the season now completed.
But early days will soon become mid-season and the longer Cov keep doing what they need to do, the more the gap grows. Three points now between us and DMP in second place.
Rowland Winter has rightly said that Cov must concentrate on their own performances. Spend time worrying how other teams around you are faring and you run the risk of taking your eye of your own game.
A gap of three points…get that to five and with a superior points difference we can take a hit and still remain top of the league. And with away games against DMP and Plymouth still to come, that might be hugely significant in April.
Sometimes you have to grind out results as we did today and the importance of us winning the game, whilst securing the bonus as teams around us faltered, cannot be underestimated.
You can’t always put on a show and play the type of champagne rugby that we’ve seen Coventry produce in patches already this season. Sometimes you have to dog it out. You have to be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in and rely not just on your own ability, but on character and teamwork as well to get you through.
Yesterday was one such occasion.
And yes, I’m sure there will be an inquest on Monday as to why Cov couldn’t break free of a Bishop’s Stortford team that were in their faces from the word go. They were limited a little in terms of their ability to attack the Coventry line but they were able to put immense pressure on us when we had possession, forcing us into making a number handling errors and winning an amount of turnover ball against us that we just haven’t seen at the BPA for some time now.
Yesterday’s victory could be attributed as much to the character of the side as to its overall superiority. We gifted the opposition a number of points and on two occasions we scored tries at one end only to concede kickable penalties immediately at the other, the Stortford kicker having a great day and helping keep his team in the game for much of the match. But we kept coming back and whilst there might have been a time last season, away from home, or in most of the games the season before, when we would have lost our heads a little and allowed the opposition to pull further away, that was not the case yesterday.
One of the positives from yesterday, and a real positive at that, was that we saw 15 players playing as a team.
Yes, James Stokes lit up the game on occasions, especially with that final try that was as good an individual try as we’ve seen from a Coventry player for a long time, especially when you take into account its importance.
But, in the end, it was teamwork that got us over the line.
All pre-season and in the opening weeks of the campaign, the coaches have concentrated on creating a feeling of unity and of togetherness, not just on the training ground but off it as well. The players have embraced it and by all accounts it is a very happy squad, a squad where players are happy to work for each other. Many of the activities on the training ground have taken the players out of their comfort zone – the boxing, the wrestling, tug o’ war and – whilst others have ensured the team works together.
Habits are forming that are moulding players into a team more than perhaps we saw under Morgan or Maynard.
And, as Ovid suggested over 2000 years ago, habits over time turn into character.
I guess it’s that St Crispin’s Day feeling:
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother
Shakespeare – Henry V
This was no more apparent than in the last few minutes when on a number of occasions we were under real pressure in our own 22 following poor discipline. Each time someone different took the lead to recover the ball and win a penalty to relieve our lines. Dave Brazier, for instance, in the final couple of minutes put in a crucial tackle and then stayed on his feet to win the penalty as the Stortford player failed to release.
Another time it was the scrum which, under pressure for far more of the game than we are generally used to, won a penalty to give Will Maisey the chance to relieve some of the growing pressure from a Stortford side that fully deserved a point from the game.
But all that training, the hours of working on defensive routines, of everyone having to play together as a unit, in the end it paid off.
It’s not a game I believe we would have won last season, despite the fantastic home run. The likes of Narraway, in particular, but also Nilsen and Sam Tuitupou, brought a lot to the game and it was Narraway’s leadership which was the basis for the improved defensive performance in those final 20 minutes.
Several times we were camped in our own 22, but on each occasion we managed to do what we had failed to do earlier in the game and hold our discipline and put pressure on Stortford and in the end it was they who were penalised. It was really tense at times and Stortford should be given immense credit from their performance – they never gave up and showed just how far self-belief can take you.
Playing against a team packed with players who had far more experience and probably ability as well, they never gave up and for once the fortress BPA effect worked against us. The occasion and the opposition appeared to spur them on to a level beyond what many of us had expected, although Rowland Winter had said that they would be the best team we’d faced so far other than Blackheath – and on that performance they were a good deal better.
Should Stortford have won it?
Not for me…Coventry had at least two opportunities to score, only to be held up on the line (one of which was a fantastic piece of defence from the Stortford forwards), and generally were more of a threat in attack than their opponents.
We were the better side and I felt we deserved the win, but only just. I think we probably had the rough end of the deal with some of the refereeing decisions, especially in the first half and at times the referee and his touch judges didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength. On the basis of what we saw yesterday, one of Stortford’s strengths is their physicality, and whilst most of the time it stayed just about on the right side of what is acceptable, there were one or two off the ball tackles that probably should have been penalised.
Others will have a better take on what exactly the problems were and why we struggled to retain the ball and use it as effectively as we have against other sides so far this season. However, I do think there are a couple of players worthy of a mention, other than James Stokes, Phil Nilsen and Luke Narraway…
Nataniel Titchard-Jones came on at a time when the Coventry scrum looked to be struggling and seemed to make a difference, with the scrum at first holding firm and then beginning to get on top in the final quarter.
George Oram had a strong game and was a dominant force in the lineout and Cameron Gray fitted in well and worked hard in defence and in the loose. Povoas and Daynes worked their socks off and with Stortford seeing much of the ball, they were forced into more of a defensive role, one that they performed well.
Povoas isn’t the biggest of back row forwards, but it always surprises me how he can drive through the initial defender and break the gain line enough to force the opposition to turn. His strength-to-weight ratio must be one of the best in the club.
Sam Tuitupou had a very strong first 43 minutes (and it should have been at least 5 minutes longer!) and showed exactly why Jon Sharp and Rowland Winter were so keen to bring him to the club. His try was the result of a strong first break and a charge for the line that no one was ever going to stop.
A lot’s been written already about the injury to Pete White and I can only reiterate what everyone else has said and wish him a speedy recovery. RW’s decision to bring in another quality scrum half in the form of Dave Brazier is already paying off and I thought he had a really strong game. Knoxy dislocated two fingers but they have been relocated and as far as I know there is no break, so he shouldn’t be out too long.
I played the following week when I did mine… 🙂
The backs struggled to dominate the way they have previously, but Anthony Matoto took his try well and looked solid…I’m sure he’ll get more games in the weeks to come.
The absence of Alex Groves and, in particular, Nile Dacres was noticeable, and although Dacres won’t be out for long, Grove looks like he might be unavailable for at least 8 weeks which is a big disappointment because he has added some real steel to the backline. Max Trimble’s return shouldn’t be too far away now so that should add some much needed additional pace out wide.
All-in-all, a game in which at times we flattered to deceive but in the end we won, despite being under more pressure than we have been at home for a long time.
We move on…
…to Fylde next week and another of those grounds where last season we failed to do ourselves any justice at all. It will be another busy week on the training ground, but there are plenty of positives still on which to build…not the least of which we are heading the league and without ever playing consistently well.
If we keep focusing on our game, this league is so unpredictable at the moment that those around us are going to drop points in the coming weeks.
We’ll need to perform better than we did yesterday though, that’s for sure.
If you were at one or both of the games yesterday, then please do vote in the Man of the Match polls…I’ll include the results in Monday’s post.