Students taught a lesson in defence as Cov provide another masterclass #187
It’s 3 hours and 7 minutes now since a team scored any points against us – 187 minutes of rugby without conceding either a try or a penalty goal.
Another record in the making – or even made, perhaps?
Longer if you add on the various amounts of injury time involved.
Whilst yesterday’s win against Loughborough Students equalled Coventry’s longest ever run of consecutive wins, 18 in total back in the 2014/15 season, I wouldn’t mind betting that Coventry’s somewhat parsimonious approach to defence at the moment means as much, if not more, to the coaches than the beating of any records.
When Rory Banks crossed the line in the 54th minute to score the second and final try (unconverted I hasten to add) in Bishop’s Stortford’s narrow defeat to Cov back on 8th October, little did I imagine that Fylde and Loughborough wouldn’t score a single point between them in the next two games.
Week in, week out, the coaches have regularly referred to the importance of Cov retaining their discipline and, once again, for much of yesterday’s game that’s is exactly what Cov did.
The penalty count was again low, with perhaps the only real niggle being the additional 10m we gave away in the second half, presumably after someone had said something after we we’d been penalised around the half way line. The additional 10m and the subsequent kick to the corner meant that were were suddenly defending a lineout just 5m from our own try line.
Better sides might have made us pay for that…but with our defence as strong as it currently is, maybe they wouldn’t.
Certainly that’s not something that the coaches will want to see creeping into Cov’s game in the coming weeks. If they run a system of fines for in-game misdemeanours, then someone might be heavily out-of-pocket as a result of that one…
Joking apart – do they…fine players for in-game indiscretions, that is?
I know there are fines for arriving late to training and the like, but other than that…? That would be an interesting one for a Supporters’ Club evening – I rather imagine there might be one or two fairly amusing anecdotes surrounding the whole area of fines.
Chatting with supporters before the game in the area of the main stand where we sit, I don’t think anyone really knew what to expect from Loughborough.
With so many Leicester Academy players involved, and many of them different from those who had played for Loughborough the week before, Rowland Winter had said on Thursday that it would be hard for the team to prepare for the game in quite the same as it would against a club with a fairly static squad of players.
Knowns you can plan for, unknowns are much harder.
The coaches had analysed the plays and knew what to expect in terms of the execution of possible game plans, but they couldn’t go into the minutiae of, for instance, how the props bind or how our props could exploit their opponents weaknesses. No tapes and no hard evidence to go on. It just made life that little bit harder.
However, Rowland Winter, Louis Deacon and Nick Walsh had clearly prepared the team well and in the first half in particular, Cov did virtually everything that could have been expected of them.
Playing into the wind, and a strong wind it was too, Coventry put in a pretty near faultless performance.
Cov kept ball in hand and were patient in possession and with what must have been almost monotonous regularity, if you were a Loughborough supporter that is, Cov was able to force gaps to open up and move the ball forward without the need to kick. And often from the Loughborough restart.
At times, early on, Loughborough looked like a side who weren’t used to playing together and in the opening half they struggled to find any continuity and when they did get the ball, they looked as if they were somewhat bereft of ideas as to what to do with it.
To be fair though, much of this was down to the quality of Coventry’s back row in particular. Makaafi (and later Povoas), Preece and Daynes chased and harried for the whole 80 minutes and put Loughborough under so much pressure that they were unable to keep hold of enough ball, especially in the first half, to threaten our line.
In the second half, when Loughborough found themselves with a greater percentage of possession, Coventry were happy to hold them between our 22 and the half way line and they just tackled the soul out of them. Cov’s defensive line was rarely broken and there was always a second defender there should the first line of defence be broken.
In the end, Loughborough had just the one real opportunity to score, midway through the second half when a long, looped pass out wide on the left went forward with our defence nowhere to be seen.
Coventry’s forwards were magnificent and whilst I don’t want to influence the outcome of this blog’s ‘Man of the Match’ poll in any way, the voting is far more evenly spread this week than in any other previous poll. If you look at the Messageboard, the players that have caught the eye appear to be the back row, together with George Oram and Scott Tolmie. And it’s kind of hard not to agree with that. This was very much a forwards-driven win.
Scott is in a fine run of form at the moment and whilst he’ll get plenty of praise for the tries he’s scoring, his game his about so much more. His work rate is phenomenal and he gets himself into positions that few other hookers manage, which of course is one of the reasons he scores so many tries.
I thought we’d really miss Matt Price this season, but Scott has really stepped up to the plate…
George Oram carries the ball well for such a big man and rather like Tom Poole, he appears to bring an added degree of physicality to the game. He’s a real workhorse and whoever he has partnered, either Gray or Dacres, he’s performed well.
Once Tom Poole and Tom Jubb are back (Tom P hopefully early in the new year), Rowland Winter will be able to rotate his locks and so that they’ll be that much fresher and fitter once injuries and fatigue kick in elsewhere in National One, as they always tends to do.
For me though, Brett Daynes rightly deserved the plaudits on the day. He edged the MoM award in my opinion, with Jack Preece a close second.
Earlier in the season I labelled Brett ‘Supersub’, given his tendency to come off the bench and take the game by the scruff of the neck and add that extra impetus that’s so useful in the final 30 minutes or so. Maybe now, with the two starts he’s made in the last two games, that’s a bit unfair.
The fact that the coaches feel they can afford to leave Luke Narraway out of the starting line-up, or even the match day squad, two weeks’ running speaks volumes for the faith they have in Brett. Obviously, having the players of the calibre of Jack Preece and Latu Makaafi alongside him helps, but I was delighted the sponsors rewarded his efforts with the official ‘Man of the Match’ award after the game.
He’s a great clubman and as he was when he was last here, a very popular player amongst the supporters who are always guaranteed to appreciate any player who always gives of his all.
For rather different reasons, Latu Makaafi is another crowd favourite.
His looks, his sheer physique, his ability to fire up the crowd with his bulwark-like defense and his constant desire to run straight and hard, and often through, the opposition defences, have made him a real crowd-pleaser.
When he came off to be replaced by Olly Povoas, there were supporters on their feet applauding and he got a massive cheer which he generously acknowledged (something that always go down a storm with the Cov faithful).
There was talk of the Supporters’ Club buying up a job lot of Makaafi-like wigs to wear.
Heck, whilst I’m not often given to such public displays of frivolity, even I would be tempted to wear one.
And whilst still on the forwards, I thought the scrum held up well today after what had been a relatively quiet couple of weeks by its own exemplary standards. The front row ended the game completely dominating the Loughborough pack – one in the eye for Boris, that one.
With both Phil Boulton and Andy Brown out, you might expect Cov to be short of props at this level, but in Titchard-Jones and young Luc Jeannot they have two players who don’t look at all misplaced.
In particular, Luc has shown just what a good prospect he is and in the last two games when he has come off the bench Cov has gone on to produce two massive defensive scrums, both of which have resulted in penalties and the chance to clear our lines.
When Brown and Boutlon return, perhaps we won’t see quite so much of Luc, but he has shown that he is more than equal to the task of stepping up to the senior squad when he is needed and he is clearly has the potential to have more and more of a part to play in Cov’s continuing improvement over the next few seasons should he choose to stay.
With Luc, Cameron Gray, Kwaku Asiedu, James Neal, Joe Lane, Isaac McNulty and the like, the Development Squad is already on the way to becoming what we all hoped it would, a conveyor belt of young talent that will eventually break into the first team. Brendan Burke and Matt Price appear to be doing a great job…
The backs had a quiet game by their standards, but they were required to defend in numbers at times during the second half and I thought Heath Stevens led by example, tackling his socks off (has anyone else noticed how the colours in the socks have already run – the white has a very bluish hue to it now?). James Neal looked sharper this week and defended well and Will Maisey took his try well. Having Max Trimble come on for a few minutes at the end was a bonus and he almost scored after a fine run. Doubtless, he’ll be in contention, together with Rob Knox, for a start before too long.
Frazer Dingwall (thank, Paul), making his Coventry debut, fitted in seamlessly and looked sharp at times, making a couple of incisive breaks, and he was also strong in the tackle. In a more open game, I imagine he’d be the ideal foil for Stevens or Tuitupou whilst Grove is still out.
Whereas Loughborough missed a lot of their important tackles, Cov’s defence was a potent force and with Jack Preece and others scavenging at every opportunity, Cov showed how defence can become a form of attack in its own right.
As expected, Loughborough came on strong in the final quater and had plenty of possession. The last 20 minutes was a good test of Cov’s resolve and even with all the changes coming off the bench, there was no loss of shape or form, something that could be so important when we face the likes of Ampthill, Plymouth and Darlington in a few weeks’ time.
Cov’s second half performance slipped a little, enough to cause one or two decent try-scoring opportunities to be wasted, with some inaccuracies in passing and handling creeping in to their game. That’s probably a bit unfair, given the conditions and the fact that for so much of the game Cov did all that was asked of it.
A couple of overcooked kicks that took the ball over Loughbough’s dead ball line and brought play back into our own half which was disappointing, but with the wind as strong as it was, Cov could be forgiven for that
Even though Cov failed to dominate the scoreboard quite as much as they did against Fylde, I’d be tempted to rank this as the better performance of the two given the opposition were something of a step up from a Fylde side that is just as young, but even less experienced as that of Loughborough.
Indeed, whilst chatting to a Cov supporter after the came, one of Loughborough players mentioned that the Cov game had been the toughest and most physical game Loughborough had played so far this season and ‘on a different level’. Given that Loughborough has already played Ampthill, Plymouth and Darlington, that’s rewarding to know.
If we keep on making improvements and the confidence and belief continues to grow, we should still be there or thereabouts at Christmas.
And at that point, once the first round of games has been completed, only then do I think it’s fair to say it really is game on.
I left the ground yesterday relieved more than excited.
This was a potentially tricky game against a side about whom we didn’t know a great deal, despite them having had such a poor start to the season. If Tigers’ continue to provide additional help and support both in terms of coaching and players, Loughborough will improve and I’m sure they’re going to win a few games in the coming weeks and months.
On now to Cambridge and the chance for Cov to surpass that current record of consecutive wins.
It would certainly be a good place to do it, but Cambridge will be facing us on the back of an away win against Ampthill, something few teams have managed to achieve in recent seasons.
There’s still time to enjoy this weekend’s win before worrying about next Saturday though.
Well done, Cov.
If you were at the game yesterday, and you haven’t already voted in the ‘Man of the Match’ poll, then please do give it a go… all being well, I’ll include the results in Monday’s post.
Thank you in advance.