Coventry has scored 40 or more points in a game five times this season.
Four of them have been something of a mismatch.
Not so this one.
Coventry was made to work hard for its win against Cambridge which is why, for me, yesterday’s game probably ranks amongst the club’s top two or three performances this seasons.
Cambridge saw far more of the ball, especially in the second half, than Coventry would have liked and had it not been for Cov’s superb defence, one or two missed overlaps and a couple of poor decisions in the final 15 minutes, Cambridge might well have got a little more out of the game, certainly in terms of the score anyway.
Whilst Cov scored another six tries and in so doing became the first club in National One to exceed the 400 point mark for the season, it is once again Coventry’s defence that will be the focus of attention. And rightly so.
Cov’s defensive line was so quickly up on Cambridge that at times the home side were being pushed back, often 10 or 20 metres, despite having several phases of possession. For the first 60 minutes whenever Cambridge had the ball, Cov’s line held flat and Cambridge struggled to break through.
In the end the pressure Cov exerted on Cambridge often caused the kinds of errors that coaches find so frustrating and in those first 60 minutes, we barely missed a tackle. With Cambridge often on the back foot, even with the ball, on occasions they were forced into making the wrong decisions.
Once Tuitupou had received a deserved red card following an incident with Darren Fox, Cambridge began to stretch Cov a little more and when back to 15 players their strong runners in the the backs opened us up rather more than we have been accustomed to in recent games.
Portsmouth found some space and made a couple of telling breaks and Cambridge deservedly had the final say with a very well worked try from deep in their own half to ensure that they achieved what Fylde and Loughborough couldn’t in Cov’s previous two games, namely put some points on the board.
The incident involving Tuitupou was disappointing from a Coventry angle really. Makaafi looked to have gone a little high in a tackle moments before and there was a bit of pushing and shoving before a clearly very unhappy Tuitupou threw a punch. However provoked he might have been, and in fairness Sam hasn’t shown a tendency to have a short fuse up to now, he is Coventry’s most experienced player and he should have known better. More so given that at training on Thursday, Rowland Winter had mentioned what a feisty player Darren Fox is and how much he can get under the skin of the opposition.
At the moment, whilst we are beating sides by 30 or 40 points, we can afford to go a man down, especially when we are conceding so few points. But in games where the margins are much narrower and the opposition’s finishing a little more clinical, we might find ourselves at rather more of a disadvantage.
I took some photos from the balcony after the game, just snapping away without trying to capture any one moment. It wasn’t until I got back home that I saw the one of Chairman Jon Sharp with his arm around Tuitupou. Jon was out to greet the players immediately the whistle went, as he always is, and looked delighted with the result and another 5 points, as well he might. I’m sure he would have had some words of consolation for Sam given his is a signing that has brought plenty of excitement and interest along with it, but equally Jon won’t want to see that kind of ill-discipline from any Coventry player in the future.
These must be giddy times for Coventry Chairman. From the dark days of 2012, Jon has worked hard to move the club into the 21st century and the professional era. It has not been without a good deal of personal cost, but good deeds deserve to be rewarded and hopefully his reward will come as soon as April.
Tuitupou will get a ban for sure, though hopefully the yellow card the Cambridge player received can be used in mitigation, but with Alex Grove most likely out until after Christmas and now Sam soon to be ineligible for a couple of weeks at least, Cov now find they have another position lacking a little cover.
It’s another because Dave Brazier suffered what looked like a very painful and potentially serious injury to his wrist which could see him out for a while. With Pete White also unavailable with knee and ankle damage, Tom Emery looks to be the first choice scrum half at the moment. Ben Palmer played at 9 in yesterday’s Development game, but it’s a big step up for him to the senior side in that position. Maybe Connor Adams will have to be recalled from his loan spell at Stourbridge, or perhaps we’ll see a new face in at the club in the week as temporary cover.
Whatever the arrangements to cover Brazier are, his injury has come at a difficult time and he’ll be greatly missed – we’ll be hard pressed to find another 9 who can fill the boots of both PW and DB.
The injury to Dave and the red card, as well as what looked like a pulled hamstring for George Oram, were the only negatives from an otherwise encouraging afternoon’s work for Coventry.
Despite the final few minutes in which Cambridge found spaces to cause us some problems, this was another excellent Coventry performance. Our decision-making seems so much better than it was away from home last season and the addition of some older heads seems to have resulted in far better discipline, other than the red card, of course, The injury to George Oram, just 10 minutes after kick off, brought Luke Narraway into the game quicker than either he or the coaches might have wanted, but I thought he had another very solid game. He was prominent in the line out, carried the ball well and was a rock in defence.
With Makaafi, Preece and Daynes winning the battle of the back rows for me, Cambridge were on the back foot for most of the first half, with Preece once again so quick at the breakdown. Yesterday was another of those games where choosing a man of the match would have been really difficult as there were so many strong individual performances. Despite the contributions of the backs, where I thought Will Maisey led the line well again, Stokes and Emery were always dangerous on the counter and Stevens and Matoto were tireless in defence, it was the forwards on whom this victory was forged.
For the record, I think I would have opted for Latu Makaafi as Man of the Match this time round. He was outstanding in defence and he is so strong that he can hold the attack up, either giving Coventry the scrum or time for other defenders to get involved. Tolmie would have been a close call, Daynes had another stonker and Jack Preece has yet to have anything other than a good game in a Cov shirt and invariably he is in my top two or three choices.
Makaafi, Narraway and Nilsen were probably the big name signings back in the summer, but honestly, has there been a bigger player over the season so far for Cov than Jack Preece? The man is everywhere and he’ll win you ball time and time again. It’s a shame we don’t have access to the kind of stats you get in the Premiership, but in turns of turnovers Jack must be high up the National One list.
The set pieces went well. I thought Dacres and Narraway caused Cambridge plenty of difficulties in the line-out and a lot of the ball the home side won wasn’t as clean as they might have expected. The scrums were solid, although we didn’t see the degree of dominance that we have become accustomed to. However, the forwards worked hard as a unit when we had possession and their support play and willingness to offload meant that Cambridge found it very difficult to break us down when we had the ball.
It might be just me, but they seem so much fitter these days, quicker around the pitch and often in support in numbers. The penalty count was greater than perhaps RW would have wanted, but fair play to Cambridge, a couple of times in the second half we were forced to hold on to the ball because we found ourselves isolated
The handling is also much improved and there were few errors out their yesterday. We didn’t over-use our kicking game, but when we did kick for territory, again more so in the second half when we were under that much more pressure, the chasers did a good job and Cambridge had to begin again from deep. Several times the pressure we then applied meant we regained the ball well into their half which makes the kick that much more effective.
In previous seasons, under previous DoRs/Head Coaches, too often we would kick the ball long only for there to be far too much time for the receiver to run the ball back at us, often something done with great success,. With strike runners like Stokes, Emery and Matoto and Trimble (and how good was it to see him back on the score sheet), it is Cov now that has that weapon in our armoury and whilst it wasn’t used too often yesterday, it is always there if needed.
Where Coventry really excel is the way they can suddenly step up the pace of the game when there is a sniff of an opening. We’ve seen it plenty of times this season and it was evident again against Cambridge. Take James Stokes’ try, for instance, his ninth of the season…from deep in our own half with seemingly nothing on, Stokes made the break, fed the ball out to Tom Emery on half way who raced to within a few metres of the line and unselfishly passed back to Stokes who dotted down. At the start of the move there didn’t appear a lot on, but a couple of passes later and we’re over.
Cov has some real pace out wide and at full back, and with Rob Knox due to return in the next week or so, Trimble looking to be fit again and Matoto having caught the eye in the last couple of games, especially defensively, then we do seem to have a few more options at 11 and 14 than we’ve had for a while.
Cov was always in control of this game, but if I’m honest, Cambridge probably didn’t deserve to be on the end of a 33 point defeat.
After finding themselves 28-0 down after just 27 minutes, they only conceded 12 more points in the remaining 53, whilst scoring 7 of their own. Against a club that is quite capable of putting sides to the sword with that sort of a start, as we have already seen a few times this season, Cambridge never gave up and indeed in the final quarter finished strongly. They currently lie ninth place in the league with four wins – on this performance you’d have to fancy them finishing in the top half of the table, especially given the run of form they are currently enjoying
Finally, thanks must go to Cambridge who played fantastic hosts to the invading Coventry hoards…it was a great day out, made that much better by Cambridge’s congenial hospitality.