A Winter warmer as Cov march on…
It was the perfect start to what was to prove to be a perfect afternoon for Coventry as Max Trimble beat the despairing tackle of the Plymouth Albion full back in just the second minute of the game to touch down for the opening score.
From that moment onwards, Coventry was never to lose the lead and despite going into half time with a slender 15-14 advantage, Cov ended up worthy winners and Plymouth could have few complaints, having been well beaten by the end of the 80 minutes.
Huge thanks to John Coles for allowing me to use some of his photos from yesterday in this post. They capture moments in the game that add greatly to our understanding of the game and in a clarity that I could only dream of!
Take the photo of Max scoring the opening try.
It’s worth double clicking on the image to enlarge it – it’s only then that you really see the balance and poise Max has even at such pace and just how close to the touchline he actually was. It was a great finish following what was a huge miss pass from Tom Kessell, and an audacious one at that. From where I was sitting it looked for all the world as if it would be intercepted – great vision on his part to spot his man.
But John Coles’ photo also shows just how packed the main stand is.
I sit at the back, opposite the 40m line at the railway end, and from there even on days where there are 500 or so fewer supporters, it feels full despite both ends being sparsely populated. John’s photo clearly shows just how crowded it was yesterday and with both the railway end and the touchline opposite lined with plenty of supporters from both clubs, I was convinced it was a bigger gate than for the Moseley game back in September. The announcement of it being ‘just’ 2065 came as something of a surprise therefore and I’ve yet to get a feel for what the ground looks like with a 2000 plus crowd in it. I’m not sure just how we’d squeeze another 1000 into the ground, but if Cov keep putting in performances at home such as the one we witnessed yesterday, we might well find out before the season ends.
I left the BPA far more confident about the run in to the Christmas break than I had been in the days leading up to the Plymouth game.
A couple of the more recent performances hadn’t been quite as commanding as when we were racking up the points early on in the season and we’d struggled to exert any real dominance over teams like Old Elthamian, Caldy and Bishop’s Stortford, so I wasn’t sure how Cov would respond against the team tipped by many in pre-season to be the favourites for promotion, given the way they had ended the last season so strongly.
Despite losing Nile Dacres to us, Plymouth had recruited well and even though they had only won just one of their last four games, they were always going to be a tough side to beat.
I needn’t have worried.
This was a strong Coventry performance against a determined and physical Plymouth side. Cov went into the break with the slenderest of leads at 15-14 and it really was game on with Plymouth having scored in the 39th minute after a sustained period of pressure in the Coventry 22.
However, even though Plymouth had come right back into the game, they only had two spells of attacking the Coventry line, scoring from both. Admittedly, Plymouth had worked the ball in and around our 22 for a good 9 minutes prior to the second try, but for the opening 30 it was pretty much all Coventry.
A Will Maisey penalty after 16 minutes saw us extend our lead to 8-0, only for Plymouth to make their first excursion into the Coventry half after 18 minutes, boldly choosing too kick for the corner rather than take the points – a decision that was to prove justified as the catch and drive was so successful, despite the best efforts of Jack Preece who almost held the ball up.
Coventry responded almost immediately, following good work from the forwards and from Scott Tolmie in particular, with Tom Kessler eventually crossing the line. 15-7.
Coventry had dominated that first 30 minutes and had been unlucky not to score in the 10th minute when Anthony Fenner just missed out on the race to the line following a delightful Tom Kessler chip – a decision that was made only after the referee had consulted his assistant. John Coles’ photo shows just how close that decision was.
Whatever was said in the Coventry changing room appears to have worked though. After the break, Plymouth was never given the opportunity to threaten the Coventry line again and it was as commanding a second half performance as I can recall for a long time. We might only have scored the two tries, enough to earn us a valuable bonus point, but we did prevent Plymouth adding to their score and against such a strong and well-organised team, that is a real achievement.
Plymouth’s defence was good and they missed few tackles despite the scoreline, but we managed the ball really well, keeping hold of possession and playing with real discipline. The Coventry pack began to dominate once again and when Plymouth did get the ball, we gave them little room to work in with our defence up quickly, forcing them into making errors or to kick the ball away. It was a really impressive performance, one for the purists and whilst it wasn’t as spectacular as some that we’ve seen at the BPA in recent months, for me it was arguably the most satisfying as we ground Plymouth down over the 80 minutes and in the end they had little to offer.
I mentioned in the week that Coventry seldom plays poorly in front of a large crowd and yesterday was no exception. The gulf between the two sides was evident come the final whistle and by denying Plymouth even a point, Coventry has extended its lead over Plymouth to 16. Tables can change very quickly and with another 4 very challenging games coming up, Coventry still have much to do to take a decent lead into the Christmas break. However, Plymouth at the moment is going to have to rely on Coventry tripping up however well they play, so psychologically it was an important win for us.
It was another team performance, one where it is hard to pick out one player as a clear Man of the Match. The sponsors went for Anthony Matoto and certainly his move to 12 and his partnership with Tony Fenner gave us more options in midfield and provided a defensive barricade that was seldom , if at all, broken. It was a great call from the coaches and whilst Sam Tuitupou is likely to be back next week, as a temporary partnership it worked brilliantly. Whilst, for me the game was won on the back of the work the forwards put in, the backs deserve the plaudits, too. I thought Tom Kessler was instrumental in the opening two tries, but Fenner led the line brilliantly and he was forever organising those around him. He reads the game so well and as always his tackling is ferocious for such a small man. Of the backs, he stood out for me, despite Matoto’s impressive performance.
Having George Oram and Phil Boulton back was important, too. Big George adds a real physicality to Cov’s pack and is the perfect match to the athleticism of Nile Dacres. He got through a lot of work yesterday. The back row of Narraway, Makaafi and Preece made life very difficult for Plymouth and all three would be strong contenders for my MoM. Narraway is just so consistent – he does the basics so well, even to the extent of chasing down our kicks. Invariably he is the first player there and seldom do the opposition have any room to run the ball back these days. Makaafi had a really strong game, too. He’s so powerful that in defence he can wrap the ball carrier up and slow the play right down and with Jack Preece looking to win the ball at the breakdown, Coventry put real pressure on their opponents, as was the case yesterday. Eoghan Grace had a very good game for Plymouth and never stopped, but in the end the honours definitely went Cov’s way in the battle of the back rows.
Scott Tolmie was back to his rampaging best yesterday and his power and strength in open play caused Plymouth a lot of problems. His ten tries this season make him one of the top try scorers in the league, alongside James Stokes and only just behind Lespierre. In open play he almost plays as flanker at times and his speed and ability to maintain it over much longer periods than most front row forwards can manage, make him unique at this level.
That said, having Phil Nilsen come one and tighten things up in the final minutes is a real asset – after looking a bit out of sorts in the last game he started, I thought he was back to his old self yesterday.
Coventry needed to put down a statement of intent yesterday, a message to the likes of Ampthill and Darlington. We’ve beaten three of the five top clubs in the league already in Moseley, Blackheath and now Plymouth and we fear no one. And they duly did.
And whilst other teams have slipped up, yesterday saw Darlington drop a couple more points away to Bishop’s Stortford, Coventry continues its relentless march onwards, and still having dropped only two bonus point out of the 60 so far on offer.
Plymouth had no answer to Coventry’s second half display yesterday. We were far too well organised for them and we were technically better in most areas of the game. And whilst Plymouth were also well drilled, the difference was we had the players and the skill to unlock their defence and towards the end our backs began to open up their defence as well. Physically, we looked that bit fitter and finished the game far stronger and when we needed to show physicality up front, it was there in bucket loads. The two-week break seems to have done us the world of good and even with a number of key players still absent, we were in the end just too strong for a determined Plymouth side who still have a bit to do on this performance if they are to be a real contender for the top spot in April.
As for Coventry, well we didn’t appear to have any injuries from yesterday’s game, so hopefully next week will be all about building towards the trip down to Rosslyn Park – something of a bogey side for Cov away from home in recent seasons. However, this season we will be travelling down there with a team brimming with confidence and with players experienced enough now to perform away from the BPA.
I’ll finish off with a photo of a happy Rowland Winter reminding us all of what is most important of all in our lives, even on a Saturday afternoon at the BPA.
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.