For the second week running, Cov went into the break with the momentum very much against them.
Last week, Plymouth scored in the final minute of the first half to close the gap to just the one point at 15-14 and, with their tails up, must have wanted the half to continue for a good few minutes longer.
This week, Coventry’s line was again under siege in the final minutes of the first half, again their narrow one point lead under real threat as Rosslyn Park first won a line out on our 22, then moved the ball to within 5m, then two.
It was only some desperate defence from Cov that prevented Park from going over.
So desperate, in fact, that the referee deemed Luke Narraway to have been ‘interfering at the ruck’ and duly awarded him a yellow card for his efforts.
So down to 14 men, with Park camped on our line and two minutes of the half remaining – it was nerve-wracking stuff.
However, whereas the previous week Cov had succumbed to the pressure put on them by Plymouth and had conceded the try, this time they held firm.
As Narraway went off, a pause for an injury allowed Cov to regroup with Brett Daynes going to 8 and Anthony Matoto moving to 6.
Understandably, from the penalty resulting from Narraway’s yellow, Park opted for the scrum rather than the kick to the corner and from the ensuing scrum somehow Cov managed to hold up the ball over the line.
Another chew of the nails.
Injury time and in the final play before the half time whistle. Tom Kessell managed to rip the ball away from the Park scrum half and Cov left the pitch with their lead intact, but in the knowledge that the opening 8 minutes of the second half were going to leave them a man down and facing a Park side who would presumably want to make the most of its obvious advantage.
At the time, I think we all felt we’ might have seen a game defining passage of play.
Had Park scored and gone into the changing room with either a four or six point lead, the way Park had played those first 40 minutes, Cov would have had to have dug deep against a Park side intent of making the most of the situation and with the real possibility of beating the league leaders for the first time this season.
That’s what we felt at the time.
But in retrospect, I think we would have been wrong. A score just before half time would have made little difference to the final result.
This Cov side is way too strong for that.
Cov came out for the second half a different team…
…and it was evident from the kick off.
Another towering Kessell box kick saw Park knock on and from the scrum, far more solid than those of the first half, Cov worked the ball into the Park 22 where they kept possession for a good few minutes without ever threatening the Park line.
It was clever play, and for almost the full 8 minutes, Park struggled to get to the ball until we were yet penalised 15m from their line. For a brief moment it looked as if we might have to put up another rear-guard action as Park took play to our 22, but a poor throw at the line-out meant Cov could relieve the pressure and Luke Narraway was able to come back on.
14 players for 10 minutes and park had nothing to show for it.
It was a really disciplined passage of play from Cov and there was only going to ever be one team in it from there on in.
Within seconds of Narraway’s return, a break from Sam Tuitupou, who had come on at half time, allowed the ball to go out wide and out on the left wing Scott Tolmie (I know, I know) raced in to score.
Cov played that opening 10 minutes brilliantly. Park must have fancied their chances as they started the half…we’d been under considerable pressure in that first 40, our scrum had been in reverse at times and with a man advantage for a full 8 minutes, well the few Park supporters who were in the main stand must have thought they were going to witness something special.
But Cov aren’t undefeated for no reason. (That’s a triple negative!)…
We’ve been in a number of tight corners during the course of the 13 games we played so far this season and every time we’ve managed to extricate ourselves – to do so as many times as we have suggests this is a side that fully deserves to be where it is.
Coventry showed real class yesterday to weather the Park storm in the first half and despite the problems in the scrum and a referee who clearly saw something in Coventry’s play that he took exception to, Cov just remained patient.
I freely admit, though, the team’s calmness under that intense pressure was in stark contrast to the collywobbles I was beginning to feel in the latter stages of that opening 40…
I remember Rowland Winter saying that teams that concede 9 penalties are less likely, on average, to end up winning the game.
We conceded 15.
To Park’s 7
That says quite a bit about Coventry’s resilience.
I don’t know enough about the intricacies of the game, or about the way referees interpret the laws, to comment on how good the referee was or wasn’t, but he certainly had a big influence on the way it was played and credit must go to Cov for adapting their play to appease him in the second half.
Yet again, Coventry used the break to sort out any problems they’d encountered in the first half and for the players and coaches to read the game so well and for the players to adapt so well to the changes made in the game plan is a real plus for me.
I mentioned earlier that many supporters wondered at half time if Cov’s defence of their line in that final two or three minutes of the first half was a game changer.
In retrospect, I don’t think it was. Hindsight is, indeed, a wonderful thing but having seen the way we ran Park ragged in the second half, it wouldn’t have made any difference. We were rampant in those final few minutes.
This Coventry side is not short of self-belief.
It’s taken many months for the coaches to instil it into the players – wind the clock back 12 months and you would have seen a very different result. Coventry didn’t travel well back then and especially so south of Watford gap.
But it’s amazing what a good run of results and the influx of some really experienced players can do, that together with what surely must be the best coaching team in the league?
Coventry knew they were the better side.
They knew they were the fitter side, too, and even though Park took the game to us in the first half, Cov’s greater fitness and more accomplished skill sets were always going to prevail.
In short, they bided their time.
Park did what all teams do against Coventry these days – they stepped up their game and with players of the calibre of Hugo Ellis in their side, they’re always going to cause teams problems.
Failing to score when we were down to 14 men seemed to sap all the confidence from them.
By 50 minutes, whatever had been the cause of the failure of our scrum to function to any real degree in the opening 30 minutes or so had been corrected and we started to gain complete control across all areas of the game and in the final 15 minutes we were totally dominant, almost scoring at will. A big well done to Jack Higgins who came on to replace Jimmy Litchfield much sooner probably than he had expected at a time when the scrum was in some disarray and more than held his own. A very encouraging debut.
Park stretched us at times in the first half and we were forced to defend for long periods as we were pinned back, with the referee awarding penalty after penalty. Although Park scored two tries, the first of which must rank as one of the best scored against us all season, Coventry were putting in the groundwork.
We kept our defensive line pretty well and there were some big hits out there, with Jack Preece and Brett Daynes working exceptionally hard at the breakdown and Narraway popping up all over the place, leading by example.
Dacres and Oram worked their socks off and the front 3 got stuck in in the rucks and mauls – and on the artificial surface it was hard work, but they never baulked. Phil Nilsen’s entry added a bit more physicality to the game and he certainly made his presence felt in a couple of local skirmishes…
In the backs, I thought Rob Knox had his best game for a while – he invariably broke through the first tackle, even from a standing start, and his footwork to create the gap for his try wouldn’t have looked out of place on Strictly. He picked up a knock to the ankle towards the end of the game – hopefully nothing too serious though.
Tom Emery looked sharp whenever he got the ball, Fenner once again tackled anything that moved and Matoto looks to have settled really well into central midfield and showed what a good all-rounder he is (playing in three positions during the course of the game), strong in defence, even stronger in attack. Will Maisey had a quieter game, distributing the ball well, kicking out of hand accurately, but not taking on the defence in the way he did in the opening few games of the season. What he did though, he did well.
And James Stokes did what he always does; he posed a threat whenever he picked up the ball in space.
The introduction of Sammy Tuitupou after the break made a big difference, though. He ran hard and straight and was a real handful for the Park defence, pulling in players and creating spaces for others to use. The only worry about him for me other than being scared stiff he might get injured, is his discipline – or lack of it.
Another yellow card put us down to 14 players again – in the context of the game at that point, it wasn’t an issue, but in a tighter game…?
Maybe in a tighter game he would have been more disciplined, perhaps?
At the end of the first half there was no way I thought we would end up controlling the game the way we did, which probably says more about my natural pessimism than it does about Coventry’s ability as a team.
The second half, though, was as disciplined a performance as you could have asked for and I really don’t think there is any team in the league that could live with us when we play as we did in the final 20 minutes.
Whilst other teams are tiring, the changes off the bench and the work Max Hartman talked about the players doing at the Forum earlier in the week to make them all fitter, stronger and bigger, is clearly paying off.
As the players came out of their post match huddle, there were plenty of happy noises emanating from the players – another 5 points, another job done and yet another weekend where results have gone in our favour.
We keep talking about the importance of this run of games leading up to the Christmas break and of the need for Cov to make sure they keep the pressure on the chasing teams.
So far Cov has delivered and to be 12 points clear and with the chance to extend that to at least 16 points if we win our next two games, well that must be all the incentive they need.
Ampthill at home next week.
A South Sea Island re-union.
If that doesn’t attract another big crowd, then I don’t know what will…