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How do you like your grapes – sour or just unsweetened….and more from John Coles

Unfortunately, Darlington Mowden Park’s post-match report has frustrated one or two Coventry supporters despite setting out to do nothing but acknowledge that the:

Coventry RFC performance at the Northern Echo Arena as probably the best DMPRFC have witnessed in their short history in National League 

I think their ‘short history’ is in fact 4 seasons, or getting on for 60 games.

I’ll settle for that.

I actually felt it to be a very fair summary of the game – far more so than some that I’ve read this season, but sadly the writer, Tom Bulmer, chose to begin his report with what he freely admits to be a negative, one that  immediately seems to reduce the impact of what was one of the most impressive displays away from home that  I’ve witnessed from a Cov side in all the years I’ve been watching them.

By immediately suggesting that three of the six Coventry tries included ‘obvious forward passes in their build up‘ prior to even beginning the actual report of the game, then if the grapes don’t taste sour, they certainly seem unsweetened, despite the writer’s best intentions:

 That’s as much as can be said really without it sounding too much like sour grapes and now that this observation is over and done with, back to Coventry’s performance

It’s the equivalent of giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Tom accepts that this bears no reflection on Cov, but it does take away some of the gloss for sure, well it does if you’re a Cov supporter.

But in Tom’s defence, I thought there was at least one, maybe even two, questionable passes that led directly to Coventry scores and Tom’s comment was well worthy of a mention, but not perhaps at the start.

Slipped in at the end, within a few lines specifically addressing the officiating and I don’t think it would have raised many eyebrows.  Sadly, though, by introducing the observation so early, the rest of the report, however positive it is, is predicated for those not there on the belief that three of Coventry’s tries should have been disallowed.

I failed to mention the issue of the forwards passes in my original post for which I truly deserve to be put on the naughty step

For me, though, the report is pretty much spot on, but I can well understand why it raised a few hackles, especially as this was such a commanding Cov performance and one of which those away fans present were immensely proud.

I just think it over-emphasised the issue of a couple of forward passes which were to me, being the neutral that I am, perhaps more questionable than obvious.

Tom mentions Cov were  ‘deserving  (of) their emphatic victory’, how we ‘outplayed DMPRFC in every department’ and ‘school(ed)‘ the hosts…

No complaints from me at all on that front – a good, honest report of the game, with perhaps my only other issue being Tom’s comment that:

It would have been a spectacle to see if both sides had played at their best, but it wasn’t to be on the day and Coventry RFC underlined their credentials as ‘Champions’ in waiting.

Maybe DMPRFC weren’t at their best because Cov didn’t allow them to be, not because they had an off day…but you could argue that one all day long.

Anyway, mine is just a purely personal response to Tom’s article and certainly doesn’t express anyone’s views other than my own – others might see it rather differently.

If you haven’t already read it and would like to, just click on the link below:

DMP match report


It will have been difficult for anyone not  at the game to really appreciate just what an unusual venue the Northern Echo Arena actually is, especially at National One.

With this in mind, I thought it might be interesting to explain where we watched the game from so it’s possible to appreciate a little more just how much atmosphere was generated by the crowd despite the fact that 23000 plus seats remained unfilled.

A great atmosphere and a stadium 91% empty just doesn’t seem possible – but that wasn’t the case at all.

There was bags of noise out there on Saturday afternoon, for which the Coventry supporters must take most of the credit – that and the gentleman on the public address who must have overdosed on caffeine all morning.

Even then, despite his best efforts, he was unable to get much of a response from the home supporters after the first 15 minutes or so once they were 14-0 down and Coventry had taken control of the game.

The shaded area shows very approximately where we were all seated…

Now I’m not very competent as far as the use of even the most basic of IT art packages are concerned, but I’ve managed, albeit somewhat crudely, to indicate where in the ground the supporters were seated, near enough, in the adjacent photo.

Getting on for 1900 ( I think I was a 100 short in Saturday’s post) sat in a fairly compact area, Coventry supporters sitting side by side with those from Mowden – all very harmonious it was too.

John Coles photo below shows that in a little more detail, although it was taken well into the second half from the look of it and by then a few gaps had started to appear as one or two disillusioned home supporters decided on an early exit.

I do like the fact that the teams enter from the centre of the main stand. From the corner it’s has rather less of an impact – you can make out the players’ tunnel on the same photo, just to the left of the away team’s dugout.

There’s always a danger of reading too much into a photo, but it’s interesting to note how tightly grouped the Coventry bench and support teams are, clearly concentrating on what is happening  over in the DMP half.  It’s been that way all season and is indicative of just how close the squad is.

Compare that with the DMP bench – their body language is very different.

I guess success is a great motivator.


The photo below is of mission control (the away team’s dug-out). The guy in the expensive looking camel-coloured coat is the man with the microphone. I’m afraid it’s one of the photos I took, hence the drop in quality, but it does give an indication of just how close the seating area is to the dug-outs and it is where many of the Cov supporters grouped so as to give the players as much support as possible.


One slight criticism would be that the Mowden Park are somewhat over-zealous as regards the stewarding of the Arena.

Sam and I went to do our customary few laps around the ground before the game as is our want on away days, but we were almost immediately pounced upon  by said stewards and told that no one was allowed in the Arena, that’s either in the seating area or on the path around the pitch, until just 45 minutes before kick off.

No supporters whatsoever, no exceptions. The entire Arena had to remain deserted.

It’s a health and safety thing I guess, but we would have happily sat in a seat for 50 minutes until the area was official opened up, but instead we were directed towards one of the inside bar areas with the stewards walking a few paces behind us….we were made to feel like naughty school kids despite being led into the Arena by one of the officials in the Vomitorium  (I kid you not….) at 12.30 – 90 minutes before kick off.

At least I now know what it must have been like for the kids when I was on playground duty – or yard-guard as we used to call it.

As soon as their backs were turned though, we skipped off and explored some of the many areas under the stands, as the photos below show:

The eateries are obviously used from time to time as there was plenty of litter remaining from previous sporting events.

Whilst we were waiting to get back into the ground, conversation somewhat inevitably led to what the plans for the new 12,000 seater stadium at the BPA might look like after two successive years of promotion and Cov playing in the Premiership…

Not to dissimilar from the Northern Echo Arena for me, just on a slightly smaller scale.


And on to the game…and once again many thanks to John Coles for allowing me to use his photos. Perhaps if John continues to work with Cov next season, there could be a game-by-game gallery on the website as there are always supporters who like to go back and revisit some of the key moments in a game.

Just a suggestion…

And talking of key moments, one of the most significant as far as Mowden game was concerned was James Stokes’ break away try, Coventry’s second of the game, coming as it did after a sustained period of pressure from the home team in which they pounded the Cov defence for phase after phase without managing to ever break through.

In Tom Bulmer’s words:

the hosts were stunned, when against the run of play, Coventry broke out of their own half, with full back James Stokes stretching out for the score in the corner, despite the best efforts of the retreating home defence.

James’ try was a turning point, possibly the turning point, and it was brilliantly captured by John in the following photos which I’ve ‘stitched’ together to make a simple collage.

This is one of the three tries that Tom’s report questions in terms of the final pass being forward.

I have to say, I’m not convinced.

James is some way off the pace when Max passes and is forced to stretch to make the catch which gives the impression of the ball being well ahead of him, although the Mowden defender in the sixth photo is definitely looking to the linesman for the call.

What JC’s photos do show is James’ athleticism in catching the ball one-handed and at pace which is no mean achievement. A knock-on or a stumble looked a certainty at the time.

He is a phenomenal talent and should Cov make it to the Championship, it will be intriguing to see how well players like James fare.

Personally, I have little doubt that he’ll still cause problems, as he did against Jersey and Rotherham pre-season.

This is the try that took him to 17 for the season, equalling the previous Cov league record held by Andy Smallwood…and James looks certain to better it between now and the end of the season. He’s now also  equal top try-scorer in National One with former Cov flyer Nigel Baker and ahead of another former Cov wing, Dom Lespierre. Cov have a further three players in the top 8 – Knox, Matoto and Tolmie.

Not bad all things considered.

I love the penultimate photo in the sequence which shows Pete White rushing over to Max Trimble to celebrate well before James has grounded the ball…it’s clear how much that try meant to the team coming as it did after all that Mowden pressure immediately beforehand.

And I’ll make no mention of James try scoring face this time around…

Oh, damn.


Heath Stevens’ try, Cov’s third, was another important moment in the game.

Cov had gone into the half time break with a 20 point lead.

It was better than any of us could have hoped for, but had Darlington started the second half as we had the first, then it was certainly not enough to make the game safe.

As it was, Cov were first out of the blocks again and, following a Cov penalty and a deep Maisey kick to the corner, another of Coventry’s training ground moves saw Heath race through the Mowden defences unopposed to score under the posts.

The third photo down shows just what it meant to the Coventry forwards, with Jubby, Phil Boulton and Latu all celebrating the try and the last shows Pete White first there, again, to congratulate the try scorer with Brett Daynes giving Phil Nilsen an appreciative pat on the head, presumably because of yet another pinpoint throw from the hooker. The photo also shows all the empty seating at the far end of the ground with not a single spectator in sight.

Having mentioned the athleticism shown by James Stokes in scoring his try, it’s only fair to highlight the control shown by Max Trimble when scoring his.

Despite being tackled short of the line and close to touch, Max had the presence of mind to keep his balance enough to make a 180º roll, grounding the ball as he did so, showing great foresight and control.

Max has continued to improve this season and his pace and agility have caused defences problems ever since he returned from injury.

He always appears to back himself in a one-on-one situation and is different from Rob in that whereas Rob will often choose to run through his opponent, Max will use his natural speed to go around. The two wingers complement each other really well.

Throw James Stokes into the mix and there’s some real armoury on Coventry’s flanks.

And that’s not even including Anthony Matoto.

It wasn’t until Simon Uzokwe came on that Darlington really showed any fight. The young Falcon added some much needed aggression and physicality to the home team and was one of the few players prepared to take Coventry head on.

But Cov aren’t backwards in coming forwards and it wasn’t long before it got a bit feisty…and guess who was first there…?

Love it.

The Covdog has barked that little bit louder since Phil’s arrival.



17 replies »

  1. Seems a bit pointless to be blaming the referee after a 42-0 drubbing. Best just to keep your dignity after being outplayed. Let’s face it many of us who saw the Blackheath game could not believe what we were seeing. That day we were out muscled and yes, didn’t get the luck of the bounce either. Cov still scored 4 tries so it showed that at no time did the team give up the fight. From the pre-match report from DMP it appears they had already conceded the game before kick-off. It is still the case that any team in the top half of the table, up for the game and playing at their best, can be trouble for Coventry. Wishing the team and all the supporters a great day out at Caldy this week.

    • First things first – the Cov report suggested that come off injured – is he ok? As to the DMP report, that’s exactly where I’m coming from – remain gracious in defeat especially when it’s such a thumping as the one received at the hands of Cov on Saturday, I don’t think they were up for it particularly either – not from what I saw or read beforehand. However, we’ve seen the newly promoted sides all trouble Cov at home – the proverbial cup final syndrome I guess. Not sure it will take place this weekend though if today’s weather is anything to go on.

  2. It’s a difficult one, because there obviously was a hint of a forward pass by your own ‘admission’ Tim.
    Rugby is a funny game because the bounce of the ball and the decisions can go against you. Little things mount up and if there was a hint of a forward pass for Stokes’ try – and by the photographs there is evidence in my eyes – then you’d expect Darlington, unbeaten at home, hoping to prove a point etc to be a bit miffed. I know I would be.
    But that’s as a player and as I’ve commented before, criticism of referees has to be left to the coach’s report and teams should leave well alone.
    You have three referees at a rugby match and if none of them spotted a forward pass, then it simply isn’t a forward pass.
    ‘Look in the book’ is how we used to call it.
    As as quick bowler opening for Rugby in the 1990s I swung and seamed, beat the batsman and got sod all for my efforts, apart from three Chinese cuts for four past the ‘keeper.
    None of that matters because in the book, the batter scored three fours against my figures. No-one cares.I should have had three wickets, four, five, more even – but nobody cares about ‘should haves’ in sport. It’s the winning.
    Playing to the whistle. If a side scores a controversial try against you, don’t keep moaning, score one back – that’s how sport works.
    And we had the winning against Darlington. Simple as.
    If we got a bit of help, then we should remember not to be too upset if the same happens to us.
    It’s a good job it wasn’t a tight scoreline and a score between us settled on a controversial moment.
    But maybe we can afford to give them two tries back, still claim the winning bonus point and the nil.

    • I agree that the players would indeed be miffed but having been nilled and beaten so comprehensively – and it was comprehensive – then it’s best not to dwell on petty things that might seem a little ungracious – or at least not make them the focal point. As you rightly say, had it been close, then perhaps it would have been more understandable but better just to have let it lie really

  3. Well we have, as a group if not individually moaned and questioned refereeing decisions all season and have only lost once! The standard of refereeing is the one downside of what is basically a fantastic league. I can say Moseley (as I was there) were victims of it on Saturday losing 20-16 (one score). But lets be honest it was Darlington NIL. Injustices, especially early in a game, provokes a response and the Darlington response over 80 minutes was NIL

    • Lol…couldn’t agree more. If the worry for Mowden was the quality of the refereeing, then they’ve got their priorities upside down. Cov exposed all sorts of weaknesses in a team that had been unbeaten at home in their 11 previous games. The coaches will have a fair bit to do this week if they are to remain in second place over the remainder of the season.

  4. Terrific , great photos ! Thanks both of you, as an absentee supporter your stuff really brings it all alive.
    Bill Rumball

  5. As a general rule I find it is a case of ‘grin and bear it’ with regards to the officiating in NL1. In fact it seems that teams have to ‘play’ the referee as well as the opposition! Contentious decisions go for you and against you, and you hope they even up over the 80-odd minutes on the pitch. I imagine there were a fair few infractions by DMP that weren’t acknowledged by the officials – but as they never led to anything they won’t have been mentioned in the report – especially as the manner of the defeat was so profound.

    • That’s absolutely right, Warren – over the course of the season things are usually evened out…good teams won’t need to rely on the vagaries of the officials as Coventry have shown this season and Hartpury last. It’s in the nature of the beast to have a moan when your team loses, if only to explain the loss – especially when you’ve had such a good record at home prior to the game!

  6. Still completely bemused that despite 23000 empty seats, they let people watch standing up ,in front of advertisements,companies have paid for…ludicrous.
    We had a long conversation with the announcer at the end of the game, who was very interested in what had changed at cov. Personally i thought he did a very good job in whipping the crowd up. That tactic could and should be used 3/4 times a game at cov.

    • He was good value for a while but I’m old school, Mark. When the ball is in play the PA should be off as far as I’m concerned but I agree he did give it his all. Can’t imagine JB letting rip (so-to-speak) like that!

  7. Tim I noted that in your earlier comments that the scoreboard was working. However in the series of photos, it still looks blank to me?
    As regards the sour grapes I also think the writer needs to go to an ethics class, poor form indeed.

    • Have to say you’re not wrong, Peter. I took what the DMP supporter next to us said at face value but evidently it was suffering something similar to our previous scoreboard. Sorry for the mislead!

  8. Thanks for the tweets from the game and subsequent match report Tim. I really need to get myself to more away games. Frustrations at some of Cov’s away form in the past and then family commitments curtailed things for some time but it sounds like I missed a cracker!
    I wonder, with regard to the forward passes, whether the Mowden supporter has failed to recognise the way referees now interpret the pass. The trajectory of a pass from a player running at pace will invariably go forward so the referee will judge the direction of the player’s hands when releasing the ball.
    There’s a good video on YouTube showing how momentum affects the direction of the ball…the player throwing the ball behind his head whilst running is particularly interesting.

    • Hi Rob…it would be great to see you on the SC coach for a couple of games next season! Add a bit of sanity to the proceedings!!! I’ll take a look at the YouTube clip – there was quite an interesting discussion on rolling-maul a few weeks back on the same theme, although it did get a bit involved.

      Tomorrow’s post is about the info you sent me – very grateful!

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