It’s not just the toughest game of the season, it’s the toughest game we have ever faced as a club…
The more I read of Old Elthamians, the more impressed I am, both in terms of the club and its personnel. Gavin Lach’s pre-match comments on their website certainly suggested a genuine respect for Coventry and of the occasion, whilst also underlining perhaps why OE have been so successful in this, their first season in National One.
In describing today’s game against Coventry as:
…not just the toughest game of the season, it’s the toughest game we have ever faced as a club
the Old Elthamians’ Director of Rugby is acknowledging just what a challenge the game will be. At times this season opposition match-previews have dwelt more on the gulf between the two clubs, either financially or in terms of the depth of squad.
But not so this week. Gavin Lach concentrates purely on the rugby.
In the build up to the game, Lach makes reference to Cov’s ‘outstanding‘ squad and the ‘quality‘ of the coaching team, without any reference to the resources that Cov might or might not have at its disposal. For the Old Elthamians Director of Rugby, in public at least, it’s all about the rugby which is exactly as it should be. He doesn’t seem willing to dwell on any disparity elsewhere between the two clubs, perceived or otherwise.
And most refreshing of all, the respect he shows Cov is not for its past, which is so often the case, but for its present and future.
I’ve alluded to Cov’s halcyon days back in the 60s and 70s a fair bit since starting this blog, but it’s to the club’s future that we should now be looking, whilst of course recognising the part its history still plays in its present.
And rightly so.
Many Cov supporters who journeyed down to College Meadow in early November will well remember the huge effort it took from the Coventry side that day to keep Old Elthamians from crossing our line in those last 10-15 minutes and how close we were to being beaten that day. Yet, whilst Lach acknowledges how close his side came to causing what would have been a huge upset, he remains extremely gracious in defeat:
But if we’re honest, and taking nothing away from our boys, a lot went our way in that game. The wet conditions and persistent rain meant that neither side could get going with the ball in hand, we flooded the breakdown and were aggressive in defence and knocked Coventry out of their stride
But underneath all this lies a steely side and he knows that having got so close before, his team has the ability and determination to create further problems for Coventry today, even at the BPA ‘where (Coventry) haven’t lost at home for god knows how long‘.
If he’s correct and OEs come to Cov with ‘no fear‘ and ‘absolutely nothing to lose‘, then they could well make life difficult for us. We have seen a couple of visiting sides freeze this season, although for those sides new to the league and new to playing Coventry, reputations have so far counted for little as proved by both Caldy and Bishop’s Stortford.
And Lach already has the performance this season to back up the argument that this will be anything but the ‘hammering‘ that everybody expects Old Elthamians to get at the BPA today. As he says:
We came within a score of beating Coventry that day, and in the last month we’ve beaten Plymouth Albion and should have beaten Darlington Mowden Park. So if we play like I know we can, we are capable of competing with the best sides in the division
And indeed they are.
No outrageous predictions from Lach then, no mind games or attempts to unnerve the opposition, just a good honest review of what OE might expect from the game. Whilst he refers to Coventry as Champions-elect, his is a side full of confidence and one that won’t be phased by a visit to the BPA, however good Coventry’s home record might be.
Were I an OE supporter, I’d be pleased to hear both his respect for the opposition and his implied defiance too:
we are going up there to have a real go. I’m sure they won’t be treating us lightly
And looking at the side Coventry are putting out, that isn’t something Cov will be doing – there’s certainly no complacency from the coaches in terms of selection, that’s for sure.
And the respect seems to be mutual too, with Rowland Winter’s own pre-match comments offering generous praise for what Old Elthamians have achieved in their recent past:
Following their progress through the leagues it’s no surprise to me that they are doing so well in their first year in National One, and as a well-resourced side with the squad and coaches they have and Gavin Lach as director of rugby, I think they’re capable of being promotion candidates next season
As compliments go, that’s a pretty decent one.
Old Elthamians are without a couple of key players for this afternoon’s game. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, scrum half Ollie Caxton is on international duty with Belgium and it now appears that big second row Adam Preocanin (who had a strong game against us back in November) and winger James Golledge are both out injured as well.
Interestingly, rather than rely on Academy players loaned from one of the London Premiership sides to supplement their team, as has all too often been the case with some other National One sides this season, these absentees will be replaced from within the club, something that Gavin Lach is understandably proud of:
It’s a real statement again that we will promote from within, as we have done all season. One of the keys to our success so far is that whenever players have been called into the first team they have really stepped up to the plate. And I’m sure we will see the same thing again on Saturday. I think it’s testament to the strength in the Extras
Once again, the coaches have opted for a strong match day squad and it speaks volumes for the strength we now have that both Tony Fenner and Anthony Matoto are in the Development Squad today despite being regulars for pretty much all season when fit.
If I were to be at all concerned, it would be that with no Latu Makaafi or Luke Narraway even benching, any injuries to one of the starting back row and to Nile Dacres as well (who would presumably drop into 6/7 if needed) then we could be exposed a little in the back row.
However, with both Scott Tolmie and Phil Nilsen also having played at 6/7 in a number of games in the final quarter over the course of the season, there are contingency plans available I guess. OEs were quick to the breakdown down at theirs and were able to win some decent ball, so it will be interesting to see how Paddy Ryan gets on as he makes his début for Coventry this afternoon. RW spoke highly of him when he first arrived so it’s good to see the youngster get his chance.
I was really pleased to see that John Wilkinson had included the number of Cov appearances made alongside each player’s name in the yesterday’s team announcement on the website. Such information was one of the things that proved popular in this week’s poll so, fortuitous as it might be, I’m sure it will have been well received.
The spotlight will of course be on Andy Brown who makes his 100th appearance for the club today – another great servant of the club who would have reached the landmark a while back had it not been for a number of injuries over the last couple of seasons.
However, there are another couple of other players with their own personal landmarks fast approaching. Brett Daynes is just 2 games away from making his 150th appearance (including today) and Rob Knox seven more away from his 100th (which by my reckoning means that if he stays fit for the remaining games, he could make the ton in the very last game of the season – what a game that would be to lead out the team).
If Cov continue to include the players’ total number of appearances for each team announcement, the statos will have a field day working out the most experienced Cov side to take the pitch, or the most experienced set of forwards or backs…or the most experienced player in each position and so on and so forth.
Sadly numbers aren’t my thing, being rather more ‘arty-farty’ than mathematical and, because they’re not, readers of the blog will be spared the sats.
However, with 776 appearances for Coventry between them at an average of 52 starts each, this is a pretty experience starting XV…(see, no self-control).
Old Elthamians will certainly push Coventry hard today, and if they do ‘give it a real go‘, Coventry will have to work hard to break OE down. Coventry’s home support could once again play a decisive part in urging the side on and even with England facing France later on in the afternoon, it should be a pretty large crowd that descends on the BPA to welcome Cov back after the heroics of Darlington.
It’s been three weeks of rugby abstinence for many and in a season in which Cov has been so successful, I think we’ll see a larger than average attendance today.
How OE react to the intensity of the atmosphere a large Cov crowd can often generate will be interesting, but they have already played in front of 1600 plus in their home fixture against Blackheath which they won 32-7, so perhaps it won’t be as great an issue as it is for some visiting teams.
With no stand, or seating area of any sort, I’m not sure how everyone would have got to see the game down at OE as in places supporters must have been three or four deep. Just my luck to get a Tom Jubb or George Oram in front of me in that situation…my fault for being a bit of a short-a&%e, I guess.
Hopefully, Cov’s home record will remain intact again today and another five points will see us potentially just two games away from the title…
I’ll run a Man of the Match poll again after the game – please do vote if you do get to the game.
Up the Cov.
Many thanks to everyone who followed the tweets from Darlington.
I’ll be doing something similar again today, so if you can’t make it to the game the usual info applies:
Cov has its own match day Twitter feed (@CoventryRugby) – mostly just the scores and the main moments in the game, although always informative and of interest.
I should add Old Elthamians has its own, too, although not particularly frequent – they’re on @Elthamiansrfc.
However, if you are interested in something slightly different, then I try and give a sense of the atmosphere/occasion as well and tend to tweet rather more than Cov, a lot more in fact, so if you’re at home and just surfing the net trying to find out anything you can about the game, this might be a different option.
The tweets, when combined, make a crude ‘commentary’ of sorts and it will be rather more personalised than the Coventry feed – the two might work well together though (I’m talking myself out of some followers here)
Be warned though, you might get well over a 150 plus tweets during the course of the game – so if that is too much, mute me and use the club’s official feed.
Please bear in mind, I am a bit one-eyed when I tweet. I’ll certainly be fairly emotive I imagine, so be warned if you are tuned in!
I’m on @Cowshedtim
Apologies in advance for some of the typos that appear. For some though, the deciphering of the tweets adds to the occasion.
If you aren’t familiar with Twitter or don’t have an account, then on the homepage of this blog (www.coventryrfc.me) all the tweets will appear in real-time at the bottom of the homepage.
You can click on it to increase its size.
Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, have a great afternoon.