It was the occasion and not the game itself that will probably live longest in the memory for me.
Cov stormed into an early lead in very similar circumstances to the opening try we scored against Cambridge three weeks ago at the BPA. They won an early penalty which was taken quickly by Pete White and after Will Maisey made the half break, it was Rob Knox on this occasion who was there to take the pass and score unopposed under the posts.
Both tries within the opening two minutes. Both under the posts and both giving us that early advantage.
For the next 15 minutes, Old Elthamians won themselves a decent amount of possession and got far enough into the Cov half for one-time Cov loanee, Joe Carlisle, to kick two 35m penalties without really ever troubling our line.
On 17 minutes we scored our second try and from then on, other than for a couple of minutes just before half time when they scored their last points of the game from a close range try, Old Elthamians never really looked threatening and I’m struggling to remember them entering our 22 at all in the second half.
Old Elthamians battled hard and it took Cov 16 minutes to score their first try of the second half (try no 5, I think). The visitors saw little possession, but after having missed a couple of tackles early in the first half, nothing got past the Cov defence from then on, with OE having to play the ball from deep, they rarely pushed the Cov defensive line much past their own 40m mark.
The end=of-game tweets from both clubs probably sum it up best…
Full time Coventry 48 OEs 13.
Thoroughly professional performance by the champions elect against a game but ultimately over-powered and out-gunned Elthamians side this afternoon.
— Old Elthamians RFC (@ElthamiansRFC) March 10, 2018
FT 48 – 13 MOTM goes to @rknox_ . A strong performance from COV as they where clinical in the right areas of the pitch and defence was rock solid as ever. OES never seemed to be able to put their pattern on the game probably due to the Coventry influen6or conditions. #COVvOES pic.twitter.com/LQXvO3rQ03
— Coventry Rugby (@CoventryRugby) March 10, 2018
Those who read the blog regularly will know I rarely, if ever, criticise the match officials but yesterday the referee was far too whistle-happy for my liking and appeared to have taken the advice of Snow White somewhat to heart…
The constant stop-starting during much of the 80 minutes hardly made for the most entertaining of games, with both sides falling foul (!) of the referee far too often. 5 yellow cards in a game (thanks, Sam) in which both sides clearly wanted to play some running, expansive rugby, tells its own story.
Cov’s discipline has been excellent under Rowland Winter, so when they concede a further 10 metres for backchat, you know something is amiss.
Another 48 points scored, despite so many interruptions, was an impressive effort.
Before the game I thought there was a bit more tension in the air than is normal. Given Cov’s fantastic home record (is that 24 consecutive home games over a year and a half in which we remain unbeaten?), there were a few nervy supporters around the ground – more because of the significance attached to every win now than the belief that Coventry were in any real danger of losing, although everyone recognised the threat posed by Old Elthamians.
When success has been so long in coming, the nearer it gets the further away it begins to feel in some surreal way. Although Cov only needed three bonus point wins before the game, well having not played for a couple of weeks, it was beginning to feel rather more.
The pitch was damp and towards the railway end it was sodden, with pools of water lying in the dead ball area. There was even talk of Eric Richardson having removed several gallons from the surface that morning and there was clear evidence of sand having been used to soak up some of the excess water.
For the last few games this has been something of a familiar sight, so there was no worry about how the pitch might hold up, just resignation that legs might get a bit heavy towards the end of the game and perhaps Cov might not be able to play quite the expansive game they prefer.
As it was, Cov still scored 7 tries which illustrates just how in control they were.
Before the game youngsters, presumably from a local junior school, were given a guided tour of the ground, this time under the guidance of Waita Setu – a natural I have to say. Seeing the children, boys and girls, all taking such a great interest in what is happening around them is always a welcome sight before a home game and helps create that ‘family’ feel that is so prevalent around the ground these days. Hopefully, one or two of those involved in the tour yesterday will be nagging their mums and dads to take them to the next home game…
At under 1500, it wasn’t the biggest of crowds and even with it being a Six Nations’ weekend and the weather being somewhat inclement, I do worry a little for next season when the last three home gates have all been below the season average. Strange really when Cov are riding high at the top of the table, scoring tries for fun and seeming to break record after record as the end of the season approaches.
Yesterday it was just the two – the points total for the season, with the total now standing at 1018, and the record for the most individual tries for a season, now 18 and held by James Stokes.
How many of us saw this season coming back in July of last year..promotion was talked about, certainly, but I don’t think anyone envisaged we would have a 30 point lead with six games still to play?
Despite the pre-match unease, once Cov were finishing their final preparations out on the pitch, the crowd grew in size and volume. Another rousing send-off for the team and an even louder reception for Andy Brown as he led the team onto the pitch before the game in recognition of his 100th appearance for the club helped settle the nerves and once the whistle blew and the game commenced, it was pretty much normal service resumed.
Unusually yesterday, I wasn’t the only one with my head buried in my mobile phone during the game.
In the section where I was sitting, on every row at least one or two supporters were on Twitter, scanning the scores from the Darlington and Plymouth games. And as the news filtered through that both of the teams immediately below us were losing, there was almost as much interest in what was happening elsewhere as in the game itself.
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little, but certainly more so than I’ve witnessed before.
From 24-0 down, Darlington clawed their way back into the game and eventually took the lead. There was an air of inevitability that DMP would hold on, so Rosslyn Park’s last gasp try turned a good day into an outstanding one and there were some very, very smiley faces among the crowd as the final whistle blew.
Just 5 points now – one bonus point win and it’s the Championship for us next season.
It’s still hard to take in, even now.
It’s almost as if it was meant to be – it feels as if all the key results outside of Coventry’s games have gone our way over the last few weeks, even months, with the top four clubs beneath us all struggling to get any sort of a run going. And some very unexpected results have given us a helping hand on more than one occasion.
Caldy away next weekend could be the game that finally seals our promotion into the Championship and I imagine there might be a run on places on the Supporters’ coach up to Thurstaston.
My advice would be to get in quick and book yourself a place – it’s history in the making and potentially a day you’ll always remember. I can still vividly recall the last time we were promoted back in 1996, with a convincing win against Reading. That one will remain for as long as my memory remains intact.
22 years ago…frightening.
Post-match, it was relief all-round, with players quick to applaud the crowd immediately after the game, as always…and more smiles and more excitement as the players, too, learned of the other results in National One.
The game itself followed a similar pattern to many we’ve seen this season – the first 20 minutes proving fairly even, after which Coventry’s pace and power across all areas of play began to prove too much for a determined Old Elthamians side. Our discipline wasn’t as good as it sometimes is and handling and passing proved awkward at times in what were difficult conditions, but it was another impressive defensive performance as we shut OE out in the second half.
I honestly don’t think they had a single line-break in that second 40.
Tactically, we got it spot on, using the box kick judiciously and with far greater accuracy than the visitors, with height and distance ensuring that our chasers put the receivers under real pressure. The scrum looked more solid as the game went on and whilst the forwards did the hard graft, there was plenty of willingness to give the ball some width. Passes didn’t always stick but Cov were still able to stretch OE out wide all afternoon.
Perhaps the only downside to the afternoon was the number of injuries we picked up – certainly three to my knowledge – Luc Jeannot (hand), Sam Tuitupou (leg) and Phil Nilsen (unsure). Hopefully, none of them will be too serious and we’ll see them all make at least a couple more appearances before the end of the season – otherwise it would be a very disappointing way for them to finish off what has been a fantastic campaign.
Rob Knox scored another three tries and is beginning to look the player we all hoped he would become under Rowland Winter.
The decision to move Rob out onto the wing has proved an inspired one and now he appears to be back to full fitness, he has that mix of power and pace that allows him to run through or round the opposition, making him so dangerous whether out wide or coming in off his wing, as he did a couple of times yesterday. Rob was Man of the Match but I’m sure he’ll say a big thank you to James Stokes who provided him with his third try – I thought James’ contribution was immense yesterday and he showed just what a good all-round player he is.
Cov are now Champions-elect – even the most pessimistic of supporters must now accept that needing just 5 points from 6 more games to secure the title has brought us to the point where no one is going to catch us.
The Cov family deserve this – they stuck it out during some pretty tough times, as did John Sharp and the Board and, after the appointment of Rowland Winter and his coaching team, the club have put together a squad worthy of promotion and the chance to prove itself at the next level.
I am a proud, proud Coventry supporter tonight – proud of the players, the coaches, the Board and the supporters.
The job isn’t yet over…
…in truth it’s only just begun.
Another great weekend in what has been a great season.
Thank you Coventry Rugby Club.
If you were at the game yesterday and haven’t already voted for the ‘Man of the Match’ award, please do so here.
Not for the first time, Rob Knox was the sponsors’ MoM. Will he be the choice of those voting via the blog?
The more who vote, the more representative it will be.
So if you haven’t voted, here’s where you do it…just click on the circle against the player of your choice. You only have the one vote.
All being well, I’ll include the results in Monday’s post.
Thank you in advance…