The Friendlies – Season 4: Episode 4 – the one with the uptowners
She’s been living in her uptown world
I bet she never had a back street guy
I bet her mama never told her why
I’m gonna try for an uptown girl
She’s been living in her white bread world
As long as anyone with hot blood can
And now she’s looking for a downtown man
That’s what I am
Billy Joel – Uptown Girl
Wasps – the uptowners, living in a different world.
Coventry – the back street guys, living on the right side of the city.
Yesterday, Wasps went hunting for a downtown team.
But Cov refused to roll over.
In fact, they were very much on top.
And whilst Coventry still remain the downtown men for the time being, it might not be the case for too much longer.
Just before I start the post proper, full marks to the Wasps supporter who managed to work his way into the Coventry post-match huddle carrying a Wasps banner.
Great effort – certainly he showed a little more resolve than most of his team did in the second half…
The Wasps side we played yesterday might have been young and relatively inexperienced, but they were still Wasps A. Not the Premiership side by any means, but with players good enough to stake a claim for a place in the full squad, they represented a substantial step up from either Moseley or Leinster.
They are a group of extremely talented players who have aspirations of playing regular Premiership rugby. Some have made a number of appearances for Wasps senior side already and they all come with plenty of pedigree.
If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
This was a side quite capable of taking National One sides apart.
Lest we forget, it was Wasps and, in particular, Howe, James and Willis, to whom Winter turned when he needed to act quickly to change Cov’s fortunes back in the Autumn of 2016 when we’d lost four out of the first six games and were struggling to show any sort of form.
We thought they were world beaters back then.
Not so much now, good as they are. The Academy players are still hugely talented, but the gap, the one that was so glaringly wide between Premiership A sides and us back then, is now filled.
James and Howe became key members of that 2016/17 squad and Jack Willis within a year was playing regularly for Wasps in the Premiership.
And Tom is meant to be the better of the two.
These Wasps ‘youngsters’ are quality players and whilst they might not have the physicality of some of the Cov side, they certainly have the skill sets to match. Yet here we are, just two seasons on from those early appearances of the Wasps loanees and the situation is completely different.
Tom Willis and Will Porter were both mentioned last season as possible loanees this year should they be required. Such is the distance Coventry has travelled on its journey over these last two seasons than both would struggle to make it on to our bench given the depth we have in our squad at the moment.
Let’s celebrate Cov’s success for what it was; a demolition of Wasps second string side. And let’s not bemoan the fact that we should have opted to play tougher opposition.
The truth is, you don’t get much tougher than Wasps A unless you face a decent Championship side. Cov were superb for much of the game and they deserve to take the plaudits rather than have to listen to the game being described as a case of men vs boys.
A heavy downpour 90 minutes before the game did nothing to dampen Cov’s spirits and it was clear from the pre-match warm-up that Coventry weren’t going to be caught cold for the second night running.
Tuitupou and Makaafi, neither normally out early to the warm-up, were yesterday. And usually both Nick Walshe and Rowland Winter steer clear of the players during the Captain’s Run, giving the players space to work though their final team preparations.
Not this week.
Both were actively involved in directing players and Walshe even took part in one or two of the practice runs. There was a real focus and there was no chance of Coventry starting as slowly as the Nighthawks had the night before against Cambridge. Winter was animated, busy directing players and barking out instructions. It all felt a little different.
As Coventry jogged back to the changing room, the Cov faithful let out a massive cheer which many of the players seemed to acknowledge. It was spine-tingling. If they needed a lift, the crowd provided it in those final moments before kick off.
Despite going into half time a point down, Coventry had shown they were more than capable of holding their own. Cov had probably had the greater share of possession in the first half, with Wasps’ two tries coming from an excellent midfield break for the first and a poor Cov clearance in the second.
Wasps had looked really dangerous on the counter and had Cov been less organised in defence and missed one or two more tackles, they might have found themselves even further behind at the break.
In midfield and on the wings, Wasps appeared to have too much pace and we were exposed early on and found wanting. There was nothing at half time to make supporters feel that the second half was going to be anything but another tight, physical encounter with little to choose between the two teams come the final whistle.
No one could have expected the second half to unravel quite the way it did.
The turning point of the game came in the opening 13 minutes of the second half, a period of play that was, in many respects, reminiscent of the Darlington game away from home last season.
For 12 minutes Coventry had been forced to camp on their own line – a series of infringements, some of which seemed hard to fathom at the time, caused the ref to award several penalties to Wasps in and around our 22.
They kept opting for the kick to the corner and the catch and drive but Cov held them up time and time again.
Sometimes great defence can be just as exciting to watch as great attack and so it was yesterday.
Cov put in some really big hits and whilst their discipline wasn’t always as good as it will need to be in the Championship, they held the line really well. When Cov did break out of their own 22, they did exactly what they needed to do; they scored on their first visit into the Wasps’ 22 that half.
It was clinical and, above all, demoralising for a Wasps’ side that had worked so hard to break us down but who had, in turn, been broken themselves at the first opportunity.
From then on, Cov never looked back and in just over 25 minutes Cov scored 41 points. They effectively steam-rollered the opposition and by the end Wasps had little left to offer.
It was, as someone messaged me immediately after the game, a mauling. Cov found spaces that hadn’t been there before and were happy to move the ball at pace and with width, posing question after question of the Wasps’ defence.
And Wasps had no answers at all.
It was a tough, physical encounter early on and in that respect we definitely had the edge. Our tackle count must have been quite high, but so was the completion rate in fairness. Forwards and backs went head to head with the visitors and Coventry’s back row and midfield were tireless all afternoon.
Our fitness seems even better this year…
In the back row Peters, Ram and Makaafi were immense, so much so that Tom Willis hardly ade an impression.
An injury to Nutley early on was a worry, but he came out at half time to warm up with the subs so it can’t have been anything too serious. Makaafi, unusually for him playing 8, was also a real handful and he seems to be ageless – having far more game time this pre-season than we might have expected.
With Preece also available, it’s hard to know who the coaches are going to look to for the Jersey game, and if Nutley and Adams are fit, then there’s some real depth in the back row. Peters might well get the nod at 6 – he offers even more than Brett Daynes did at his best, and that’s as good a compliment as you can give,
The scrum was dominant all afternoon, and perhaps this is the one area where Wasps really were at a disadvantage. Gibbons and Boulton will trouble many Championship front rows and with Beech and Jeannot in reserve, there is a really strong foundation there. Nilsen got better as the game went on I thought, struggling early on to carry the ball, but a battering ram later on.
Voss and Jubb both had big games and complemented each other well. Jubby’s athleticism and Voss’ physical game were both very evident, as well as both doing some excellent work in the lineouts.
And for once, Coventry did well at the restarts, with Maisey clearly having been working on this area of his game, presumably under the guidance of Sharp. The ball hung in the air and Jubby and Voss did the rest.
Maisey looked every inch the first choice fly half. Jake Sharp seems to be either carrying a knock and looks like he’s lacking in confidence at the moment, whilst Maisey oozes it and he and Kessell will be a great pairing if they get a decent run of games together.
Halaifonua is a real crowd pleaser. The way he just swatted Simpson (the former England scrum half no less) away with apparent disdain will live in the memory for a long, long time, as will the break that led to Pete White’s opening try. But he is far, far more than just a brute of a wing…he chased Kessell and White’s towering howitzers all afternoon and won some good ball in useful situations as a result. He also kicked the ball a good 70m to find a touch deep in Wasps’ 22.
I was also impressed with Tuitupou who tackled everything and carried the ball well, too. He looks to be relishing his return from injury.
The bench looks to be really strong…if yesterday is anything to go by, Winter will go for a 5:2 split, with just a scrum half and a utility player amongst the backs. Fenner again looked good – although even with three really strong pre-season games it might not be enough to give him a starting place if only because he can cover so many positions from the bench. If he really is injury free, I think we’ll see the best of him this season.
White looks set to be the scrum half replacement, although there’s not a lot in it for me, far less so than for many supporters anyway. The energy he brings with him into the game adds another dimension to our play and if he comes on when players are tiring, then he could cause problems for defences.
I’ve been impressed with Kailus Hutchinson. The rumour was he arrived at the club unannounced asking for a trial, full of confidence and believing he could be the club’s best 4/5 in a couple of years. He wasn’t in anyone’s plans but he was given the chance to prove himself and he has worked his way up from an unknown in the Academy to a fringe match day squad player. He seems to have bulked up and whenever he’s come on, he’s done well…
Cov must be pleased with the way the pre-season has gone with three from three against decent clubs, even if the sides haven’t perhaps been as strong as we might have hoped for. Championship coaches will have taken note, for sure, and they will be very wary of playing Cov, especially at the BPA which is getting something of a reputation for its large and vociferous crowds on rolling-maul already.
And whilst I still think £20 was way over the odds for a pre-season friendly, all credit to Coventry – their marketing for this game was spot on and to get a crowd of 2677 was impressive to say the least.
I do think they need to revisit how they sell the Nighthawks games to supporters, but they were absolutely right in their belief they could attract a big crowd for the Wasps game even at £20 and it must have been a bumper pay day for the club – and boy will it be needed when it comes to December when there’s just the one home game.
The blocking off of the main stand at each end so that only those holding stand tickets could enter didn’t seem to work too efficiently, especially when only the one end was blocked for a good 30 minutes, with free entry at the other.
It also didn’t help that if you came into the ground via the main turnstiles, you had to walk three sides of the pitch to get to the entrance to the bar when previously it would have been just the one.
That caused a bit of effing and jeffing…
And did anyone notice the spelling mistake at the new ticket sales point outside the ground, close to the turnstiles.?
I didn’t either until someone sent it to me. Now I appreciate I’m the typo king, but even I might have spotted that one had it been for public display…
I’ve no idea how the bars coped yesterday with the additional pressure created by such a large crowd, but if the number of supporters arriving back late for the second half with pint in hand was anything to go by, then not too well. It did irritate a number of supporters whose views were blocked as a result or who ended up doing a pretty fair impression of a human yoyo for a good 10 minutes.
I’m off for a while.
I’m back when I’m back.
Good luck to everyone for the start of the Championship campaign…
Just in case anyone is feeling mischievous, it’s the uptown bit that’s relevant, not the reference to girls.
Just thought I’d get that one out of the way.
Time for a sing-song, methinks.
Take it away, Billy…