When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be…
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
The Beatles – Let It Be
My first Championship game of the season.
My first for over 8 years, in fact.
And it didn’t disappoint…
It wasn’t the most polished of performances from Cov by any means; indeed it was somewhat tarnished at times, the result of Coventry’s seeming desire to gift the game to the opposition. Poor discipline, especially at the breakdown, as well as missed kicks and one moment of uncharacteristic rugby madness meant Coventry allowed Bedford into a game that should have been all but over with 20 minutes still remaining.
That said, Coventry ended victorious and deservedly so.
And whilst Bedford fought back strongly in the last quarter, the Cov players, from 1-21 (poor Will M didn’t get on, did he?), all showed immense character in defending their lines against a Bedford side who began to believe they could turn the game around having been given a consummate lesson in finishing in that first half.
Two from two suggests Coventry are going to be a tough side to beat at home in the coming months. Pre-season, Rowland Winter suggested that Coventry’s season might well mirror that of two years ago when Cov took time to adjust to life under the new DoR and struggled somewhat in the opening few games, winning most at home but finding life on the road far from easy.
Spot on so far, RW.
Yesterday’s win against Bedford has taken a little of the pressure off Cov. Next week’s game against Hartpury would have carried far more significance had we lost, especially as the Gloucestershire outfit were thumped 17-46 at home by Pirates. Wins against those teams likely to be somewhere near the bottom of the Championship come next April (London Scottish, Richmond and Hartpury perhaps) are going to prove vital for those teams hoping to achieve the relative security of a mid-table finish.
And if that seems a little unfair on those clubs I’ve singled out, the Championship table is already beginning to bear that out, with all three finding themselves in the bottom four. Jersey have a game in hand, but given it’s against title favourites London Irish, they are unlikely to improve their position this week, although surely they will begin to move out of the danger zone in the weeks to come?
So, if we can pick up wins against the likes of Jersey and Bedford, then we are making life far easier for ourselves when it comes to the final reckoning – at least that’s how I’m reading it at the moment.
Early days, but the signs are encouraging.
Cov might not be able to go into next week’s game as clear favourites given how hard it is to win away from home, but certainly on yesterday’s display they will rightly believe they have the game to beat Hartpury.
For sure, I’ll now be traveling down there believing that we can come away with the points if we show the same degree of skill and commitment that I witnessed yesterday – with perhaps just a little more composure at times.
Bedford’s pack are formidable. Big and powerful and very experienced. By all accounts they dominated Jersey’s front five the week before and whilst they certainly caused us some problems, our line-out was imperious on our ball and although we creaked at times in the scrum and conceded a few too many penalties, when it really mattered we came good.
In those last few scrums on our line when, after a number of penalties and resets it looked as if Bedford might well force a penalty try or Cov concede a push over, we eventually forced them into a mistake and were able to take the ball upfield and out of the red zone for the final few plays. Cov took the right options, controlled the game to some extent, even without the ball, and were disciplined in a way they hadn’t been at times elsewhere in the game.
It was nerve-wracking to watch, but those last few minutes showed just what a team spirit there is at Cov at the moment and when the final whistle blew, I felt immensely proud of the team.
For too many years Coventry would have blown opportunities like that – but not under the current DoR and his coaches. Under different DoRs, Cov have lacked resolve and self-belief, despite apparently having squads capable of achieving far better. At the moment, you get the distinct impression that even against sides with probably greater experience and ability, this sense of team spirit, this willingness to leave it all out on the pitch, will see us through in games as tight as it was yesterday.
If anything, Cov are just as likely to over achieve than under at the moment and that must mostly be down to the impact the coaches are having – that value-added factor that all teams strive for.
I have to say, when it became clear that neither James Stokes nor David Halaifonua were available for selection I feared the worst. The absence of, arguably, Cov’s two most attacking players among the backs suggested that Coventry might struggle to unlock Bedford’s defences. If I’m honest, I had wondered where the points might come from and in conversations with supporters around the ground, this was pretty much a shared concern…
…oh we of little faith.
When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Or maybe that should read ‘Brother Rowland‘ or ‘Uncle Nick‘ rather than ‘Mother Mary‘…
Best not to worry about it, just let it be…
Andy Bulumakau and Tony Fenner were superb.
Many of us did them a huge disservice in the 24 hours leading up to the game by referring to them as ‘second choice’ players. They stepped up yesterday big time and one of the real bonuses to come from the game was that we saw for the first time this season the true depth of the squad – this is a group of 35ish players all of whom are able to play comfortably at this level.
Both Fenner and Bulumakau looked really comfortable and for me, TF must have been a decent shout for MoM alongside Andy Bulumakau (together with Jack Ram and Tom Jubb)…
Andy deserved his MoM award – he took his try exceptionally well, beating the final defender with ease and in defence he and Sammy won the midfield battle against the much fancied Bedford 12 and 13. Junior, too (and Junior is apparently the older of the brothers – not sure I can see the reasoning there), had a good game, troubling the Bedford defence on several occasions especially in the first half. All three players offer something different to BDH and are already looking set to become firm favourites with the crowd.
Knoxy, too, looked sharp and for me had his best game so far this season, making good metres on several occasions with some powerful runs.
I thought Sam Tuitupou had another great game. A full 80 minutes again (and how many of us would have thought that would be the case before the season started?), he was magnificent in defence, winning several turnovers/scrums following some massive hits. He just keeps going and is a model to any youngsters watching. He’s such a great player to watch…
Zinzan or Sam T?
No contest for me, Zinzan obviously had the more glittering career in rugby but Sam has already produced more in a Cov shirt than Zinzan ever did.
Would make an interesting poll, that one…
Fenner looks a completely different player to last season. Free of injuries and looking far more confident, he was really composed at 15 yesterday and his ability to find the gap and ease past defenders led to two tries at least. He’s not as showy as James Stokes and isn’t as charismatic a player, but he always seems to choose the right options and whilst sometimes Stokesy can get isolated, TF doesn’t.
He’s also defensively very strong and few players run through, or around him. Oddly, he looks far better suited to the Championship than he did in National One, although that might just be down to injuries. Stokes would be first choice for me at 15 even without Dave Halaifonua in the squad, but not by such a wide margin as last season.
Will Maisey made the 10 shirt his own last season and he and Jake Sharp will probably be the main protagonists this season, but Tony Fenner would always be in my match day 22 such is his ability and versatility and for that reason he is one of the key players in this current squad, even if he might not start as many games as some.
Coventry looked really focused in the warm up, out early and in numbers. Once again, Sammy T was one of the first out, although I’m not sure the Bulumakau brothers appeared until the Captain’s run. I might be wrong on that one but if they did, then it was only for a few minutes…
Players clearly have different ways of preparing for a game in the build up to kick off – perhaps a topic for discussion at one of the Supporters’ Club mtgs?
It was good to see Boris Stankovich looking on as the front row warmed up; whilst he may be contracted to Tigers, he clearly has a soft spot for Cov and his loyalty to the club goes far beyond the one session a week he coaches at Coventry.
Inevitably his presence is going to lift the players just as it does the spectators.
Halaifonua was there with his children and seemed to still have a bit of a limp. I spoke to him and he said he might be back in a couple of weeks, although someone else said he’d heard it could be as soon as next Saturday.
One conspiracy theorist 🙂 (whom I have the utmost respect for) suggested that both Stokes and Halaifonua were left out yesterday because of the importance attached to the Hartpury game – which makes sense, although as I mentioned before, its significance has now been lessened somewhat following yesterday’s win.
Probably the most relieved player in the Coventry squad is Jake Sharp.
And for a number of reasons.
His missed penalty in front of the posts in the latter stages of the second half would have seen Cov 10 points (I think) clear and taken some of the pressure off. As it was, he skewed it wide leaving the Cov crowd silenced for probably the only time in the game.
Fortunately, Cov hung on, otherwise…
Relief too that he lasted the full 80 minutes after a lack of game time in the previous six weeks.
Place-kicking apart, there were clear indications as to just why Winter brought Sharp to Cov. His handling and distribution were excellent; indeed Kessell’s second try came from a sweetly timed pass to Jubb which enabled him to break clear and run a good 40 metres before eventually being brought down. Jubb has such a heart…
…and a decent turn of speed too.
Sharp obviously has great vision and provides different options at 10 to the tried and tested Will Maisey…both players will feature regularly this season I’m sure.
I made mention earlier of a moment of madness from Cov which almost cost us dear…
…it was Ben Adams who was the culprit; a player who otherwise impressed again.
Coventry had won good ball and were about to break clear when Ben illegally checked/blocked/impeded one of the opposition defenders with his shoulder. From the penalty, Bedford kicked into the corner and eventually scored, bringing them right back into the game…it was a poor decision by Adams and one that could have been very costly.
That said, Cov’s work rate was immense, typified for me by Jack Ram. He was everywhere again and won good turnover ball as well as providing plenty of options in attack. Jack Preece hasn’t had a look in yet, but with Ram in the kind of form he’s showing, it would be a tough call to rest him provided he remains fit, although it might be that Preece comes in next weekend to give Ram a break before the London Irish game…?
More perhaps on the game tomorrow…
No mention of the officials yet, either.
One of the key things to come out of Cov’s performance, for me at least, is that even when some of the ‘big name’ players are unavailable, the squad has the depth to enable others to come to the fore. The absence of Stokes and Halaifonua wasn’t the problem we all thought it would be, instead Andy Bulumakau and Tony Fenner did more than enough to suggest that they are worth a place on merit, irrespective of who else is waiting in (or on) the wings.
Best not too worry when these injuries happen, as they inevitably will…
…just let it be.
Let it be.