Scottish reel in the first half, jig in the second but, Strictly speaking, Cov deserve the win

15Oct - by Tim - 2 - In Club talk
Saturday you got nothing but free time
Monday comes and you’re under the gun
Don’t you know that it’s all in the mean time
Sooner or later you get the job done
[Chorus]
Oh so glad we made it
Oh no more waiting
Oh so glad we made it
And now we are coming up strong
Sheryl Crow – So Glad We Made It
It’s ironic that probably the most realistic appraisal of Coventry’s season so far, one made even before the win against London Scottish on Saturday, comes from a Jersey supporter no less.

On Rolling-maul.com,  the aptly named ‘Islander’ offered his assessment of Coventry’s return to the Championship as follows:

islander wrote:
…Cov fans unhappy about only having amassed 11 points in 6 games, even though they’ve been the most competitive newly-promoted team at this point of any recent season. Some people have very high expectations!

Context is everything here.

Whilst just three wins from seven games might not seem the best of starts for Cov fans, for those already seasoned in the Championship it obviously is. In recent years we’ve seen Hartpury, Richmond, Jersey, Doncaster and Ealing all promoted from National One; some decent clubs there yet it would appear that Coventry have made the biggest first impression of them all.

Islander is spot on really – we have heaped the highest of expectations on ourselves to the extent other than Irish, and perhaps Pirates, we’ve gone onto every game with the expectation that we should win, rather than we could win.

Part of that is probably the result of the genuine belief, one publicly expressed on the part of the coaches/players, that we will do well even in our first season in the Championship. A top half, possibly even top four finish have both been mentioned at times. And by and large, supporters’ have a real belief in the coaches and players.

Neither have let us down so far in the last two seasons, so what’s not to believe?

Which is probably why we beat ourselves up so much when the demanding standards the club has set itself aren’t always met. Teams aren’t going to allow Cov to play to its strengths as they often did in National One and even the weaker sides in the Championship look capable of beating the top 4 sides this season, other than perhaps Yorkshire Carnegie who seem to be adrift from the rest of the league at the moment.

Last year we had the luxury, particularly away from home, of being able to play poorly and still win fairly comfortably. That just isn’t going to happen this season.

Before the game on Saturday I was very much of the opinion that a loss against London Scottish would have been a real concern – a possible four straight defeats with Ealing to follow speaks for itself. But the season is but a third of the way through and it wouldn’t have been, tough as it would have been to take.

One win makes such a difference and whatever the result next weekend, with a struggling Carnegie still to come before we break for the Cup, this has been a decent start.

As an outsider looking in, Islander won’t be aware perhaps of the plans that Jon Sharp and the Board have put in place to turn Coventry into a Premiership club, both on and off the pitch, plans that only heighten our own expectations.

Nevertheless, his judgement in assessing where we currently are and what we have so far achieved, free from our own bias, is an extremely pertinent one, even if it might not be shared by all Cov supporters.

One certainly worth considering anyway…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A number of changes to the starting line up, a couple of players making their debuts at home and a new captain to lead out the team…

Enough to put a bit of additional pressure on the side at any stage of the season, but after three defeats, two that involved poor Coventry performances, there was a fair amount of pre-match tension among supporters prior to kick off.

Post match comments after the Richmond game had made it clear that the coaches felt Cov’s performance that day was unacceptable; it was a group of players playing as individuals rather than as a team and a number of senior players on whom the team relied just hadn’t turned up on the day.

None of us needed to be told that, but nevertheless we were all glad to hear it coming as it did from the coaches.

There were some tough words spoken publicly and presumably some even tougher ones said behind closed doors.

Yes, Cov needed the win on Saturday to avoid slipping further behind the clubs mid-table, but arguably even more important than the 4 or 5 points was the nature of the team’s response to that defeat against Richmond.

For me, a performance lacking heart and belief would have been far more of a worry than any loss.

Fortunately, Cov lacked neither and although it wasn’t a polished performance by any means, it was a very spirited one. If Cov were a team lacking confidence then they might well have succumbed to Scottish pressure in those last few minutes. As it was, Cov’s defence just about held tight under immense pressure to carry Cov home in what was a thoroughly entertaining game.

Coventry’s pre-game warm-up has changed so much since the days of Maynard and Morgan. There’s far more intensity and focus, with everything timed to the minute. Against Scottish, PhilNilsen seemed to ratchet it up another notch or two.

During the final forwards/backs split prior to leaving the pitch just before kick off, the forwards went through their drills at a far quicker pace, with Nilsen moving  his forwards from one side of the pitch to the other for line-out drills and scrums, a first as far as I can recall. To say players jogged from one to another would be to do them a disservice, it was far more of a sprint really, noticeably even more up tempo than in previous weeks and covering more of the pitch.

The ground was slow to fill and with 10 minutes before kick off there were plenty of gaps in the main stand, but a combination of late arrivals and what must have been a mass last minute exit from the bar meant that by kick off the ground was buzzing with excitement.

As Phil Nilsen led his players off to the changing room, the crowd of over 2100 showed its appreciation with shouts of encouragement and clapping as loud as anything we’ve heard for a long time.

The support at Cov is quite something at the moment, maybe not quite the same in numbers as for Irish and Bedford, but in terms of passion it’s hard to beat and trips to both the Madejski Stadium and Goldington Road will be among the highlights of the season for me. We might be  heavily outnumbered there, but we’ll definitely make ourselves known far more than either set of their supporters did when they visited us a few weeks ago.

The weather was just as much a factor on Saturday as it had been down at Richmond a week earlier. Although dry and warm, there was a stiff breeze that probably had just as much influence on the game as the rain did in London. From the main stand, you weren’t as aware of it as out on the pitch, but from the moment the teams kicked off, it was evident just what an advantage it was to have the wind at your back.

Coventry had the benefit of the wind in the first half but three tries and a 19-3 lead at half time was never going to be enough to make the second half anything but an edgy affair.

A lot of the post-match discussion has focused on how much better Scottish made use of the elements, but I do think that undervalues just how well Cov played in what were difficult conditions.

We actually scored two tries playing into the wind, whereas Scottish didn’t cross the whitewash once and I thought the Scottish kicking was relatively poor in the first half, missing several touches (and kicking a restart straight out) and the opportunity to take play into the Coventry half. In fact it was almost 20 minutes before they ventured past the half way line.

Cov’s kicking was more a little more discerning and although they also had a kick that went straight out and one that went dead, I thought it was a big improvement on the previous week.

In fairness, Scottish tried to run the ball from deep in their own 22 on several occasions and although they rarely broke through the Cov defensive line in those first 40 minutes, it was clear what their intention would be when the elements favoured them in the second half.

If Scottish were to turn things round after the break they needed some early momentum and sadly we provided them with just that in the opening minutes from an error at the base of a Cov scrum close to the half way line. Some confusion as the ball came out allowed the opposition the steal and their no 8 galloped away unopposed to score.

Much of the game over the remaining 35 minutes was contested in our half, but we still scored  two tries, enough just to give us the narrowest of wins following a further three tries from Scottish – a conversion wide out from the final try would have given Scottish the draw.

We seemed to carry a few injuries as the game went on and looked to tire a little towards the end. The defence held out though, despite three late tries from the Scottish 11, all wide out on the left; quite whether that is significant or not I don’t know.

We seemed more disciplined than the week before and although we still gave away 11 penalties, we held on to our ball better and when we were having to defend in numbers against Scottish in the second half we put a lot of pressure on their attackers and caused them to make a number of errors which helped relieve the pressure.

DSC01302.JPG
Tony Fenner – the quiet man of the team but such an important player for Cov. One of the first on the squad list for me

I haven’t seen Tony Fenner’s name mentioned anywhere as yet in connection to the Scottish game, but for him to play in three separate positions and play with such a degree of authority in each shows how versatile he is. I think he’s played some of his best rugby this season since joining us and looks more suited to the Championship than he did National One.

Although he might not be an automatic starter, he must be almost be guaranteed a place in the match day squad. He’s such a useful player to have around and often seems to go under the radar when it comes to being mentioned in dispatches.

3
Alex Woolford jumps salmon-like to secure Coventry ball in front of the main stand

Both Faleata and Woolford did themselves no harm at all and put in big shifts defensively with Faleata also looking to get involved in the loose too. Jeannot was a steadying influence in the scrum again, although with both teams penalised throughout the game in the set piece it was hard to tell who had the upper hand at times.  I’m sure Luc is glad to have got that first start out of the way; the first of many over the next couple of seasons or so. Phil Boulton will presumably come straight back into the side on his return, but it will be interesting to see who gets the nod between Luc and Charlie Beech.

Having Jubb and Oram on the bench was a great shout; it seemed an odd decision at the time, but when Coventry needed to increase their physicality second half, it worked out really well with both prominent once again.

1
Tony Fenner times his passes perfectly and second later Pete White scores

Before the game I’d posted that Pete White deserved his start and although he was probably one of the players at fault for the first Scottish try, he was my Man of the Match, although Jack Ram had a stonker of a game, too. He reads the game so well and what impressed me on Saturday was just how quickly he can react to a situation, speed of hands and speed of thought with speed of hands to match.

I thought Sharp did ok, again plenty of quick, short passes and lots of awareness of what’s happening around him – he seems to be building a good understanding with Sammy Tuitupou in particular. Safe rather than spectacular at the moment – hopefully his HIA protocols will be ok early next week and he’ll be fit for consideration for Saturday.

David Halaifonua hasn’t had quite the impact I thought he might having made some rampaging runs pre-season. Defensively he put in a good shift on Saturday but I’m not sure we’re seeing his best just yet.  Andy Bulumakau looked a far better player at 13 than he did out on the wing and with Max Trimble looking to have lost none of his pace, places out wide look to be between him, Halaifonua and Rob Knox who will be champing at the bit to get back into the side in the next week or two.

It was an encouraging display and as a response to the defeat against Richmond, it was just what I’d hoped for. No one who saw Cov’s performance on Saturday is going to get too carried away just now, but as Islander’s comment earlier suggests, there are plenty of supporters outside of Cov who are more than a little impressed with the start we’ve made.

On Saturday we had Scottish reeling in the first half…

…the reel turned into a jig in the second.

But in the end, strictly speaking, Cov deserved the win.

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Don’t cha know we could keep going
You take the good with the bad
That’s the way we keep on growing
Cause you’re the best thing that I ever had

Cheryl Crow – not sure how I got to this one.

I asked Sue if she knew of any appropriate Scottish folk music (she’s well versed in eightsome reels and stripping the willow) but somehow she persuaded me to include this…

Definitely not my thing, but in the absence of anything more suitable…here’s ‘So Glad We Made It

(although I was tempted to ignore the suggestion and use the Spencer Davis Group’s Gimme Some Lovin’ that includes the same line):

 

 

2 thoughts on “Scottish reel in the first half, jig in the second but, Strictly speaking, Cov deserve the win”

  1. Rhys. I agree with you…. I think Tony Fenner is a top player, one of our top backs. He is unshowy, but is fast, has excellent hands, can kick well and tackles above his weight. Dare I say it, but I would like to see him have a run at no. 10 in the cup.

  2. Nice summary as usual Tim. I agree to have been surprised at the lack of mentions for Tony Fenner who appears to be Mr Utility as far as playing positions are concerned. For me, like you, he acquits himself more than adequately whichever position RW puts him at, whenever he puts him there.

    I also agree that Pete White played himself into the 9 short for the next start as well – seemed to be everywhere making “chop” tackles as well as assists and still getting the ball away form the base with pace and accuracy.

    Luc played well against someone we know very well, and from my vantage point looked to have the better of the battle with Jimmy L, overall.

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