Ealing turn Trailfinders to Trailblazers as Cov wilt under first half blitz
If you wake up and don’t want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You’ll see things in a different way
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be here, better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone
Well that didn’t go to according to plan, did it?
We all knew that Ealing Trailfinders would be a real challenge. Away from home and on a synthetic pitch, a surface Cov have always struggled with even in the last couple of seasons, it was always going to be a big ask especially against a side that came into the game on the back of six consecutive wins.
But at least there wasn’t a hint of any rain in the air.
Here, then, was an opportunity to see what lessons had been learned from our previous three away games, games in which Cov had very much contributed to their own downfall.
Few of the traveling supporters were predicting a win but there was an expectation that we would make life rather more difficult for the opposition than we’d done previously on our travels.
Much of the pre-match talk was of the need to be competitive in the opening 20 minutes to prevent Ealing from racing away with the game as they had in their last three home fixtures. If we were within a couple of scores by half-time, maybe we could reel them in as they tired in the second half.
The theory was a good one.
Putting into practice though proved a lot harder than any of us had anticipated.
Ealing tore us open in the first 30 minutes of the game scoring 5 tries, by which time they were pretty much out of sight even with 50 minutes still to play.
Yes, by then Cov had managed to pull one back through Tony Fenner after 22 minutes, but in truth 5 tries to 1 was a pretty accurate reflection of play.
Whilst others will disagree, I’m inclined to think post-match discussions shouldn’t really be focusing on how poor Cov were on Saturday, they should be more about just how good Ealing were and on the gap there currently is between us and the teams at the top of the table, especially away from home. Coventry weren’t good by any stretch of the imagination but they were better than they’d been in their last two away games.
Cov’s performance on Saturday wasn’t as frustrating for me as some of those that had gone before. Ealing were by far the better side and just didn’t give us the time or space to play whereas against Richmond and Hartpury the losses were as much down to our own ill-discipline, poor decision-making and inability to retain possession as they were to the superiority of the opposition. More so probably.
Yes, we shipped 20 more points than either Carnegie or Richmond did when they went down to Vallis Way, but they are both more seasoned at this level and will know how to better play the opposition and the pitch far better than we currently do. That’s the difference for me.
The most disappointing thing was that we just didn’t make Ealing work for their points early on and that meant we were chasing the scoreboard from the word go. Against a side with their ability and experience, that’s a tough, tough ask especially for the league’s latest recruits. With such an early lead, the momentum was always with Ealing.
We gifted them their first three tries and after that it was always going to take a herculean effort just to keep the scoreboard respectable. I’m certainly not going to be overly critical of individuals or of the team generally, we always suspected that somewhere along the line we were going to get a good pasting and having had 24 hours to think it through, I’m not going to get too down over losing to a side that on that form is the best we’ve seen so far, and by a distance. The size of the defeat is a concern, but the likelihood is that other teams will suffer a similar fate there this season as Ealing grow stronger. It’s a frightening prospect.
On Saturday the Trailfinders showed themselves to be trailblazers.
We didn’t capitulate in the second half and even though they still bossed us around in those final 40 minutes, we were better organised defensively and showed a few more attacking options, scoring two more tries and earning that all important bonus point.
I know there was some odd decision-making and the critics were out even as the whistle went after Jake Sharp had tried a crosskick in our own 22 which nearly led to another Ealing try, but Cov needed to do something different and I don’t blame Sharp for trying to be inventive at that late stage of the game when we’d been chasing shadows for much of the afternoon.
I might well have settled for a point before the game in all honesty, although clearly not in the same circumstances – a point earned as a result of Cov finishing the game within 7 points of Ealing’s score would have been the more likely scenario for me. However, with the bottom teams all failing to pick up even a point between them, then if you’re an optimist it has to be regarded as a point gained.
And Cov do deserve some credit for that.
The last I heard was that Cov are still hoping to have a synthetic pitch at the BPA in time for the start of next season, so there was an added interest in seeing how the pitch would play on Saturday. And in fairness, it played extremely well. The odd longer bounce but that’s all.
Ealing have two pitches, the other adjacent to the main pitch, so Sam and I had a good walk on the second pitch just to get a feel of what it was like.
The ‘turf’ was extremely springy and a quick delve below the blades of artificial grass showed there was a thick layer of tiny rubber pellets which obviously helped cushion it.
I’d often wondered why players seemed to suffer no burns or abrasions from the synthetic surface but having seen it close to, the blades themselves are really soft and not at all plasticky as I had originally envisaged. There are plenty of examples in the media of players falling victim to burns from artificial grass, and even of an MRSA-type of infection, but it doesn’t appear to be an issue at Ealing.
On the synthetic surface, Ealing played the game at a fast tempo, well above anything we’ve been used to so far this season, with their forwards and backs working together in unison, always looking for the off-load to keep the game flowing.
Coventry were under almost constant pressure in that first half.
Ealing often chose to run rather than kick and seldom gave away possession and when they entered our 22, more often than not came away with the points.
I don’t usually notice the opposition as I tend to focus more on what our players are or aren’t doing, but the Ealing backrow were prominent throughout. Their 6,7 and 8 were all strong runners and Ealing’s first try took just 90 seconds, coming directly from their 6 who broke through our defensive line deep in his own half. With lightning speed the ball finally ended in the hands of the Ealing 12 who raced through to score from just outside our 22.
Power and pace.
And that was the case pretty much across the whole team.
Defensively, we seemed to really struggle to hold Ealing’s powerful runners and we missed more tackles than in any of our previous games. Once the line was broken, there were often two or three players in support. Sam T was very much the exception, he led by example and I thought Jack Preece made a difference when he came on for the final 30 minutes or so.
Unlike against Richmond, there was no lack of heart, or any other part of the male anatomy for that matter, and Cov did manage to regroup a little at half time.
Tony Fenner and Rob Knox both picked up first half injuries which didn’t help and Kessell had to play out wide for the final 40 minutes and Cov weren’t able to exert any great influence on an Ealing side that was pretty much dominant for the whole 80 minutes, despite a more even scoreline in that second half.
Our scrum was uncharacteristically pushed around the park for much of the second half and of the 15 penalties we conceded, a fair percentage of them would have resulted from scrum offences. In the end, Ealing were almost able to walk us over our line to score their final try and for supporters used to seeing Cov’s scrum fairly solid, it was something of a shock.
The Coventry scrum started off well enough, but even before half time there were some obvious cracks appearing and wisely Luc Jeannot was taken out of the firing line having equipped himself well against what looked like the strongest front row we’ve faced so far. Both Jeannot and Beech worked hard in defence and Beech had a strong run that led to Cov’s third try, but the Cov pack didn’t seem to be able to do anything to prevent Ealing’s near total dominance in the scrum in that second half.
Rowland Winter made it clear earlier in the week that the Ealing business model isn’t one that we necessarily wish to follow. We have our own plans in place to hopefully take us to where Ealing are and beyond.
However, the way Ealing play the game is certainly something that we should aspire to, but comparisons between the two sides on the pitch at the moment seem particularly harsh given we are only 8 games into our first season back in the Championship and have yet to get to grips with the demands of playing at what is a much, much higher level than anything we saw in National One.
There won’t be many in the current squad who will still be with us in three or 4 years time when hopefully we are pushing for promotion as Ealing currently are. This is a Cov side very much in a state of transition, with a number of players coming to the ends of their careers in the next 12-24 months and others just starting theirs. This season surely has to be about consolidation and perhaps a finish somewhere above the bottom 3 or 4 is a far more realistic target than has been mentioned on occasions. A target mind you.
Anywhere but 12th.
The squad is going to be very different even in even 12 months time and although we might have lost a few games already this season, there will be players visiting the BPA for the first time who will have been mightily impressed by the set up, as well as those already here who well also be spreading the word.
If we can bring in the likes of Ram and Nutley in our first season, who knows who we can attract in the future as our reputation increases and revenue streams improve once the ground developments are under way. But we need to ensure Championship survival for that to happen and that has to be the priority in the short-term.
And just as it’s all new for the players, so is it for the coaches, too, other for Nick Walshe. I do feel for Rowland Winter a little – the man worked wonders at Cambridge and then here at Cov, turning the club round from a fairly mediocre National One side to champions in just two seasons. (By the way, no Louis Deacon on Saturday (or the week before, I think). The forwards were overseen by Ross Stewart on Saturday).
Good as he obviously is, the expectations on Winter this season are probably a little too great. He’s no miracle worker. The progression from National Two through National One to the Championship is not a linear one, its exponential, so just as the players need more time to adapt to this league, so does he.
And we supporters need to make sure he gets it.
We’ve all seen what Cov are capable of under his direction and how it took the best part of half a season for Cov to gel back in 2016/17, so it’s only fair to expect it to take at least as long, if not longer, in the Championship.
Understandably, supporters are getting frustrated by Cov’s away form at the moment, as they were two seasons ago when before Christmas traveling away from home tested even the hardiest of supporters.
But just as we kept the faith then, so must we now.
And it’s obvious the players are grateful for the support they get away from home. That was made clear when the players, having formed the customary tunnel for the opposition after the game, headed back towards the supporters on the far side of the pitch to show their appreciation, even after having been so soundly beaten…
The support on Saturday was excellent again, another full Supporters’ Club coach despite the previous losses away from home and a good few others making their own way as well. As grounds go, it’s not the biggest in terms of seating capacity and I ended up standing on the far side because I left it too late to take my seat before the game.
The main stand has two levels of seating, the higher tier seeming to be reserved for members etc (or so we were told) leaving only two or three smaller areas below for the rest – these were well populated by Cov supporters.
There’s a stand of sorts at the far end but I was particularly impressed with the temporary seating available at the other. If ever the monies run out at Cov before the ground is fully developed, here’s a possible option for the car park end:
In the post match comments, the two respective Directors of Rugby saw the second half slightly differently:
Ealing’s Ben Ward:
We didn’t let them back into the match in the second half which has been our problem
The second half was a much improved performance but we need to reproduce that over 80 minutes
Both are of course right, but I would tentatively suggest that even an 80 minute performance to match that of the second half against Ealing wouldn’t necessarily be enough to beat most of the top Championship sides, athough it was a big improvement on that first 40. Certainly not if our scrum struggled as much as it did on Saturday.
Yes it was the best half of rugby Cov have played away from home so far this season, but was it good enough beat most Championship teams over 80 minutes? I’m not convinced.
So have Cov learned any lessons from the previous two away games against Hartpury and Richmond?
Well this was a more spirited performance against a team far superior to us in almost every facet of the game and although we were blitzed in the first half, there was a better response from the players in the second and there was no lack of commitment. This wasn’t a game where the coaches can lay any claim to having turned a corner, but at least they can take some heart from the way the players regrouped after such a poor first 40.
Something of an obvious choice I guess, but Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow sums up for me just what we all need to be doing right now…part of the process of getting to where we all want to be is bound to involve taking a good few knocks.
We are where we are but we have to believe it’s only temporary and that as hard as it currently is to look beyond the present, a much brighter future lies ahead of us.
…after games like the one on Saturday that’s easier said than done.