They were summoned from the hillside
They were called in from the glen
And the Country found them ready
At the stirring call for men
Let no tears add to their hardship
As the Soldiers pass along
And although your heart is breaking
Make it sing this cheery song
Ivan Novello – Keep The Home Fires Burning
Richard Moon’s post-match interview with Rowland Winter put Coventry’s 12-35 defeat to Canada in its true context.
A squad of 25 players had trained on the Monday morning in preparation for the Championship Cup game against Doncaster Knights. The remaining players were then ‘freed up’ to play what was not far off being a full strength Canada squad later that day, missing just a couple of players, that’s all.
So this was very much a second string Cov side bolstered by a few experienced members from the senior Coventry squad.
Reading very much between the lines, and with perhaps the exception of James Stokes who was returning from injury, the rest of those who played on Monday night are unlikely to feature in Saturday’s game against Doncaster, although they will be considered for selection in the rest of the forthcoming Cup games.
So a scratch Coventry squad which included a lot of our Development Academy players against an international side that could be playing in the World Cup next year.
In this case, context really is everything.
With both sides fielding larger than usual squads, inevitably there were a myriad of changes from half time onwards which disrupted the flow of the game somewhat. Coventry’s cause was further hindered when Jack Preece had to go into the front row to cover for Luc Jeannot who went off with a shoulder injury, although apparently nothing too serious. In those last few minutes the scrums were uncontested.
In the opening 30 minutes or so Canada were stronger in almost all areas of the game, but even so Cov probably won the territorial battle in the first half. The difference was that on each of their first three visits into our 22, Canada scored, and always looked like scoring, whilst when Cov were in Canada’s 22 , they were a little laboured at times. They lacked any real penetration early on and we seemed a little too predictable.
However, as the youngsters came on so we became more competitive and I thought a number of the Development Academy did themselves no harm at all out there. They were always likely to be outgunned and outmuscled, but they kept going and in the end gave the Canucks a really good work out. Losing the second half 14-7 was a very creditable effort, all things considered.
At 1451, it was a good crowd, too. The main stand was full where we were even if it didn’t seem to me as if there were 500 fewer than for the Yorkshire Carnegie game the week before, although I appreciate that’s based on nothing more than a feeling on my part.
The atmosphere was a little subdued and was very different to that of a typical league game. We never got to hear the rallying cry of ‘Cov-en-tree’, although the demographics of the crowd seemed at odds with what regulars to the BPA might be used to. It was very much a younger crowd on Monday (no bad thing at all, I hasten to add), appearing to be made up of a lot more ‘casual’ support presumably attracted by the uniqueness of the occasion as much as anything.
I thought the now traditional pre-match Service of Remembrance conducted by Coventry was observed really well by those present.
Whilst I’m not a great fan of Billy Bell’s singing on these occasions, he has a strong voice and I’m sure everyone present appreciated the sentiments behind it, myself included.
I have to admit, I didn’t recognise the song – I think in the past it’s been Abide With Me which is perhaps rather better known. Unfortunately, Billy’s rendition was made slightly less effective by the disappointing quality of the sound system.
Jon Sharp’s reading of the names of those Coventry players who died in both World Wars was, as it always is, particularly moving and a reminder of just how fortunate we are to be living in a peaceful democracy free of the troubles that are all too prevalent in some other areas of the world. We do indeed owe so much to so many.
Having two members of the armed services in Coventry’s squad made the occasion seem even more significant and it was apt that Junior Bulumakau and Nathanael Titchard-Jones presented the poppy wreath. Although pre-recorded, the ‘last post’ was especially poignant given the minute’s silence for those members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty was broken only by the sound of exploding fireworks in the skies around the Butts Park Arena.
It somehow seemed fitting.
John Cannon was also rightly remembered by both teams.
As for the game itself, well the power and pace of Canada was clear from the start. Their forwards were extremely effective, puncturing our defensive line early and all too regularly at that and winning far too many turnovers. To be fair, Rowland Winter made it clear after the game that he thought that the officiating wasn’t especially strong at the breakdown and that this did us no favours at all.
Their backs too looked to be strong, powerful runners and their 12 and 15 caused us plenty of problems when they got the ball. Canada were 21-5 up after just 24 minutes and at that point it very much looked as if the floodgates might open. However, despite some poor handling at times and some rather over adventurous play deep in our own half (but in keeping with the spirit of the game), Cov began to find a bit of rhythm. Defensively began to look far more cohesive, especially after half time when Canada saw a great deal of ball inside our half but failed to make such effective use of it as they had done in the early stages of the game.
Despite two quick tries after the break, Canada failed to score again in the final 28 minutes of the game and Coventry’s youngsters must take great credit for that. Indeed, the injection of pace from the likes of Palmer, Lane and, in particular, Louis Roach caused Canada problems.
The Cov side that finished the game must have contained 8 or 9 players yet to wear the first team shirt. Although we haven’t been able to watch the Academy players as much over the last couple of seasons as we might have hoped, it is evident from Monday that those involved continue to develop and whose to say we won’t yet see some of them in the Championship before the end of the season?
Yes Cov struggled at times, but I can well see why Rowland Winter would feel proud of a group of players who are still playing their rugby in the third and fourth tiers of the English game yet caused Canada to huff and puff a fair bit in the last quarter.
Many of those who played for Cov on Monday won’t have played at this level before and for the likes of Kailus Hutchinson, Olly Povoas, Sam McNulty, Will Flinn, Dan Lewis, Max Titchener, Kwaku Asiedu, Louis Roach, Ben Palmer, James Neal and Joe Lane playing for Coventry against an international side must have been no more than a pipe dream back in September.
And all of them had a significant impact on the game.
For me, I thought Will Flinn looked confident at 9 and made a couple of vital tackles to prevent what looked like certain tries for the opposition. Again, we suffered from some slow ball, but the Canadian forwards were dominant at the time he was on and their backrow were particularly effective (even taking into account RW’s remarks about the officiating).
Louis Roach looked really sharp when he came on and made a couple of telling breaks. He took his try really well, leaving the opposition for dead with a real injection of pace. Ben Palmer did what he always does whenever I’ve seen him play; he certainly didn’t look out of his depth. Whilst I’m sure there are reasons why his game isn’t yet good enough to allow him to break into the senior squad, all the cameos he’s had have been exciting to watch.
Of the regulars, Jake Sharp looked to get his backs flowing wherever possible and he certainly showed some vision and variety in his passing, but the backs seemed to flat and static at times, allowing the opposition that much more time to get in amongst them. He struggled a bit with the boot at times, but he has probably been a little more consistent in all but one of the games I’ve seen him play than Will Maisey. So far.
Will is sure to find his form before too long though, isn’t he?
A lot of the earlier criticism of Sharp has been unfair and at times personal to say the least, but the 10 shirt remains a problem area for Cov and perhaps these next few games are a chance for the coaches to also have a look at Tony Fenner and Rob Povey (he’s been capped for times for his country at fly half).
Or even Ben Palmer :).
Rob Knox was as busy as ever. Against Canada’s backs he got little change, but he’s sure to be back in the Cup squad before too long. James Stokes showed no ill-effects after making his first appearance in three weeks, so we can probably expect to see him back for Doncaster and I thought Ben Adams and Jack Preece worked really hard all evening ,with Preece coming more and more into the game as the Canadians seemed to tire a little and the multitude of changes began to take their toll.
Once it was clear that Coventry wouldn’t be putting out its first team, it always looked as if the game was going to be a tough one for the home side. That Cov did as well as they did speaks volumes for the depth of the squad and in particular for the quality of many of the Academy youngsters currently plying their trade in the leagues below the Championship.
The coaches will doubtless rely on the senior players when the Championship starts again in December, but I do wonder if they’ll be tempted to bring in some of the raw talent we saw on display on Monday later in the season if the situations allows.
Many of the youngsters will have got themselves noticed following some promising performances; the difficult bit now is ensuring they stay in the minds of the selectors.
It was Coventry Rugby Club’s Day of Remembrance…
…and for many of the younger players from the Development Squad it was also very much a day to remember
Keep the Home Fires burning
While your hearts are yearning
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home
There’s a silver lining
Keep The Home Fires Burning works well on two levels.
On one, the Coventry youngsters are indeed far away for the most part, playing their rugby elsewhere for much of the season. They dream of home, I’m sure, and for them day’s like the one on Monday are very much a silver lining.
And on another, the song itself was very much one connected with the Great War of 1914-18, a song of patriotism and hope. 100 years later and as part of the Remembrance Day observances, it seems especially fitting.