If I go up-you take me higher
And when I’m down, you take me higher
There’s stiff competition all over the world
I screw you, you screw me, they screw us
Cheap Trick – Stiff Competition
Back in August and September, there weren’t many Cov supporters showing a great deal of enthusiasm for the Championship Cup.
And when discussions on the Messageboard and elsewhere did eventually turn to the competition, remarks more often than not were disparaging. At best, it was seen as little more than a distraction from the main event; in short, a mickey mouse competition and something of an irrelevance.
5 games in and 2028 supporters turned up to watch another exciting match-up between two sides who have, over the two games, shown far more enthusiasm for the Cup than one or two amongst the Cov faithful have up to now.
That said, a crowd of that size does demonstrate how much interest there currently is both in the competition now and, indeed, in the club itself.
It was the highest attendance of the day, even though perhaps the Bedford v Pirates game had just as much, if not more, riding on the result and is evidence indeed that the Cup has caught the imagination of many. So much so, in fact, that supporters are already turning to next week visit to Carnegie to work out at exactly what it is Cov need to do to ensure a home fixture for the beginning of the knock-out stages in February .
Heartening indeed and whilst Coventry’s away form this season remains a real concern, purely from the point of view of the club’s coffers, seven wins from eight home games is probably far better than, say, only four wins and a further three on Cov’s travels.
If Cov keep winning at the BPA, the crowds aren’t going to drop a great deal whatever happens away from home.
For me, this was probably the best Cov performance in the Cup competition so far, despite almost throwing away what should have been a commanding lead with just 7 minutes remaining. Cov allowed Doncaster back in the game in those final few minutes, the result of attempting to play some cavalier, champagne rugby in preference to better game management and a decision to keep the game tight.
Donny provided some ‘Stiff Competition‘ indeed.
Me, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the break from the league fixtures if truth be known and all five games so far have been hugely entertaining, although not without the odd concern as Cov continue to frustrate supporters in their inability as yet to put a full 80 minute performance together.
Saturday’s game was very much a case in point for me. As someone said at the time, it was a game of (somewhat uneven) quarters. Cov gifted Donny two early tries, coming right back in it in the next 40 or so minutes either side of half time. It was a period of the game in which Donny just had no answers to our pace and power.
And then, as the clock ticked down, Cov displayed a rather kamikaze approach to allow Donny a further two tries and arguably a deserved bonus point.
Their first two tries, both scored from driving mauls from line-outs in our 22, were disappointing from a Cov perspective. Both came about as a result of us conceding a penalty well inside our own half, followed immediately by another on half way.
Penalty – lineout – penalty – lineout – try…
We couldn’t have made it much easier for them, other than by allowing them to intercept…
…which we duly did for try number three.
It’s easy to blame the referee, and there were definitely some strange decisions at times, but we managed to sort out the problems in the second half which might suggest that perhaps some of those decisions were of our making. Our inability to stop their drive certainly wasn’t down to the ref either.
Although their ability to stop ours probably was.
That said, I thought our forwards played well against a big pack and when we got our maul going we looked unstoppable at times. Although we still conceded 4 tries in the end, we defended pretty well for the most part and Ram and Faleata did some hard graft there in particular. Faleata put in some crunching tackles early doors.
Doncaster’s final two tries were the result of us probably being rather overly ambitious. The most disappointing aspect of the whole 80 minutes was that we gifted them two points from a game in which we had the better of Donny both territorially and in terms of possession. Okay, it was a Cup game and by winning the game Doncaster are now out of the competition with a round still to go, but I would’ve still liked to have seen us a little more clinical in those final minutes.
Several times this season Cov have got themselves into strong positions only to see the opposition come right back into contention. Maybe that’s something that will come with a little more experience at this level, but even so.
Despite a raft of new signings into the senior squad this season, totalling 19 (?) or so (including the likes of Bitirim and Povey) by my reckoning, 11 of the starting XV on Saturday were playing National One rugby with Coventry last season.
I’m not quite sure what that signifies in itself – injuries to key players, resting others for the Notts game in two weeks perhaps or even that those recruited this season haven’t necessarily performed as was expected…?
Whatever the reasons, it certainly reinforces Rowland Winter’s claim last season that his National One winning squad would have been ‘competitive’ in the Championship – at the bottom end for sure, but after performances like that on Saturday, you realise just how good we were at times last year.
One of the slight reservations I have about the Cup games so far is that I thought we might see rather more Academy players than has been the case. I can only recall Flinn, Lewis and Scott Russell (thanks, Kevin) being involved in the last 5 games and whilst there have been plenty of discussions, some of them a little misleading I feel, about the relative strengths or otherwise of the opposition, Cov have achieved their wins by using players pretty much from their full senior squad.
I guess the benefit of this, though, is that there’s been a more consistent approach to selection and whilst the coaches have rotated players as and when, most of the senior squad have a good few games under their belts by now. I believe only Woolford, Hutchinson injured), Higgins and Titchard-Jones have played less than 5 games (including the Cup competition). Presumably, that makes slotting players into the match day squad easier than if they’re coming into the side for a first appearance three or four months into the season?
I sit immediately behind Mick Carter and before the game started he opined that this Saturday’s squad probably included the strongest starting three-quarters so far this season. Despite the absence of Andy Bulumakau and Heath Stevens, I have to say I’d agree.
Defensively, Heath has looked sound but he hasn’t been quite the threat in attack that he was last season and whilst AB has shown glimpses of what he can do, the Fenner/Knox partnership has looked impressive over the last couple of games and must now be a real consideration for when the Championship begins again in less than two weeks time.
Saturday saw another barnstorming display from Rob Knox. When the headlines to the match report in The Rugby Paper (admittedly written by Cov’s own Paul Smith) reads: ‘Power of Knox halts Knights’ pack-men‘, you know he’s had a real influence on the result.
Following a couple of other very promising displays at 13, does this mean that the coaches are now of a different opinion as to the best position for Knoxy, preferring him at 13 to out on the wing. Rob is certainly a player capable of making things happen and appears at his most confident when he is seeing more ball, which tends to be the case when he’s playing at outside centre.
But Stevens is club captain…and someone who played much of his rugby when previously at Cov out on the wing.
In his post-match interview, Winter commented that he thought Cov had scored more tries than any of the other teams in the competition over the last four or five weeks. With so many of those coming from a back division that includes Knox at 13, well it should make for an interesting selection meeting the week after next.
And whilst on Knox – he’s got quite a boot on him, hasn’t he? Useful to have someone who can kick with that sort of accuracy from 45 metres plus, especially as it’s bound to unnerve the opposition a little.
And he looked like he had a few more metres in reserve, too
If he keeps knocking them over from that sort of distance, Wasps will come a-calling next season when Daly’s playing for the Saracens…
Another Cov stalwart seems to be growing in confidence again, too. I thought Will Maisey had another strong game and controlled his backline extremely well. There’s been no mention of Jake Sharp at all for the last couple of weeks, so whether he’s injured or just out of favour is unclear. Whatever the reason though, without Sharp around Will seems to be playing with a lot more freedom and as a result the backs, too, have begun to prosper. Will’s yet to produce these sorts of displays in the Championship, but the Cup games seem to have benefitted him more than most.
Saturday’s performance was definitely on the right side of encouraging and although most of Donny’s points were the result of Cov errors or ill-discipline, overall I thought it was a good team performance. The scrum was solid, giving little away to a big Donny pack and our lineout again functioned well, losing just one on our throw to four on Donny’s.
After praising Cov for a more disciplined performance last week, Winter can’t have been too impressed with another 15 penalties conceded on Saturday. Say what you like about the referee, and many have, it’s still far too many. At the moment the penalty count seems to be down one week and up the next – if Cov are to compete mid-table over the remainder of the season, then they’re going to have to show a bit more self-control.
Only six more home games left this season now, other than Cup games should the draw favour us of course. It’s not difficult to see why the Board have been so keen, and proactive, about laying an artificial surface as soon as is possible. Even with crowds of 2000 plus, funding streams are going to need to be improved if we are to build a squad capable of competing in the top four of the Championship, let alone the Premiership.
And I do appreciate there is a lot of concern about the possible state of the pitch after Christmas, especially with the Bears hosting Leeds Rhinos the day before a home game against Pirates. For the record though, and to redress the balance a little, it is a huge honour for The Bears to host Super League’s Leeds Rhinos for the second pre-season running and, to be fair, whilst Cov have also hosted Premiership Wasps, it’s not likely to be Rhinos’ U21 side we see at the BPA in January.
Well done to the Bears. It’s a sure sign that they are becoming a very respected rugby league club at a national level these days.
As for the pitch, in a strange way, and apologies to those who work so hard getting the surface to play as well as it does, it doesn’t unduly worry me if it ends up cutting up as much as it did in the final weeks of last season.
It’s only a theory, but all the other Championship grounds I’ve visited so far this season have had pretty much pristine and verdant looking pitches – maybe a bit of mud and a lack of grass in places might actually work in our favour?
My brother, sadly long since departed, was very much into Cheap Trick – and whilst I never really showed any interest in them at the time, I can still recall a couple of their songs – notably ‘Ain’t That A Shame‘ and ‘Stiff Competition‘.
The latter only because of the sexual innuendo involved in the lyrics that was such a talking point back then…
This one’s for the real rockers out there.
And just to confirm, I’m using it here in a rather difference sense.
We screwed Donny, they screwed us…
Honours just about even.