The Friendlies – Season 5: Episode 3 (The One With Little Eva)

Everybody’s doing a brand-new dance, now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)
I know you’ll get to like it if you give it a chance now
(Come on baby, do the Loco-motion)

Do it nice and easy, now, don’t lose control…

A little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul

Little Eva – The Locomotion

blackIn an odd way, both myself and Cov ended up doing the locomotion on Saturday.

Me literally.

Cov figuratively.

I caught the train and Coventry…

…well they showed ‘a little bit of rhythm and a lot of soul‘ in beating Blackheath 23-36.

It wasn’t the most fluent and fluid of Cov performances, but they did begin to find their rhythm in the final quarter and there was certainly no lack of endeavour on their part.

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It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts for Sam and I, only discovering that the connecting train taking us  to Birmingham International had been cancelled on our arrival at Hampton Station.

No panic there then, given we only had 20 minutes to get our connection at International.

And with warnings of delays elsewhere along the line down to London, the result of Bank Holiday engineering work around Milton Keynes, it looked like it might be a long and tortuous journey down to Eltham.

As it happened, a quick call to A2B taxis, an understanding driver who drove at considerable speed to get us to International in decent time for the train and a near perfect journey to and through London meant it was all relatively painless in the end.

We did the locomotion; we gave it a chance; we ended up liking it.

Little Eva would have been proud.

Not quite as convenient as the Supporters’ Club coaches for sure and a good deal more expensive BUT the various train operating companies involved in getting us there and back came up trumps. It was all surprisingly straight forward.

And I’m glad we went.

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Signed too. Impressed. 

Despite being part of a ridiculously small crowd – perhaps 150 at most and more likely closer to 100 – the game was a very enjoyable one, well-contested and with plenty of positives for both sets of coaches.

Cov is a club as well supported away from home as any in the Championship, yet I’d be surprised if there were any more than twenty there to watch what was a far better game than the one against Moseley less than 24 hours previously.

And maybe 20 is being a little generous.

The weather, distance, opposition and  alternative sporting fixtures all conspired to ensure the players played in front of very few supporters.  Sadly, there was a corresponding lack of atmosphere despite the players producing a far more entertaining game than might have been expected pre-season and in that sort of heat.

It’s the only game I’ve ever been to where both teams were greeted by an eerie silence as they ran onto the pitch.

giphy2We arrived 90 minutes before kick off to find the ground deserted and I swear I saw one of the groundsman removing some tumbleweed that had blown across the pitch just before the players emerged from the changing rooms.

Blackheath have generously always made their pre-season games free to watch and despite the many other options open to Blackheath supporters on what was such a lovely day, I really wasn’t prepared for the crowd to be quite so small as it was.

Rowland Winter had told us  the day before that the team picked for Blackheath shouldn’t in any way be seen as the stronger of the two. The coaches had picked teams to best suit the opposition and both squads contained plenty of players who we can assume will be regular choices for the match day 22s once the competitive games get under way.

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75 minutes to kick off and there were still no problems with queues at the bar

However, with so many of the players recruited over the summer playing against Blackheath rather than Moseley, for me this was always going to be the more interesting of the two games, that and the likelihood that Blackheath would  prove to be the stronger opposition, which in fairness they probably were. Although Moseley made life very difficult for Cov on Friday evening, many of the problems Cov encountered were arguably of their own making.

Mikalcius, Jennings, Denman, Burrows and Wallace were all starting (or should have been in the case of Wallace who took a boot to the head in the warm-up and was left out as a precaution).

Jonas Mikalcius’ inclusion had come as something as a shock, his name only appearing above the radar when the team was announced at the end of the week. Mikalcius will be familiar to many Cov fans, especially those who travelled to Hartpury in 2017. He caused us no end of problems on the day, scoring a couple of tries (or more?) in the process. He was attached to Harlequins at the time and we all thought we had seen a player who would be making rugby headlines  for many seasons to come.

2019 table

Back then he was a prodigious talent but sadly he suffered an horrendous knee injury in the Singha 7s and had to undergo multi-ligament reconstruction which threatened his career.

He was forced to take more than a season out of the game but has worked exceptionally hard to recover his fitness and strengthen his knee to the point where he has been given the all clear by the specialist he’s under to play competitive rugby once again.

Coventry’s decision to offer him the chance to rebuild his career is one that could well  benefit both parties. I believe Cov have taken him on as an additional player and not, as has been suggested elsewhere, as cover for the absent Purdy.

As I understand it, if the knee holds up he could be with us all season.

The good news is that whilst clearly still getting back into the swing of things  given he’s been out of the game so long, he looked sharp, scored a try and wasn’t wearing any sort of visible strapping.

He’s also got some size to him, as can be seen in the photo with him and Stokesy.

Here’s hoping it all works out for him. To go through what he has had to endure and come out the other side shows real character.

Welcome to Cov, Jonas.

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Luke Wallace (centre) in the warm-up prior to his knock

Coventry’s pre-match preparation can’t have been helped by the relatively late withdrawals of Phil Boulton and Luke Wallace (and in my head I’ve got Freddie Betteridge too, but I think he played for Cambridge over the weekend?).

Hopefully we’ll get to see Wallace at Cambridge, provided he passes any tests that might be required, if it is indeed a head injury. He sat a few rows in front of us in the stand for a while and looked to be ok, so fingers crossed,

The warm-up followed the same pattern as that against Moseley the evening before and looks already to be an established routine. The heat was such that perhaps it lacked some of the intensity of the previous evening’s, nevertheless there is a definite increase in tempo in those final minutes before kick off.

Sam McNulty’s move from backrow to hooker looks to have taken a few steps further forward. Strides in fact. He was given a decent run out as the replacement hooker, with Dawidiuk seeming to cramp up several times in the first half. Both hookers had strong games and the set piece was a real positive, especially given the reported problems at Leinster and those at Mose.

Sam’s not the first hooker to make the transition and he’s young enough to really make a go of it. Cov certainly seem to think he has what it takes and after the Blackheath game, early indications are promising. If he can cope technically, then he has the pace and strength of a wing forward to add to his armoury.

The lineout appeared to function really well all afternoon with perhaps just one throw lost. Cov regularly changed the throw in from short to long and at least two of the Cov tries came from catch and drive situations.

The game itself took a while unravel.

After a cagey start in the first 20 minutes in which both sides made errors, the game came to life with 5 tries  in the second quarter and Coventry edging it at half time. Blackheath started more confidently but Coventry’s all round strength began to tell and realistically, although Blackheath were there or thereabouts until the 60 minutes mark, Cov were the best side after the first quarter.

The first half took almost 55 minutes as a result of two serious injuries.

Cov’s Archie Strath (the late replacement for Luke Wallace) appeared to injure his shoulder and there was a lengthy break before he managed to walk off, albeit supported and  extremely unsteady on his pins.

Minutes later, one of the Blackheath players appeared to suffer a broken ankle and understandably there was an even lengthier delay whilst medics stabilised him before stretchering him off.

Best wishes to the player concerned. Here’s to a speedy and full recovery.

Coventry’s defence looked sharp and for a long period early in the first half Cov thwarted Blackheath a number of times as they camped on our line, in the end forcing Blackheath to take the three points.

The second half was a rather more open affair and there was plenty of enterprise from the Cov backs at times, although opportunities were often lost through unforced errors.

Blackheath’s backs looked sharp too, especially their 11 who caused us no end of problems. At times we struggled a little in midfield but the pairing of Stevens and Maisey is unlikely to be one that is repeated too often when Owen, Knox and Forsyth come into the reckoning and on Saturday they were more solid than creative.

When Blackheath caused us difficulties it tended to be when their backs were given space to run into.

I thought Rory Jennings had a strong game, kicking extremely well and always keen to get the backs running where possible. Burrows, too, looked sharp, quick to take the ball from the base of the scrum and making some powerful runs. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a strong, ball-carrying 8 at Cov; Burrows might be just that. The backrow now seems to have options that were missing at times last season, although injury also took its toll then too.

It was good to see James Stokes back as well and whilst he didn’t get a lot of ball, one searing run in the final minutes of the game from 40 plus metres out almost saw him score, reminding those there of the threat he offers in attack when he’s on song.

Overall, from a spectator’s perspective it was a far better performance than that against Moseley and arguably against stronger opposition who have real aspirations of being in the promotion mix at the end of the season.

There were periods in the game where the gap between the two sides was evident, something that wasn’t necessarily the case against Moseley.

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There was a little bit of rhythm to Cov’s play for sure and a whole lot of soul too. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we’re seeing everyone in a Cov shirt doing the locomotion.

After all:

…there’s never been a dance that so easy to do, it always makes you happy when you’re (wearing) blue…

Or red and green for that matter.

 

 

 

Author: Tim

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