Defending the indefensible – Coventry v Ealing Trailfinders

Makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter

Christine Aquilera – Fighter

EalingEaling deserved the win.

But if you’re a Cov fan, the home side deserved all the plaudits.

Averaging 50 points per game in the two previous rounds of the Championship Cup, Ealing brought a near full strength match day squad to the BPA, with the exception of Harry Casson, looking to make a statement to the rest of the division whilst also setting themselves up for the first round of the Championship proper, away against Cornish Pirates next weekend.

They made 7 changes to  the side that beat Ampthill; they came prepared.

And on their website in the build up to the game, Ealing Director of Rugby Ben Ward made it clear the challenge his side were expecting:

Coventry are a top side who have also started the season with two wins and have played some great rugby. We know that a positive result gives us the chance to take control of the pool and we have had a big week of preparation for what is a huge game

And a huge game is exactly what it proved to be.

Two tries down in the first 10 minutes and it all felt uncomfortably familiar for the Coventry faithful. Memories of the maulings (120 points in two games) we received at the hands, and feet, of Ealing last season came flooding back and for a few minutes the Cov crowd were silenced.

But after 14 minutes Cov scored a try from a 5m lineout, the first time they’d threatened the Ealing line and suddenly you could sense the belief begin to grow. Having been well off the pace up to then, the players began to get used to the intensity that Ealing had brought to the game, the level of which I haven’t seen at the BPA for many seasons.

And not just get used to.

They realised they could match it as well.

Ealing continued to press and Cov found themselves pinned in their 22 for long periods but from the 10 minute mark Ealing would  only manage two more scores, a penalty and a converted try.  Cov would score three tries and, but for a couple of missed conversions, they could have been a drop goal away from a sensational win.

Three tries a piece. A fair measure of just how close it was in the end, even if it doesn’t quite reflect Ealing’s territorial advantage.

Ealing had multiple phases in or around our 5m line but time and time again Coventry’s defence held good. Such was the discipline that despite all that pressure we didn’t give away a yellow. I might well be wrong here, but the penalty count against us in the red area (as opposed to other areas of the pitch) was relatively low.

And that was with a ref who was, to put it kindly, a little over-eager at times.

It was a real team effort, with players putting their bodies on the line time and time again and whilst the backs, too, gave their all in defence, I thought the forwards were magnificent all evening, especially the backrow.

The scrum held up well and got stronger as the game went on and Nile Dacres must have played himself into contention for the Jersey game with a really impressive performance, given this was his first start in well over 12 months. His return is almost like recruiting a new player over the summer.

As I understand it, although a couple of players limped off only Junior Bulumakau is unlikely to be unavailable next weekend – the extra day to recover working very much in our favour.

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Coventry’s defensive performance was something of a revelation last night. The Coventry of last season would have wilted under such sustained pressure in those first 65 minutes and with the exception of London Irish, no Championship side on the basis of what I saw last season could have got as close as we did yesterday.

Coventry had somehow managed to defend against the seemingly indefensible.

Once again,  the captain (Phil Boulton yesterday) held back the team on the pitch at half time, spending a good two minutes together before returning to the changing room. One can only imagine what was said.

And how it was conveyed.

The arrival of Anthony Allen, Cov’s newly appointed defence coach, appears to be playing dividends already, with the side looking far more organised without the ball and consequently  far more cohesive and confident. This isn’t a squad of individuals as it perhaps has been in the past, the coaches have got them playing as a unit, with everyone taking responsibility for their own roles whilst knowing everyone else’s.  What we were privileged to see yesterday was very much a whole team performance, with the bench also playing a massive part in ensuring a bonus point.

And it’s not just Allen who deserves praise.

The new fitness coach, Chris Hart, is clearly making his presence felt too. The players involved in yesterday’s game gave it their all from 1-23 and despite the physicality of the opposition and the exhaustion, both physical and mental, resulting from being on the back foot for long periods of the game, Cov finished at least as strong, if not stronger, than Ealing.

If Coventry are playing as a team on the pitch, equally they seem to be working very much as a team off it. This was as impressive a display as any in the last three or four seasons, for me matching the win at Darlington in our promotion season and that against Jersey back in April.

Yes we lost, but the real measure has to be in the just how big an improvement that performance was. It is but one game, and it might be that we are nowhere near as effective next week, but the Ealing result is important because it has shown just what this side can do, and even more importantly, what is capable of doing.

This wasn’t our strongest side by any means, yet Ealing were clearly rattled at times in the second half and were forced into making errors simply because Cov met them head on, matched their physicality and started to put them under pressure too.

What was striking to me was that in the final seconds of the game Ealing, chasing the extra bonus point, were deep in our 22. One last push could have seen them with a 4th try, yet when the referee signalled they were into the last play of the game, their scrum half hoofed the ball out.

A strange decision on the face of it?

But Cov had shown that their defence was more than a match for anything they could throw at us in those last 20 minutes and that with the pace in our backs, we only needed a sniff of a chance and we could be scoring down the other end. And that would have been game over for Ealing.

Ealing were just happy to hear that final whistle.

And the news for Cov supporters gets better and better. Cov were a long way off being at full strength. What impact would the likes of Burrows, Voss, Oram, Buckle, Fenner,  Purdy, Halaifonua, Owen and Forsyth have had on the result?

I’d venture to suggest the inclusion of any of those players, had they been available, wouldn’t have weakened the side…

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Whilst I can understand the comment below, from a frustrated Ealing supporter on rolling.com, I think the reality was very different.

Very worried about that game after tonights (sic) performance. Listened on the radio (enjoyed the announcers) and Ealing seemed to have huge posession (sic), but an inability to finish for the second straight week. It cost them a table point this week. They cant afford that going forward.

Last week Coventry were guilty of squandering several chances in the opening half against Bedford. But that can’t be said of Ealing yesterday.

Yes, they got themselves into some excellent positions, but there was no dropping of the ball over the line or sloppy passing – Ealing failed to score because  Coventry gave a near defensive masterclass for the last 70 minutes of the game.

Against other sides it might well have been a cricket score. I wouldn’t mind betting Ealing will be the top try scoring side in the Championship next season, but on the day Cov were up to the challenge.

Ealing definitely deserved the win, of that there is no question. Cov were left clinging on by their fingertips for long periods but as a Cov fan it would have been an injustice if Ealing had scored in those closing seconds.

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Rarely have I ever ‘enjoyed’ a Cov loss.

But yesterday was an exception. On the evidence of this game and that of last week, the gap is closing. Cov have played the teams that finished 2nd and 3rd last season and  taken 6 points from the two games. Newcastle remain something of an unknown but I can’t see them being as strong as Irish were last season.

And even if they are…

I often put myself through the mangle on a Saturday afternoon watching Cov, but yesterday was something else. It was impossible not to feel proud of the players as they left the pitch, they’d given it their all.

As had many supporters.

On 10 minutes I was fearing the worst, by half time I was feeling sick as Coventry had clawed their way back into the game and it was very much in the balance, 5 minutes into the second half I was despondent again as Ealing came out firing on all cylinders…

..and for the remainder of the game I was tweeting simply to take my mind of the various possibilities.

It wasn’t end-to-end rugby, although Cov did take it to Ealing in the final few minutes, and the constant interference of the referee meant the game lacked any real flow. It wasn’t pretty to watch at times, but it was so, so tense. The crowd played their part and certainly helped to unnerve the opposition, as their unfortunate winger found out when he tried to take the high ball in front of the main stand!

giphy1.gifI have to say, somewhat ashamedly,  there wasn’t a whole lot of love for him when he dropped it.

Cov have set down a marker now by which all other games this season can be judged.

And yes, I know I’m writing this through rose-tinted glasses and that this wasn’t a complete performance by any means. The lineout again caused problems, we tended to kick too deep at times and decision making with the ball was occasional questionable. And our attacking options were very limited.

But let’s just concentrate on the positives.

The coaches know what needs to be done and they’ll do it. This was just one of those potentially season defining games – even so early on in the season.

Produce this kind of form consistently and a top 4 finish is definitely on the cards.

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I’m not a great fan of Christine Aquilera, but somehow ‘Fighter’ epitomises exactly what Cov should be taking from yesterday’s encounter with Ealing.

It’s a game where we learned a lot about this group of players and all of it positive…

Makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster

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If you haven’t already voted for the Man of the Match – please give it a go. Thank you to all those who already have:

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Author: Tim

4 thoughts on “Defending the indefensible – Coventry v Ealing Trailfinders

  1. Long after the dust had settled on Friday evening, I had the chance to chat with a few players, me” guys you made the fans proud tonight, a really solid performance against a very good side, excellent in the second half”
    Cov players ” disappointed really, we should have won it!!!!!!”
    Now, that is a spirit which I like!

    1. Hi Phil – that is impressive! In those last 10 minutes they looked like they might steal it and there was certainly no difference in terms of the fitness levels between the tow sides. Thought it was a really impressive performance…see you in Jersey!

  2. Tim, your article fully describes the game, I thought Ealing energy and speed of play was immense and credit to Coventry for holding them at bay during the first half as all around me feared a point fest for the opposition, we just could not get hold of the ball. However the pack stuck to their task, defence coach paying dividends. Do not think we will meet as good a team all season, very proud of our team and the future looks good.

    1. Thanks, Pils! Yes…I must admit I thought the floodgates would have to open at some point. It was one of those performances which made me immensely proud of Cov. I’ve never seen Cov as ‘my’ team, or anyone else’s team for that matter, but for the supporters there on Friday night it was a super special occasion.

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