Though nothing will
Drive them away
We can beat them
Just for one day
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
Davis Bowie – Heroes
Coventry travelled down to Vallis Way knowing exactly what to expect.
As had England a few hours earlier.
There was a big difference between the two teams’ respective performances though.
England froze and were unable to repeat the display against New Zealand the week before that had made them firm favourites with most pundits.
Coventry, however, were far better prepared for the Ealing onslaught that we all knew was coming following the early offensive Cov had endured just 4 weeks earlier when Ealing travelled up to the BPA for the first of our Championship Cup games against them. Back then, Cov had leaked two early tries in the first 12 minutes and had been left chasing the game from thereon in.
Not so, yesterday.
Others may well disagree, but for me this was the best performance from a Cov side that I’ve seen under Rowland Winter’s tenure. Good as the away win against Darlington Mowden Park was a couple of seasons back, this topped it.
In Feb 2018 we needed to win to put a distance between ourselves and Darlington at the top of National One and it was very much a pressure game, but in truth we were by far the better side both then and over the season as a whole. The win wasn’t so much a surprise as was the way we dominated the game, nilling them whilst scoring 6 tries ourselves to win 0-42.
I really didn’t think I’d see that performance surpassed this season.
Yet already I have.
Before yesterday’s game, I think most Cov supporters would have accepted there was a big gulf between the two sides, despite the closeness of the scoreline last month. Ealing Trailfinders were, and still are, a team hoping for promotion this season, although the result yesterday has dented their hopes a little.
Coventry started the new campaign hoping to break into the top 6.
In an earlier post this week, I’d suggested that Cov had the game to beat Ealing but if they were to do so Ealing would need to be underperform on the day and Cov would need to play to their fullest potential.
I did Cov a huge disservice by saying that.
Ealing were up for the game and their’s wasn’t a poor performance by any means. Quite the reverse. It was more a case of Cov raising their game to the next level, a level that was on a par with Ealing’s.
Most teams will come to Vallis Way this season and struggle with the intensity and physicality that Ealing bring to their play, as Cov did last season when we conceded 60 points there back in October.
However, Coventry’s resilience is far greater this time round, aided by a more organised and cohesive defence and fitness levels that mean we are looking stronger in the closing minutes than the opposition.
And yesterday we had a captain who led by example, who made all the right calls on the pitch and who was the clear choice of Man of the Match amongst the visiting Cov supporters I spoke to.
Ryan Burrows had a stormer of a game.
When Cov were having to dig deep, really deep, as Ealing played for long periods in our half, Burrows was at the forefront of the Cov response, making inroads whenever he got the ball, driving the Ealing defence backwards every time.
Coventry soaked up everything that Ealing had to offer, so much so that the home side looked to be running on fumes in the final 10 minutes of the second half whilst Cov hadn’t even hit reserve.
And Cov had chances to win the game.
In the final minutes Cov had a penalty some 40 metres out from the Ealing line and slightly to the right of the posts. The scores were level.
Will Maisey had been imperious all afternoon and had kicked everything asked of him, including a couple of touchline conversions into the wind. But Cov declined the kick and opted to go for the corner.
At the time it raised a few eyebrows, but in hindsight it was absolutely the right decision.
Cov had played the entire second half into a pretty stiff breeze and the rain had been incessant, although not overly heavy. Despite his form, there was no guarantee that Will would be successful with what was still a pretty hard opportunity.
Had Burrows opted for the points and Will converted the penalty, there was still time for Ealing to kick deep into our half which might have given them opportunities in and around our 22. Definitely something best avoided. And had Will missed, well that also might have potentially given them possession following a long drop out and our returning the ball.
For me, the option to take the lineout from a kick to touch was the correct one.
Compare that to some of Ealing’s decision making. 14 points up with 20 minutes to go and they continued with the same fairly one dimensional game plan…kick deep into our half and press.
It worked well early on, but with Ealing tiring and the likes of Stokes, Trimble and Halaifonua happy to run straight lines back at them, it wasn’t the most sensible of options. Had they played it far tighter and retained the ball more wisely, Cov might have found it far harder to get claw back the two try advantage Ealing had. They missed the leadership of the calibre of Ryan Burrows’.
(Should have added here that David Halaifonua had a stonker of a 20-25 minute cameo, coming on for Rob Knox. He looked hungry for the ball and ran straight and hard. knocking defenders backwards and causing the opposition real problems).
That said, for the first 25 minutes of the first half and 20 minutes of the second, Ealing were relentless – both with the ball and without. Defensively, they were up on us as quickly as any side I’ve seen at this level and they made some huge hits which knocked Cov backwards at times, although Cov were still good enough to retain the ball when in other games we might have lost possession.
Tom Kessell was immense, winning two or three turnovers and putting in a defensive shift which was mightily impressive. I chatted to Nick Walshe after the game and he was full of praise for TK, as he was for Pete White who came on and forced the pace a little more when Ealing were on the backfoot – the two scrum halves complemented each other perfectly on the day.
Jennings, too, had a blinder. He’s such an intelligent footballer and he read the game brilliantly yesterday. Ealing’s rush defence left them exposed at times and whilst Coventry were struggling to break the line for much of the game, Jennings deft kicks over and through the oncoming defenders meant they were quickly turned and it caused them all sorts of problems. Cov might well have scored on two or three occasions in the first half had the bounce of the ball favoured them rather than Ealing.
His cross kick that led to Dave Halaifonua’s try, Cov’s fourth, was inch perfect.
A thing of beauty.
Wait ’til the highlights.
Jennings must be the shortest player in the Cov squad yet he is something of a pocket battleship at times. Like Tony Fenner he is fearless in the tackle and will run at and through anyone, as he did his try when from close in he was unstoppable.
I owe Will Maisey an apology, too.
Before the game I’d opted for Jennings at 10 and Fenner to come in at centre.
I got that call completely wrong.
The Will Maisey of this season is a far more confident player than that of last season, or at least he appears to be. The competition that Jennings has brought to the 10 shirt seems to have improved his game still further and he had a really good all round 80 minutes – Will’s wasn’t a game built around his kicking alone.
Injuries to the Bulumakau brothers and Will Owen, together with the late arrival of Purdy and Forsyth, have meant that options behind the scrum have been limited these last three games. Such is the strength in depth of this current squad, those coming in have looked every bit as good; they’ll be some very disappointed players when the coaches have more players out wide from which to select.
I’ve already done what I really hadn’t wanted to do, single out players when this was a real team performance. The 22 players who got onto the pitch all deserve huge credit and although I’ve mentioned the backs in particular, without the massive input made by the forwards we wouldn’t have come away with anything from the game.
The scrum did take a pounding early on (I think three of their tries started with us conceding penalties at the scrum?), although by the time Boulton and Trinder came on the Ealing pack were far less of a force than they had been and eventually Cov began to get a stranglehold on the set piece themselves.
And Wallace and Peters were again prominent, as were Dacres and Woolford – the work rate of the Cov forwards this season has been exceptional. The introduction of Nayalo and Ram later on, together with White, injected more pace into the contest and Ealing struggled to match it even when they brought on their own replacements. Cov have so much strength at 6, 7 and 8 this season – provided the players can remain fit, it is an area where we can expect to better most teams in the Championship over the next 6 months.
Despite the intensity of the game, Nick Walshe didn’t think there were any major injury concerns – a sore shoulder here, a slight muscle tweak there but nothing to be overly concerned about. More good news then considering the physicality of the game.
NW also repeated what he’d said to the press immediately after the game, namely that the players were disappointed that they’d only come away with the draw. Despite the opposition, despite having to come back from 14 points down, this is a squad whose expectations are such that a draw against a top side away from home is seen by them as more of a failure than a success.
I really do believe this was something of a landmark result in Coventry’s current journey.
Ealing are a top side.
Yes, they struggled down at Pirates as every team will this season (Newcastle didn’t manage a bonus point in their win there last month) but Ealing will be in the mix for a second place finish in April.
As might Cov on this sort of form. Or at least for a top four place anyway.
To get a result against Ealing was a massive step up for us from last season and whatever the result against Doncaster on Saturday, Cov have shown they can as a one-off now compete on an equal footing against the big boys.
Home advantage next week should be enough to make a win the most likely outcome against The Knights, but they beat us last season at the BPA and have had a decent start to the season themselves.
Consistency is key now – we should be winning most of our home games and a good few of our away ones, too.
I can only repeat what others have been saying all season, the progress that this squad has made over the past 12 months has been huge.
Just how far this current set of players can go is an unknown, but with the quality of coaches and backroom staff in support and improved facilities at their disposal, I’m hoping we’ll see further improvements over the remainder of the season.
And with further strengthening of the squad over the next couple of seasons, then the flight path that Rowland Winter and Jon Sharp have outlined at previous Fans’ Forums looks a real possibility.
Heroes for just one day?
Not a bit of it.
That’s somewhat unlikely given some of the performances so far this season. This sort of result isn’t going to be a one-off.
No, expect more heroics along the way.
Bowie – I do miss him…