And it’s getting better
Growing stronger warm and wilder
Getting better everyday, better everyday
I don’t feel all turned on and starry eyed
I just feel a sweet contentment deep inside
Mama Cass – It’s Getting Better
(feature photo courtesy of John Coles – more later this week)
Ampthill’s Director of Rugby, Mark Lavery, summed up the game pretty well in his post-match comments to Paul Smith yesterday:
We didn’t turn up and have been handed a lesson by a very good side. Coventry were exceptional
(The Rugby Paper)
I’m not sure about the ‘exceptional’, to be fair.
But ‘very good’? Definitely. Very, very good.
If, or rather when, we play as we did yesterday against Ealing or Pirates, say, then yes that would be exceptional. Against a very average Ampthill side, weakened by enforced absences, then I think very good is probably more realistic.
Cov were too strong in every area of the game but just as we shouldn’t be too demoralised about Cov’s performance against Falcons a couple of weeks ago, so we shouldn’t get too carried away by Cov’s demolition of Ampthill.
One of the big changes over the last couple of seasons as far as Cov is concerned is the expansion of the Development Squad.
Yesterday we saw just what an impact it is having.
Gone are the days when we had to rely on promising youngsters from Wasps and Leicester to strengthen depleted squads, only to be suddenly left exposed when the d/rs were recalled to the parent clubs for A team duties.
Remember watching the likes of Tom Howe and Owain James and just wishing we had those sorts of players to fall back on?
Fast forward to 2019 and now we can afford to rest key players and bring in the likes of Luc Jeannot, Will Flinn and Dan Lewis without any apparent reduction in the depth or quality of the match day squad.
These youngsters all began their Cov careers in the Development Squad and trained week in, week out, with the senior players. The transition from DS to senior squad has been seamless and, as a result, Cov has a core of players coming through that must be the envy of most Championship sides.
Which is all very different to newly promoted Ampthill.
The gulf between the two sides was all too evident yesterday – made worse because most of Ampthill’s dual-reg players had been recalled last week for Premiership Shield duties.
And without them they looked no better than a good National One side. Some might argue that I’m doing Ampthill a diservice here, but the pre-season friendlies against Cambridge, Moseley and Blackheath all provided challenges which were at least the equal of the one we faced on the pitch on Saturday.
Those games were certainly a lot closer…
If ever anyone needs evidence as to just why Coventry’s decision to continue to plough resources into the next generation of first team players rather than spend big and only bring in seasoned players at this level is the right one, well yesterday was the proof.
Owain James? Tom Howe?
It was great to see them at Cov and they helped Cov through a difficult first half of the season back in 2016/17 but three seasons on and I’ll take Jeannot, Flinn and Lewis all day long.
The afternoon didn’t start off too well for Ampthill either, with a number of their players arriving by car and apparently being told they’d have to pay the £5 parking charge – whether they did or not I’m not sure, but I imagine that didn’t go down too well…
It was a cold day with a frost that morning, one which led one or two supporters on the Messageboard to ask the question as to whether the new surface was more or less prone to freezing. I spoke briefly to Eric who confirmed that yes it will freeze, or at least the rubber ‘pellety’ things will, but only once the temperature reaches -4° C.
There is a frost proof cover than can be purchased to reduce the risk still further, but at a cost of £40,000 it’s not an option this season (although I understand it is being built into next season’s budget).
It might just be me, but I did think there seemed to be an increased amount of advertising around the scoreboard at the weekend, with two rows now either side of the screen. I wondered if that might be in readiness for the tv cameras which will be present for the Nottingham game on the Saturday before Christmas…it would make sense?
The scoreboard is going to get a fair bit of airing on the day so space there should be at a premium. And will the hoardings below the screen with SKINS written in large letters across them be removed…?
(And thanks to Chris Wearmouth for replying via the MB about my comments regarding the use of the screen – glad to know it’s all in hand, and the DS squad photos are being dealt with too. Thanks, Chris.).
A good hour before kick off we saw a reminder of just how well prepared the medical support team are as they when through a practise drill for what looked like a serious neck injury.
At first we thought it was the real thing, such was the time and care they took to work on the ‘patient’ to stabilise him before taking him away in a stretcher.
Just as the players underwent a pre-match warm-up, so did the physios/medics. Seeing them go through the drill was a reminder of just what an important role they play in ensuring the safety and well-being of the players..
Presumably, they were also heavily involved in supporting the luckless Tony Fenner who was rushed to hospital by ambulance following what was presumably delayed concussion. Their’s is a huge role and they always appear to carry it out quietly and efficiently. Professionals one and all.
Fortunately, it appears that the injury to TF isn’t as bad as we first feared when the tannoy asked his father-in-law to go to the tunnel and the ambulance appeared soon after.
Tony F has had a wretched run of injuries since joining Cov and once again looked to have got himself back to full match fitness before Saturday’s injury.
A fit Tony Fenner gives the coaches so many more options in the back line; like everyone else, I wish him a speedy recovery and quick return to senior squad duties.
As for the game itself, well it was a very one-sided affair other than the first and last 5 minutes during which Ampthill had the better of the possession. 64 points and 10 tries is an accurate reflection of just how dominant Cov were, but to concede 2 tries in the 76th and 80th minutes was a little disappointing when defensively they’d put in such a good shift before then.
Cov have already pretty much sealed their place in the quarter finals, needing just one point from their last two games.
For Ampthill to go through, they would need to get bonus point wins against Bedford and Ealing and us get nothing out of our two games.
It’s a pretty unlikely scenario admittedly, but if we are to become a top 2 or 3 side in this league, lapses in concentration like the one we saw in those closing minutes must be eliminated or else they could prove costly against better teams.
That’s pretty much the only negative though.
The only other disappointment was that young James Martin had to pull out of the squad at the last minute. His chance will obviously come again, and soon most likely, but it would have been an ideal game in which to make his debut. Here’s hoping we see him at the BPA shortly, although realistically it’s going to be the away fans who are most likely to get a first glimpse of him if he is available over the next couple of weeks.
Other than that, Cov were in devastating form.
After a slow opening 5 minutes the early signs were encouraging, with Cov absolutely mullering the very experienced Ampthill front row in the set piece. One of the stand out moments of the afternoon for me was seeing Luc Jeannot fist pumping the air after he had won his side its first penalty from a scrum.
Ampthill’s props, Tonga’huihui and Pupuma had a torrid time and both were replaced in the opening minutes of the second half.
The Cov pack were pretty much in control all afternoon and with the backs being provided with good, quick ball, the crowd was kept entertained with a veritable feast of running rugby from the home side.
Will Flinn showed what a good prospect he is, scoring two tries (one of which was the result of an excellent piece of quick-thinking) and he was always happy to get the backs moving wherever possible.
Halaifonua was a constant threat, Knox unplayable at times running direct at the opposition for the most part but also showing plenty of pace and guile, and Dan Lewis always looked to attack defences with ball in hand.
Will Owen, too, had another strong game and the backline of Purdy, Owen, Knox, Halaifonua and Lewis looked as good as any we’ve seen, although the opposition perhaps gave Cov more opportunities to be creative than other teams we’ve come up against so far this season.
Cov looked threatening every time they got the ball and it was very much reminiscent of Coventry back in the promotion winning season of 2017/18 – running from deep and cutting loose almost at will.
And what about the Henry Purdy try? He had no right to score from where he received the ball but after beating a couple of players, he put on the afterburners and showed just how quick he is. He’s going to cause defences all sorts of problems at this level and is sure to become a real favourite with the crowd.
He’s also the sort of player, too, who will put bums on seats. He’s that exciting.
Each season Rowland Winter has looked to bring in players at a level above where we currently are. If Purdy is an example of the quality we can expect to see coming to Cov next season, then the club is going to continue to make significant progress in the long term. Add the core of talented youngsters coming through the Academy and Development Squad and things look very rosy indeed.
I thought Ben Nutley had a really strong all round game, too, and he must be back in the frame for a place in the match day squad when the Championship games resume on the 22nd. He, Sentiki and Ram were far too good for the opposition and at times they did to Ampthill what Newcastle had done to us two weekends ago. With Burrows, Peters and Wallace all available, I’m not sure I can recall a Cov squad with that sort of depth in the back row in the last 20 years or more.
Rowland Winter has talked in previous seasons about having two players to choose from in each position and that is very much the case now, more in some positions – Kessell, White and Flinn – Fenner, Lewis, Maisey and Jennings – Dacres, Woolford, Russell, Oram and Voss – and so on.
Injuries to Dawidiuk and Tolmie are a concern, but Buckle seems to have slotted in extremely well and the lineouts have worked well of late.
We’ve used rotation in the past to rest players, but often the player coming in isn’t quite of the same quality as the one being rested.
Not these days.
And competition for places is only likely to get tougher as the coaches bring in more players from the Premiership or equivalent. On the pitch, the future looks as bright as it has for many a while. They’ll be blips along the way, of course there will, but the club is definitely moving in the right direction.
12 months ago we were where Ampthill are now, except that’s not quite true as we were stronger even then. But now there is a real gap between ourselves and the likes of Ampthill and Carnegie – and hopefully Hartpury when we come to play them.
And I genuinely believe on what I’ve seen so far, including the heavy defeat to Newcastle Falcons (where we had our moments too), that gap will continue to widen.
10 tries and a comprehensive mauling (quite literally) of Ampthill and yet I really don’t feel ‘all turned on and starry eyed’, just a ‘sweet contentment deep inside‘.
Once I believed that when love came to me
It would come with rockets, bells and poetry
Nowadays it comes with penalties, tries and conversions…
…and, of course, with Mama Cass.
Last chance to vote in this weeks MotM poll.
It’s very, very tight…