You may see them drowning as you stroll along the beach
But don’t throw out the lifeline till they’re clean out of reach
We were waiting for the end of the world
Waiting for the end of the world
Waiting for the end of the world
Dear Lord, I sincerely hope you’re coming
‘Cause you really started something
Elvis Costello – Waiting For The End Of The World
If the season ends without another game being played, then Coventry Rugby have at least finished it on a real positive, with what was one of their better performances away from home, perhaps second only to the draw against Ealing Trailfinders back in November.
The postponement of two Championship fixtures on Friday and the news on Saturday morning, even as we travelled up to Doncaster, that Ealing’s game against Yorkshire Carnegie had succumbed to Coronavirus meant that few on the coach were entirely confident that we’d be watching live rugby that afternoon.
Donny deserve plenty of credit for ensuring the game went ahead, as do those members of the Supporters’ Club involved in organising the transport. It’s on occasions such as this that we see the rugby family coming together. Doncaster were the perfect hosts, putting in place precautions to ensure hygiene was a priority without letting it spoil everyone’s enjoyment of the day.
Prior to disembarking from the coach, supporters were rightly asked not to shake hands with players or ask for selfie/autographs and to generally keep their distance, a grim reminder of the background the game was having to be played against. As we entered the ground we were all required to use a medical hand wash, done in a very relaxed and informal way but nevertheless reinforcing just how much of an impact COVID-19 is having on all our lives.
A big thumbs up also to the supporters who travelled up to watch the game a Castle Park – the coach was full, with no one dropping out at the last minute, a sure sign of what a loyal set of fans the club has.
Many of those travelling up were…er…how I shall I put it?
‘Well seasoned’, possibly…
…and in the age bracket that perhaps puts them more at risk of complications from the virus than most.
But there was never a thought of pulling out of the trip.
Sitting in a coach for 4 hours plus probably isn’t the most sensible form of social distancing and whilst there is always a minimal risk of sorts, it was very much a risk worth taking and unless there is a blanket ban of sporting fixtures (and perhaps there should be now), supporters such as those who travelled up to Donny will always roll the dice.
Heart often rules the head when it comes to sport.
Dillingham Park (Ampthill) and Headingley (Yorkshire Carnegie) often polarise supporters. They’re Marmite grounds that you either love or hate. I happen to really like Ampthill’s ground but Headlingley is soulless, especially when just a few hundred rattle around in a ground intended for 20,000.
Castle Park, on the other hand, is never going to alienate supporters. Purpose built, it is has everything you’d expect of a rugby ground.
The main stand seats 1700 or so and generates an atmosphere all of its own and whilst the home crowd are loud and passionate, they are also friendly and welcoming. The facilities are excellent with a main bar underneath the stand running pretty much half its length and it is well staffed so that queuing is kept to a minimum. It’s not as traditional as, say, Mennaye Field or Brickfields, nor does it offer the informality of the Volac Park or Brantingham, but it never fails to deliver.
Coventry must wish they could begin their Championship away games every season with a trip to Doncaster; Castle Park is the only ground we have won at both in 18/19 and 19/20.
In the moments leading up to kick off, it was all a bit surreal. For the first time this season, Cov left the pitch a few minutes before kick off to next to no noise at all, with just a few lone Cov fans urging them on, relatively few supporters had taken up their seats in the stand at the point. It was all a bit quiet.
The lack of atmosphere at the start of game might well have contributed to Coventry’s rather lacklustre opening few minutes in which they barely had any possession and conceded three early penalties around our 40m line, all of which the impressive Sam Olver kicked with apparent ease.
After 10 minutes we were 9 nil down, yet the home side had failed to break into our 22 at all and it looked for all the world as if it was going to be a difficult afternoon for the visitors as we conceded penalty after penalty – after just a few minutes the count was 7-1 in favour of Donny and once again it looked as if Cov would be victims of their own indiscretions.
However, an opportunist’s try from Andy Forsyth turned the game very much Cov’s way. With Cov’s defensive line up quickly once again, legally so this time, Forsyth anticipated Olver’s pass and his interception and a 40m sprint to the line ensured Cov were very much back in the game.
12 minutes into the game and it was 9-5 and very much game on. Cov have scored a fair few tries as a result of interceptions this season and it is clearly something they work on. Too often interceptions are regarded as being ‘lucky breaks’ but I’m sure Cov must work in training at pressuring the opposition and positioning their defenders so as to give them a chance of an interception.
Another two Cov tries, on 15 and 18 minutes respectively, changed the game completely and although we continued to make mistakes (which Olver in turn continued to punish) and showed far too much indiscipline at times, we were still very much in the game at just 19-17 down come the break.
The second half saw a far more mature, disciplined performance from Coventry and we managed the game extremely effectively. Despite losing 2 players to yellow cards, Cov made good use of the ball, keeping it hand more and when we did kick, we kicked deep into their 22, chased hard, cut down the spaces and made it difficult for Doncaster to gain any width.
And whilst we played intelligently, at times Doncaster tried to be too expansive. When they kept the ball in their forwards they caused us problems, but we certainly had the better of them defensively whenever they tried to get their backs into the game. They too had their chances but Cov stuck to the game plan and deservedly held on without ever being under any real pressure in those last few minutes.
Once again, the introduction of our bench was decisive. The absence of Ellis and Jeannot meant that the starting front row struggled a little, but the the introduction of Phil Boulton seemed to make a big difference.
What impressed me most was Coventry’s composure during the last quarter.
Ram looked to be unlucky when he was yellowed for a taking a player out in the air in the 65th minute and after having just returned to a full complement of players following Denman’s yellow 10 minutes earlier, it seemed as if Cov would be up against it, facing what inevitably would have to be a rearguard action.
Doncaster tried to up the tempo but once Cov seized possession they kept it tight, ran the clock down and played the game for the most part in Doncaster’s half. The home side grew increasingly desperate but Coventry wisely opted to kick to the corner when they were awarded a penalty in the dying minutes to retain possession.
With the lineout functioning particularly well and the scrum looking more and more solid, Coventry kept hold of the ball and in the final seconds scored a fifth try when Kessell switched play and threw the ball wide to Rob Knox to dive over for his second try of the afternoon.
There was a maturity in Cov’s play that we haven’t always seen this season and it underlined Louis Deacon’s comment to supporters on the coach before we left that it was a real shame that the season looked like it might be coming to a sudden halt, particularly as the team was ‘beginning to find parts of its game’ and it was ‘all starting to come together’.
Even in the second half Cov made errors, having good ball turned over and still straying offside, but when they did lose possession the team worked incredibly hard to win it back and often pressurised Doncaster into making their own mistakes.
Throughout the game Cov looked far more creative and inventive, even down to the lineouts where they used a couple of training ground moves that caught the opposition off-guard.
Burrows again led from the front, but the likes of Jennings and Forsyth, senior players brought in to add to the leadership on the pitch, had strong games, too . Forsyth arguably had his best game to date.
I’m not sure whether the statistics will show this, but Cov appeared to kick the ball away a little less, preferring to trust in their backs more. This proved more profitable on Saturday, with Jennings, Owen, Forsyth and Knox making notable contributions. Brown and Olowefela were secure in defence and Brown looked very comfortable under the high ball and was also called upon to find touch from the odd penalty, given the distance he can find with his left foot.
All in all it was a very promising performance, especially in the second half when for 20 minutes we were down to 14 players, yet didn’t concede a try.
The plan appears to be, as reported in today’s The Rugby Paper, to convene a ‘soccer-style pools panel’ to determine the outcome of the remaining fixtures and those teams to be promoted/relegated from their respective leagues. Should this be the case, then Cov might well finish the season in 4th place – the away win at Donny coming at exactly the right time in this respect.
If this does indeed happen, then this will have proved a very encouraging second season back in the Championship for a club that has genuine aspirations of becoming a top two side over the next two or three seasons. Whilst it would be preferable to achieve a 4th place by real outcomes rather than guesswork, the way the remaining fixtures pan out, perhaps only Newcastle at home and Pirates away are games which we wouldn’t be favourites to win.
The manner of Cov’s second away win, albeit coming as it does far too late in the season, underlines what this squad is capable of and whilst there will be a number of changes to the current squad by the time next season begins, hopefully, in September, the core will be retained.
We will remain a professional outfit and probably be in a far stronger position than many of the other Championship sides.
But there are some tough times to get through first, both for the club and for its supporters, but get through it we will.
So, if this is to prove to be Cov’s final competitive game of the 2019/20 season, then I wish everyone well. A big ‘thank you’ must go to the players and management of the club and, to those supporters I have come to know in recent seasons, I hope to see you all safe and well in a few months or so.
Up the Cov…
Any excuse to include something from Costello.
Not quite the end of the world, but if you believe what you read it sometimes seems that way.