by John Butler
PLAIN sailing it certainly was not, but ultimately Coventry gained the five points to tag on to a 20th victory of the season and to ensure the 100 per cent winning league record over the Students was maintained.
Loughborough, buoyed up by a penalty try decision in their favour within two minutes of the start, certainly gave a lot to this match, often belying their lowly league position.
That said, Cov did not play particularly well overall. In patches yes, but there were too many unforced errors made on the 3G surface to allow real continuity for very long and it all served to help the home side to remain in contention right up to the end.
Cov were hit before the kick-off, lock forward George Oram straining a calf muscle during the warm-up. Nile Dacres moved back to the second row with Brett Daynes coming in at six and the returning Sam Tuitupou joining the bench.
There were plenty of refereeing decisions during the game to question, the first coming inside just two minutes.
With Loughborough having first use of the wind, a big kick was pumped down into the Cov 22 and when the Students moved subsequent possession wide to the right, Brett Daynes, although using both hands, was adjudged some 10 metres out to have knocked on deliberately. Decision, a penalty try and a yellow card to the Cov flanker.
Down 7-0 , Cov responded with Max Trimble just putting a foot into touch close-in before a line-out was lost five metres out after a penalty award for a high tackle.
Loughborough, with some swift backs and tidy defence were certainly competing well, Cov though surviving the Daynes ten minutes absence without any further alarms.
The Butts Park men were not really making a major impression against a dogged defence, although that was to change on 20 minutes. With Rob Knox making ground down the right, scrum-half Dave Brazier sniped closer before crossing well for his third try of the season and Cov’s 131st overall to set up a new club record, beating the figure set last season. The wide angle and wind defeated Tony Fenner’s conversion attempt, but Cov were back to within two points.
Within three minutes, more pressure saw Cov move in front. With Knox again held close in, possession came back, with Dacres gathering inside the home 22 to storm over, Fenner converting for a 12-7 lead.
Loughborough were subjected shortly afterwards to something of a rarity these days, a penalty being awarded against them for a crooked scrum feed.
The Cov forwards were by now really piling the pressure on in the set scrums, although there was no further reward before the break.
Indeed, after full-back Tom Bitirim had led a powerful raid out of defence, Cov were penalised for a high tackle, fly-half Owen Waters slotting the penalty for 12-10 at half-time.
Loughborough began the second half with a real flourish and dash to their play, but Cov meanwhile were still making too many errors of judgement in striving to put some phases together.
Several changes saw Heath Stevens make a welcome return for his 99th senior appearance for the club, a better move following featuring him and Knox.
Then on 50 minutes, with Loughborough conceding a line-out in their own 22, Cov struck. Phil Nilsen claimed the overthrow and linked with Brett Daynes, the flanker feeding Anthony Matoto who used his power and strength to go over for his 12th try of the season. Fenner converted from in front to give his side a nine-point cushion.
That margin was to last just eight minutes. Students were still proving dangerous when attempting to counter, and from such a situation when Cov lost a line-out, a chip ahead saw winger Jack Stapley finish well n the rght, Waters converting via a post to cut Cov’s lead to just two points.
Then on 61 minutes, a lovely flowing, multi-handling move saw Alex Grove claim Cov’s bonus point try, Fenner’s conversion increasing Coventry’s lead back to nine points.
Once again, Loughborough were to counter very effectively, Stapley crossing for his second try wide out and Walters landing a lovely conversion for 26-24 to Cov.
Another very disputable refereeing decision was shortly to follow. James Stokes was taken out in the air as he humped to claim a kick, penalty to Cov, but no card issued of either colour.
Cov’s full-back, however, was to gain personal revenge shortly afterwards. With the pace of an attack proving very effective, Stokes fought his way over for his 16th try of the season, the angle defeating Fenner’s conversion attempt.
Although by now the Loughborough forwards had dug in well and fought back in the set scrums, Cov won yet another penalty in that area with a brilliant, wind-assisted Fenner kick taking play deep into the home 22.
Unfortunately, Cov were to lose another line-out, with Loughborough still full of fight until the final whistle blown.
The margin at the top is still 16 points, Darlington Mowden Park winning with a bonus point while both Plymouth Albion lost.
Cov have 99 league points, James Stokes is within one try of equalling Andy Smallwood’s long-standing club league record of 17 in a season, whilst the squad overall is now just one win away of equalling the club league record of 21 in a season from three years ago.
Loughborough Students: tries Stapley 2 (55, 61), penalty try (2); conversions Waters 2 (56, 62); penalty Waters (37). Coventry: tries Brazier (18), Dacres (22), Matoto (49), Grove (59), Stokes (64); conversions Fenner 3 (23, 50, 60).
Loughborough Students: Bitrim; Kaye, Edwards, Hirskyj-Douglas, Stapley; Waters, Winter-Moates; Hills (Toms 52), King (Davison 54), Davis, Frost, Wheadon (Keunen 79), Keunen (Obano 67), Boyce, Obano (Vukasinovic 27).
Coventry: Stokes (Stevens 47); Knox (Tuitupou 57), Grove (Stokes 62), Matoto, Trimble; Fenner, Brazier (White 50); Brown (Jeannot 27), Tolmie (Nilsen 47), Boulton (Brown 57), Jubb, Dacres, Daynes. Preece (Tolmie 72), Narraway.
Referee: Philip Davies.