COVENTRY RUGBY bank on experience for tomorrow’s visit to fifth-placed Blackheath as they look to extend their 100 per cent record in National League One to 17 games.
Centre Sam Tuitupou and No.8 Luke Narraway are recalled for a potentially tricky game along with club captain, prop Phil Boulton after all three sat out last week’s win over Old Albanian.
There is one enforced change, Rob Knox ruled out in a precautionary move after picking up a knock last week with Tom Emery taking his place on the wing, and centre Alex Grove continues his return from a long-term groin injury on the bench.
Prop Jimmy Litchfield and flanker Jack Preece come off the bench in a change of roles with Nathanael Titchard-jones, who played for the Army in midweek, and Olly Povoas.
Tuitupou, Narraway and Boulton return at the expense of Fraser Dingwall, Brett Daynes and Luc Jeannot.
“Luc played really well in what was his first start and will have more opportunities as the season goes on, but we feel we need Phil’s experience this week, while Olly gets his place on the good form he showed last week,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter. “Fraser has been on England Under-20s duty all week.”
After a testing start Cov pulled clear to record a 37-10 win when the two sides met at Butts Park in September, but they travel with a point to prove after suffering a 42-5 defeat on their first visit to Blackheath’s new Well Hall ground last season.
Said Winter: “That performance sits in the memory and is not one we are proud of, not only for ourselves but also for all our supporters who travelled down that day, so we need to make that good.
“Blackheath is one of a number of tough away games we’ve got that can be very influential on the season overall, so we’ve got to go there and do a good job.
“They’re a strong side and we are expecting a tough encounter which means we will have to be focused on our game and work hard for everything we get.”
League leaders Cov are currently 18 points clear at the top of the table and 26 ahead of Blackheath. Kick-off is 3pm.
Scrum-half Dave Brazier is back from a from long-term injury in a strong Coventry Development side, captained by fly-half Ben Palmer, who are away at Blackheath Heathens in a Zoo Sports Shield fixture (12.30pm).
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Tom Emery, 13 Anthony Matoto, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Max Trimble, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Phil Nilsen, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Nile Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway.
Replacements: 16 Scott Tolmie, 17 Nathanael Titchard-jones, 18 Olly Povoas, 19 Will Maisey, 20 Alex Grove.
COVENTRY DEVELOPMENT: 15 Max Titchener, 14 Louis Roach, 13 Kwaku Asiedu, 12 Jacob Umaga, 11 James Neal, 10 Ben Palmer (captain), 9 Dave Brazier, 1 Jack Higgins, 2 Will Priestley, 3 Luc Jeannot, 4 Cameron Gray, 5 Kailus Hutchinson, 6 Tom Price, 7 Sam McNulty, 8 Brett Daynes.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Kai Owen, 18 Phil Ackuaku, 19 Mike Ryan, 20 Myles Hibbs, 21 Connor Adams, 22 Sam Payne, 23 Brendan Burke, 24 Charley Robinson.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Bishop’s Stortford v Rosslyn Park kick-off 14.00
Blackheath v Coventry Rugby
Cambridge v Caldy 14.00
Darlington Mowden Park v Birmingham Moseley 14.00
Esher v Ampthill & District
Fylde v Plymouth Albion
Loughborough Students v Old Elthamians
Old Albanian v Hull Ionians
Round 18 sees most of the excitement involving the bottom four clubs as they all scrap to avoid relegation. At the top of the league Coventry Rugby face a potentially difficult trip to Blackheath, whilst there are relatively easier fixtures for the chasing pack of three.
Second-placed Darlington Mowden Park are at home to eighth-placed Birmingham Moseley, having had their last two fixtures postponed. Moseley come back to the north-east after a good win at Hull Ionians and an excellent second half against Coventry just before Christmas. Although Park are unbeaten at home and are favourites to win, they could find the Moseley side capable of springing a surprise. Another loss for DMP would surely end their title pretensions.
Ampthill & District, now up to third but still a massive 20 points behind Coventry, are away to 11th-placed Esher. The home side threw away a substantial lead at Rosslyn Park and have been very inconsistent this season, but at home are capable of winning most games so it could be close. Another loss for Ampthill would surely scupper any lingering promotion hopes.
Bottom side Fylde have the difficult task of meeting fourth-placed Plymouth Albion. Albion’s game last week was postponed so they may be rusty, but they will be clear favourites for a substantial win, especially as Fylde were soundly trounced last week at Old Elthamians. Albion cannot afford to lose another game as they are 21 points behind Coventry.
Bishop’s Stortford, in sixth place and only one point behind Blackheath, will be hoping that Coventry do them a favour as they are at home to Rosslyn Park. Park are still too close to the danger zone for comfort, and despite last week’s last-minute winning try against Esher will be underdogs. The home side have been more consistent than their visitors and should be favourites to win this one.
Loughborough Students must be pleased that they are back at home after last week’s trouncing at Caldy and have Old Elthamians as their visitors. The Students will be hard pressed to win this one as OEs hammered Fylde last week and will be in no mood to ease off as they are only four points off fifth place.
It’s ninth against tenth as Cambridge play host to Caldy. Whilst Caldy were giving Loughborough a lesson, Cambridge were restricted to playing water-polo on their pitch, so assuming the tide is out Cambridge will find this tie a difficult one as Caldy stand a real chance of overtaking their hosts.
Perhaps the most important game is the one between hosts Old Albanian and Hull Ionians who fill two of the bottom three positions. Another loss for OA would leave them at least ten points from safety, whilst a win for Hull Ionians could see them move to within one point of escaping the bottom three. At home OA will be slight favourites, but if the Ionians pack take charge, then they might spring a surprise.