COVENTRY RUGBY’S first defeat of the season last week came with the additional cost of injuries to three players who are all ruled out of tomorrow’s home game against Esher.
Centre Sam Tuitupou (ankle), back row Olly Povoas (shoulder) and winger Tom Emery (neck) will all be missing – but the news concerning scrum-half Pete White is good after the red card he received in the closing moments of the game at Blackheath was rescinded at an RFU disciplinary hearing, leaving him clear to play.
Alex Grove and Jack Preece replace Tuitupou and Povoas in the starting XV after coming off the bench last week, and Brett Daynes and Dave Brazier – continuing his return from a long-term injury – are named in the replacements.
Rob Knox is back from injury on the wing in place of Emery, and a further selection change sees prop Luc Jeannot return at the expense of Jimmy Litchfield.
Cov’s cushion at the top of National League One is still a healthy 14 points and they were emphatic 61-26 winners at Esher in September, but after the 61-29 defeat at Blackheath tomorrow’s game carries added significance.
“No disrespect to Esher, but this week it’s all about us and how we respond,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter. “We need to just focus on ourselves and what we do.
“We need to go back to basics a bit with our approach, make sure we put right the things that went wrong last week, and put in a performance that we are all proud of and not like last week.
“Everyone has worked hard off the pitch this week, there is a determination in the squad, and now we need to work harder on the field to show what we really are.”
Added Winter: “The injuries are unfortunate, but we have a strong squad. Luc played well on his debut two weeks ago, and he has earned his spot since then after good performances for the Development team and against the British Army.”
Tuitupou and Povoas are both awaiting the results of scans to determine the full extent of their injuries but are not likely to be back before February at the earliest.
Kick-off is 3pm, and Big Wednesday will provide the live post-match entertainment.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Rob Knox, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Anthony Matoto, 11 Max Trimble, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Pete White, 1 Nathanael Titchard-jones, 2 Phil Nilsen, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Nike Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway.
Replacements: 16 Scott Tolmie, 17 Luc Jeannot, 18 Brett Daynes, 19 Tony Fenner, 20 Dave Brazier. Match day reserves: 21 Jimmy Litchfield, 22 Paddy Ryan, 23 Tom Emery, 24 Fraser Dingwall.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Ampthill & District v Bishop’s Stortford kick off 14.15
Birmingham Moseley v Old Albanian
Caldy v Darlington Mowden Park 14.00
Coventry Rugby v Esher
Hull Ionians v Blackheath 14.00
Old Elthamians v Cambridge 14.00
Plymouth Albion v Loughborough Students
Rosslyn Park v Fylde
ROUND 19 sees the top three clubs all facing bottom half opponents. Leaders Coventry Rugby need to bounce back quickly after their Blackheath experience against 12th-placed Esher. Three of the bottom four sides are all away with the only side at home, Hull Ionians having the unenviable task of facing Blackheath.
Darlington Mowden Park, in second place, face a potentially difficult away game at 10th-placed Caldy. The home side have surprised many with their first season’s performances in NL1, so Park cannot take them too lightly. If Park have an Achilles heel it is that their away form doesn’t match their home performances, so the game could be a lot closer than first expected. Yet Park need the win to keep pressure on Coventry.
A side hoping that both Coventry and DMP slip up will be Plymouth Albion, in third place three points behind Park. Their visitors Loughborough Students are only five points above the relegation area, so both sides need the points for different reasons. Albion have a good home record and the Students have been inconsistent, often allied to a changing selection policy. It should end up as a solid home win for Albion.
A game which could go either way pits Ampthill & District at home to fellow top half side Bishop’s Stortford. Both sides have won ten games and last week BS were surprisingly beaten at home by Rosslyn Park following their inability to take their chances, whilst Ampthill were letting slip a substantial first half lead to scramble a draw against Esher. The Ampthill pack should give the home side a slight advantage and a win for them could take them into second place.
It must be a euphoric Blackheath side who travel to relegation-threatened Hull Ionians after their impressive victory over Coventry. Whether Blackheath can maintain such a quality two games running remains to be seen. This game is a must-win for Ionians as another home loss will leave them vulnerable to both being caught by Old Albanian and an inability to overtake Loughborough Students in the safety zone. I fear that it will be another home loss.
It’s sixth versus ninth as Old Elthamians entertain Cambridge who have been unable to play their last two games owing to a waterlogged pitch and so will be somewhat rusty. They have also been inconsistent but are capable of raising their game, which surely they will have to do against an OE side whose fine first season in NL1 has put them within four points of Blackheath. At home I feel that OE will have the edge.
A side hoping that their away form will pick up, Old Albanian travel to face Birmingham Moseley. The home side were overwhelmed last week in the second half at DMP, but on their own ground will be confident. However, OA have shown that that they have a better all-round game than their results suggest and if they can continue with a more settled selection process could surprise Moseley. A win for the visitors could take them above Hull Ionians in their bid to escape relegation.
Bottom side Fylde travel, surely more in hope than expectation, to face Rosslyn Park who are now up to 11th place following their away victory at Bishop’s Stortford. Park are now only one win from the top half, whilst Fylde are a massive 15 points from safety. There should only be one winner from this contest as Fylde need to rebuild for next season, and Park are boosted by returning key players.