COVENTRY welcome back Cliffie Hodgson (left) and James Stokes from injury for Saturday’s visit to Darlington Mowden Park.
The match-day squad retains a settled look with 15 of the players who figured in last week’s win over Old Albanian included. There are recalls for Tom Poole, Darrel Dyer and – on the bench – Rhodri Adamson or Tom Howe.
Hodgson comes in at full-back with Owain James reverting to the wing in place of James Pritchard, while Stokes is on the other wing for Max Trimble who is unavailable through work commitments.
Tom Wheatcroft comes off the bench for Brendan Burke at centre, while in the forwards Poole and Dyer take over from Tom Jubb and Ali Bone with captain Eoghan Grace moving to blind side flanker, Sam Harry coming off the bench at open side and Jimmy Litchfield replacing Andy Brown in the starting XV at loose head prop on rotation.
Said director of rugby, Rowland Winter: “James and Cliffie have worked hard to get fit and back into the squad. Both are really important players for us and we hope they can now stay fit.
“Tom Wheatcroft comes back in at 12 in a midfield which is starting to have a settled look to it. He made a good impact off the bench last week and got his hands on the ball a lot, which is where he is most dangerous.
“Midfield is an area where we may look to use Cliffie at some point, and Rob Knox will offer a different option when he is back fit again which could be next week. He is still nursing a sore hamstring, but he is improving each day and is nearly ready.
“Will Maisey spared some blushes last week – there is strong competition between him and Tony Fenner for the 10 shirt and he is a great player to have coming off the bench.
“Darrel comes back into the squad having been rested last week after playing in all our other games from the start of the season. His impact off the bench on Saturday will also be crucial, while Tom Poole is a grafter who adds physicality to our pack and works hard for the team which will be important for us to grind out a result this weekend.
Added Winter: “Mowden Park will be a massive test for us. They are a well-resourced club and have turned their form round recently with an impressive home win.
“We are well aware of our away form but are looking forward to getting up there and working hard to put it right. We feel well prepared and it’s great to be able to welcome a few players back to the squad.”
On the injury front, second row Rob Conquest has passed his concussion tests and has completed a full week of training. “It’s great to have him back,” said Winter, “he adds technical quality to our line-out and now needs to train hard and work his way back into the match squad.”
Sam Grasso is hoping to be available for selection against Macclesfield after taking part in training this week, and Olly Povoas should also be back available early in the New Year.
COVENTRY: 15 Cliffie Hodgson, 14 James Stokes, 13 Corey Hircock,12 Tom Wheatcroft, 11 Owain James, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Tom Poole, 5 Brendon Snyman, 6 Eoghan Grace (captain), 7 Sam Harry, 8 Freddie Tuilagi.
Replacements: 16 Andy Brown, 17 Matt Price, 18 Darrel Dyer, 19 Will Maisey, 20 Rhodri Adamson, 21 Tom Howe. Reserves: 22 Boris Stankovich, 23 Brendan Burke.
Tom Little looks at the rest of the weekend’s National League One programme.
Birmingham Moseley v Esher
Cambridge v Ampthill & District kick off 14.00
Darlington Mowden Park v Coventry Rugby
Loughborough Students v Fylde 14.00
Macclesfield v Hartpury College
Old Albanian v Hull Ionians
Plymouth Albion v Blackheath
Rosslyn Park v Blaydon
The completion of Week 15 fixtures marks the end of the first half of the season. One could argue that it is already a one horse race with surely no-one capable of catching, or even matching, Hartpury College. Turning to the fight to avoid relegation, all bottom three sides face difficult games with all hoping that Coventry can beat fourth from bottom Darlington Mowden Park.
Bottom versus top is the unenviable task facing Macclesfield as they entertain Hartpury College. In boxing parlance, surely a walkover for the visitors. The slightest glimmer of hope is a reasonable home record for Macclesfield, but not enough to stop another large victory for the league leaders and possibly a league record of 15 consecutive bonus points wins.
Second-placed Birmingham Moseley could still be shell-shocked by the size and nature of their defeat at Hartpury, but at home to Esher they should be able to get back on track with a victory. Esher have not been at their best away from home and are still too close to the danger zone, so it could be a close encounter but Moseley are still favourites.
Another difficult game to predict is the one at third-placed Plymouth Albion, who have fourth-placed Blackheath as their visitors. Although last week Albion suffered a close away loss at Ampthill, back at home they will be defending an unbeaten record. With only two points between the sides it could be a close game with Albion slight favourites.
An intriguing game is in prospect at Cambridge, who have Ampthill & District as their visitors. Both sides come to the game after excellent victories last week, and although Cambridge are 13 points behind fifth-placed Ampthill, both sides have virtually identical scoring records. If the home pack can gain enough possession then they stand a chance to cause an upset, whilst a win for Ampthill could move them up to second place.
Rosslyn Park are back at home after last week’s surprise loss at Hull Ionians and face a Blaydon side back in 15th place and still seven points from safety. Blaydon don’t always travel well, so an emphatic home win should be on the cards.
Old Albanian will still be smarting after a last-minute penalty denied them victory at Coventry and face a Hull Ionians side buoyed by last week’s win over Rosslyn Park. Despite that win Ionians are still in the relegation zone, and OA showed in their performance at Coventry that they are an excellent side so, at home, will be favourites for the win.
Loughborough Students in ninth place meet Fylde in 12th with only four points between them in the table. Fylde need the win to move away from the danger zone but, as with many teams in this league, their away form has been poor. The Students are capable enough at home to win this one and move into the top half of the table.