CONGRATULATIONS to Cliffie Hodgson, who will make his 100th appearance for the Blue & Whites in tomorrow’s National League One game against Blackheath at Butts Park Arena.
The first Cov player to score 1,000 league points, Hodgson (pictured) is in his sixth season at the club and – a firm favourite with the fans – has fought his way back from a series of shoulder injuries to regain his place in the squad for the last three games, scoring his first try of the season in last week’s win at Macclesfield.
“Cliffie has been and continues to be an excellent servant to the club,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter. “He is a great bloke and a big part of our team on and off the pitch, and everyone is delighted to see him join the 100 club at Cov.”
Hodgson lines up at centre in a match squad showing just two changes from last week, Eoghan Grace and Owain James returning from illness in place of Jack Willis, who is required by parent club Wasps, and Brendan Burke.
There is a full debut in the second row for Josh Peters with Tom Jubb going on to the bench, while centre Tom Wheatcroft comes off the bench in a change of roles with Will Maisey and Rhodri Adamson benches after stepping in last week for winger Max Trimcle, who is still recovering from illness, and doing a sterling job out of position. Front row rotation sees Jimmy Litchfield and Scott Tolmie return to the starting line-up for Andy Brown and Matt Price.
Said Winter: “Eoghan Grace and Tom Wheatcroft have both worked hard to regain their spots in the team, and Phil Boulton will continue as captain to allow them to concentrate on getting their individual game right first.
“We are starting to develop a good group of leaders, which has a good effect on the team and is great for the club.
“Josh Peters played well when he came on for Tom Jubb last week so he is getting a start tomorrow.”
Cov’s 42-5 defeat at Blackheath in September was a low point in their season and with the Londoners lying third in the table to Cov’s sixth, Winter believes the game is an ideal opportunity for Cov – on an unbeaten run of four – to guage their progress.
“It was undoubtedly our worst performance of the season when we went down there,” he said.
“They are in good form, they are a strong side sitting above us in the table so we know it will be a tough challenge, but it’s a challenge we are raring to take on and we are well prepared for.
“It will give us a true reflection of how far we have come since the beginning of the season, and whether we have developed and progressed enough to turn them over.”
Kick-off is 3pm, and live post-match entertainment will be provided by Johnny Seven
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Cliffie Hodgson, 12 Tom Wheatcroft, 11 Owain James, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Tom Poole, 5 Josh Peters, 6 Brett Daynes, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Darrel Dyer.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Andy Brown, 18 Tom Jubb, 19 Will Maisey, 20 Rhodri Adamson.
Tom Little looks at the rest of the weekend’s National League One programme.
Ampthill & District v Loughborough Students kick off 14.15
Blaydon v Birmingham Moseley 14.00
Cambridge v Darlington Mowden Park 14.00
Coventry Rugby v Blackheath
Fylde v Hartpury College
Hull Ionians v Macclesfield 14.00
Plymouth Albion v Esher
Rosslyn Park v Old Albanian
Week 18 sees the top three sides all away from home with, arguably, only Blackheath expected to be troubled at Coventry Rugby. The key game at the wrong end of the table sees Hull Ionians and Macclesfield meet with the home side needing a win to give them a reasonable chance of survival, whilst another loss for the bottom side would surely relegate them.
In some ways the tie between Fylde and leaders Hartpury College is more important to the home side than the away. Fylde seem a shadow of their former self and are now back in 12th place, only seven points above the relegation zone, yet at home they always have the ability to score tries. In Hartpury College, however, they face the best side by far in the league, having an edge in all aspects of play, and all Fylde could expect would be a try bonus point.
Another side with a slightly better home than away record is 15th-placed Blaydon, who have the unenviable task of having free-scoring Birmingham Moseley as their visitors. Moseley should be too strong, even away in the north-east, to let this one slip as they try and consolidate second place only four points ahead of the three sides just below them in the table. Another loss for Blaydon would surely condemn them to a position of relegation favourites.
Fourth-placed Plymouth Albion suffered a narrow loss at Rosslyn Park last week, but are back at home to face an off-colour Esher side who last week shipped ten tries to the leaders. Esher are only one place and five points above the danger zone and another loss could leave them in serious trouble. Albion will be in no mood to be generous and will look for an emphatic win.
A close game is in prospect at fifth-placed Ampthill & District who have Loughborough Students as their visitors. The free scoring Students will be looking to break into the top six with another bonus point win, but in Ampthill will be facing an experienced pack which could be the difference. A game which could go either way, perhaps depending on the pitch conditions.
Form side Rosslyn Park, only two points behind Coventry, have another home tie, this time against Old Albanian. Park are now finding the form expected of them at the start of the season and will be looking for another win as thy chase their target of a top four finish. However, James Shanahan’s OA are always capable of scoring tries and the game could be closer than first expected, but home advantage should just swing it for Rosslyn Park.
Cambridge, who are nine points above the relegation spot , are at home to Darlington Mowden Park, themselves only one place and one point behind their hosts. Both will be looking to move further away from this danger zone, and with Cambridge capable to scoring plenty of tries, they should be slight favourites at home. However, Park have shown better form of late and a close game is on the cards.
The remaining game is a crucial relegation battle between Hull Ionians and Macclesfield. Bottom side Macclesfield are now 15 points from safety, whilst Hull Ionians are putting up a better fight and are only five points from safety. The result of this contest will go a long way to confirming whether Ionians can escape relegation, conversely another defeat for Macclesfield will surely seal their fate.