COVENTRY have named a 20-man squad showing four changes from last week for Saturday’s derby game at home to Birmingham Moseley.
In the backs, Corey Hircock (pictured) has recovered from an ankle injury and returns in the centre alongside captain Tom Wheatcroft with James Stokes reverting to full-back and Cliffie Hodgson going on to the bench. Tom Howe replaces unavailable fellow Wasps loanee Owain James on the right wing.
Up front, Andy Brown starts at loose head with Phil Boulton on the bench as Cov continue their rotation policy at prop, and the only changes in a largely settled unit are in the back row where Brett Daynes is recalled at blind side for Eoghan Grace and Darrel Dyer starts at No.8 for Freddie Tuilagi, who has an A League game for Leicester on Monday night. Tom Jubb comes on to the bench.
Director of rugby Rowland Winter is well aware of the historical importance of the game with the added incentive to his players of overturning a 19-14 loss from when the two sides met at Billesley Common on the second weekend of the National League One season and Cov paid for a slow start, conceding two early tries.
“This game is massive,” said Winter. “It’s great to play a part in a fantastic traditional fixture and hopefully we’ll have a big crowd to join in the occasion and do their bit!
“There will be fiercely competitive battles in every area of the game on Saturday. It’s a game that everyone on and off the pitch is relishing.
“The set piece, in particular, will go a long way to dictating who wins, we need to get more out of the scrum and line-out than we did at their place.
“It’s key that we have a good start to the game. We conceded 14 points early on last time and it meant we had to chase the game.
“We showed our strength by getting the scoreline level in the second half, but ultimately it was a slow start that cost us. “
Kick-off is 3pm and resident band Soul Junction will provide the live post-match entertainment in the clubhouse.
Cov’s injury list stands at just four players – Olly Povoas, Sam Grasso, Rob Knox and Boris Stankovich who should all be in the running for the first game of the New Year at Macclesfield on January 7 – while Dan Rundle continues a loan spell at Stourbridge.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Tom Howe, 13 Corey Hircock, 12 Tom Wheatcroft (captain), 11 Max Trimble, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White, 1 Andy Brown, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Jimmy Litchfield, 4 Tom Poole, 5 Brendon Snyman, 6 Brett Daynes, 7 Sam Harry, 8 Darrel Dyer.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Phil Boulton, 18 Tom Jubb, 19 Will Maisey, 20 Cliffie Hodgson.
Tom Little looks at the rest of the weekend’s National League One programme.
Ampthill & District v Old Albanian kick off 14.15pm
Blaydon v Darlington Mowden Park 14.00pm
Cambridge v Rosslyn Park 14.00pm
Coventry Rugby v Birmingham Moseley
Esher v Blackheath
Fylde v Macclesfield
Hull Ionians v Loughborough Students 14.00pm
Plymouth Albion v Hartpury College
Week 16 sees the start of the second half of the season – will it be a new dawn or merely a continuation of Hartpury College running away with the league? The chasing pack of four are now moving away from Coventry in sixth place down to Fylde in 12th, with the three relegation places seemingly to be contested by only four sides.
Two weeks ago leaders Hartpury College saw off their nearest challengers Moseley and this week they take on third-placed Plymouth Albion away. Will this be the first real away test for Hartpury since their close-run win at Coventry some weeks ago as Albion are still unbeaten at home, or will Hartpury get their 16th consecutive bonus point victory? Albion have a combative pack and should give Hartpury a close contest with the leaders slight favourites to keep their run going.
Hoping for both Moseley and Albion to slip up are Ampthill & District, who are now only four points behind them in fourth place. They entertain Old Albanian who were somewhat fortunate to escape with a narrow win last week and will be given a real test by the home pack. A game which could go either way but, at home, Ampthill will be slight favourites.
Blackheath, now back in fifth place, have a difficult local derby away to Esher with both side’s home records far better than their away ones. On this basis Esher will be confident, but they have been very inconsistent this season so Blackheath with the better overall record and experienced squad will feel confident of sneaking the win. Esher are too close to the danger zone, only being eight points off Hull Ionians, so it is a crucial need for a win for them, whilst a win for Blackheath could see them back into fourth place.
Improving Rosslyn Park are now within two points of Coventry Rugby in sixth place and travel to a Cambridge, who have settled back well into NL1 although still needing this win to move them closer to the top half of the table. Park will be confident that they have the pack and firepower to win this one, but it could be a close affair as Cambridge have shown they can score their own fair share of tries.
Hull Ionians must feel that they have upset the Gods somewhere as they have seen leads slip away and last-minute kicks fail, leaving them still in the relegation zone with just four wins and 23 points. Now they have free-scoring Loughborough Students as their visitors. The Students are finally in the top half of the table, but Ionians need for the win could make it a close affair.
Struggling north- west sides Fylde and Macclesfield meet, with Macclesfield in bottom place and ten points from safety whilst Fylde themselves are only seven points from clear of the bottom three. Fylde have a much better home record and are capable of scoring plenty of tries as well as shipping them, as indeed are their visitors, so Fylde should be firm favourites to put more pressure on Macclesfield and bring themselves closer to safety with a much-needed win.
The north east derby between Blaydon, in 15th place, and Darlington Mowden Park, 13th, is important to the survival hopes of both. At home Blaydon can be more effective than away, but DMP put up a good display in drawing with Coventry so will be confident of a crucial win to move away from the relegation zone. Blaydon cannot be written off at home, but Park have the better all-round side to win this expected close encounter.