COVENTRY welcome back Tony Fenner and Cliffie Hodgson from injury to their starting line-up for Saturday’s game against Blaydon at Butts Park Arena.
Also included on the bench after completing their rehab are James Pritchard and Brett Daynes who, with Tom Wheatcroft and Boris Stankovich returning off the bench at Hull Ionians last week and now starting on Saturday, also add experience and options to a squad director of rugby Rowland Winter describes as ‘strong, balanced and exciting.’
In all, Cov have named 16 of the 23 players who travelled to Ionians last week with Phil Boulton, Brendon Snyman and Corey Hircock all rested after a run of tough games and the dual registered quartet of Jack Willis, Tom Howe, Owain James and Freddie Tuilagi in LV= Cup action for their parent clubs over the next two weekends.
In the forwards, Jimmy Litchfield and Tom Poole come in for, respectively, Boulton and Snyman, while Tom Jubb is given an outing at blind side flanker with Eoghan Grace stepping across to open side. Stankovich and Scott Tolmie come off the bench to start in an exchange of roles with Andy Brown and Matt Price.
Outside the pack, Rob Knox moves to the wing in place of Howe with Wheatcroft and Hodgson pairing up at centre, and Pritchard replaces James. Fenner and Rhodri Adamson – playing against his former club – start at half-back with Will Maisey and Pete White going on to the bench.
“Although we appear to have made lots of changes, it’s actually quite a settled group,” said Winter.
“Tom Poole and Jimmy Litchfield have been patient for their opportunity to get back in the side, both have trained hard and are strong additions.
“Rhodri’s accuracy and control off the bench was a key factor in our win over Plymouth a fortnight ago. He has stepped up since Pete’s return from injury and his good form, and it now means we have a great battle for the scrum-half shirt.
“Tom Jubb has played lots of his higher level and representative rugby at blind side flanker. He brings a big, athletic, physical threat to the back row and we are excited to see what he can do on Saturday as part of a back row that has put in powerful performances in recent games.
“It’s also great to be able to welcome back Hodgson, Fenner, Daynes, and Pritchard into the team following their injury breaks. They add lots of experience, and we now have lots of options which helps us to select a strong, balanced and exciting squad.
“Blaydon had a difficult start to the season, but they were impressive in their win over Fylde last week and are always a tough proposition so we expect another difficult battle.”
Back rowers Sam Harry and Ali Bone will keep match fit as part of the Wasps LV= Cup squad who make the trip to Sale on Friday night.
Winger Max Trimble suffered a shoulder injury in training and is expected to be out for four to six weeks while scrum-half Sam Grasso’s return from his knee injury is likely to be of similar length, but back row Olly Povoas should be fit to face Cambridge University next Wednesday night away at Grange Road.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 James Pritchard, 13 Cliffie Hodgson, 12 Tom Wheatcroft (captain), 11 Rob Knox, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Rhodri Adamson, 1 Boris Stankovich, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Jimmy Litchfield, 4 Rob Conquest, 5 Tom Poole, 6 Tom Jubb, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Darrel Dyer.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Andy Brown, 18 Brett Daynes, 19 Pete White, 20 Will Maisey. Travelling reserves: 21 Phil Boulton, 22 Brendan Burke.
Tom Little’s look at the rest of the weekend’s National League One programme.
Birmingham Moseley v Loughborough Students
Blackheath v Old Albanian
Coventry Rugby v Blaydon
Esher v Cambridge
Fylde v Ampthill & District
Hartpury College v Rosslyn Park kick off 14.30pm
Hull Ionians v Plymouth Albion 14.00pm
Macclesfield v Darlington Mowden Park
Week 10 completes the first third of the season with leaders Hartpury College currently eight points ahead of their nearest challengers, Birmingham Moseley, while at the other end of the table there is a nine-point gap between Macclesfield in bottom place and safety.
This week the top three sides are all at home with arguably Hartpury College facing their most difficult home match so far against Rosslyn Park. Before the season started this meeting would have been between the two favourites, but a poor start by Park has put them in the lower half of the table. However, with two recent wins they have found some form and their pack can still be formidable, so a close game is expected.
Although Birmingham Moseley struggled to beat Darlington MP last week, they are back at home to face a Loughborough Students side well beaten at Plymouth Albion and should be powerful enough to win while needing a try bonus to keep pressure on the leaders.
Blackheath, in third place, had a poor result and performance against Rosslyn Park last week but in entertaining Old Albanian at Well Hall have the chance to get back on track. However, Old Albanian cannot be taken too lightly as they have settled well into NL1 and are capable of scoring tries. Could be a close one which should go the way of the home side.
Fourth-placed Plymouth Albion have been scoring plenty of tries with their open, off-loading style and are only two points behind Blackheath. They go to Hull Ionians who were well beaten by Coventry last week and should be too strong for the home side, leaving Ionians still in the relegation zone.
Fylde must be relieved that they are back at home after their surprise loss away to Blaydon, but in Ampthill & District they will face a strong pack who, on their day, can be a match for everyone. Could be a classic forwards versus backs confrontation and too close to call unless the home side can get enough possession to release their speedy backs.
Esher, who were unlucky to lose at Ampthill, are at home to face a Cambridge side who were well beaten by Hartpury last week. Despite losses which have brought them down to 13th place, Cambridge are quite capable of scoring tries so this could be a high scoring game, but the home side should win it easily.
Bottom side Macclesfield are at home against Darlington Mowden Park who were disappointed not to have got something from their clash with Moseley. Macclesfield, after a steady start to the season, have begun to struggle and are now in the relegation zone, so this is a must-win for them. However, despite DMP being very inconsistent they should be able to come away with a win to heap more trouble on the home side.