Words – Paul Smith
Championship Cup opponents Yorkshire Carnegie could face a new Coventry midfield combination when they make a second visit to the Butts Park Arena in 22 days on Saturday (3pm kick off).
Skipper Heath Stevens limped off the field with an ankle problem following Cov’s 20-19 opening round pool one defeat at Doncaster Knights last Saturday, while his centre partner Andy Bulumakau is battling a shoulder injury.
And with seasoned campaigner Sam Tuitupou recuperating following back treatment, Cov’s coaching group are considering their options against visitors who belied their lowly league position with an impressive 38-19 home cup success over Nottingham last time out.
According to director of rugby Rowland Winter, should Stevens and Bulumakau be ruled out, Rob Knox will come into contention to wear the No.13 shirt. James Stokes’ try-scoring return to full fitness at Castle Park also opens up alternatives, while opportunity may knock for one of Cov’s younger talents.
“This may give Dan Lewis an opportunity to come into the squad,” Winter confirmed. “Dan has been one of the stand-out players in the development side, and has done incredibly well on loan.
“This competition gives a chance to the likes of Dan and Will Flinn – who may be involved at some point – and we’re very excited about what they can do.
“We could also start Stokesy at full back and move Tony Fenner into midfield, which would give us the chance to vary our attacking approach, move the ball and challenge Carnegie by creating some tempo to our game.”
Forwards Alex Woolford (toe) and Adam Peters (hamstring) are both also undergoing treatment, with Winter deeming the former Northampton second row the likelier to make the starting line on Saturday.
Cov meet Carnegie three times in 49 days, but with the Headingley club in a period of rapid transition, the blue-and-whites’ boss believes very little should be read into previous encounters, despite their chronological proximity.
“As Carnegie get players back fit and make a few new signings, Chris Stirling is putting together a different side to the one he inherited,” Winter said.
“We are expecting their line-up to be much changed from the one we faced a couple of weeks ago in the league – for instance Jacob Umaga has joined them, who was with us for a brief period last season, so what know what he is capable of.
“Equally we have four or five players who missed the first game, due to the likes of George Oram, Alex Woolford, James Voss and Phil Boulton now being back in the squad.
“Quite often when you play a side for the second time in a season it is a different game as you have both adapted and made improvements. But when you see each other three times in quick succession tactics come a bit into it as well.
“If we can pick up four or five points on Saturday, it will put us in a decent position going into the third match which is also at home against Nottingham. We need to win a minimum of three games to finish in a qualifying position, and we’re more than capable of doing that.”
Advanced tickets for the IPA Greene King Championship clash, preferentially priced at £18 (seated), £15 (standing) and £2 (ages three to 16) are available before 4pm on Friday from the Butts Park Arena ticket office on 02476 231001.
Entry without an advanced ticket is also available on the gate.