COVENTRY have the rare luxury of fielding an unchanged squad in tomorrow’s National League One game at Bishop’s Stortford.
The league leaders, who this week have added Fijian international centre Ravai Fatiaki to their senior squad, bounced back from losing their 100 per cent record two weeks ago to record an impressive victory over Esher last Saturday and earn a vote of confidence from director of rugby, Rowland Winter.
“The boys battled really hard last week and showed the attitude and application we want to see from a Coventry side,” said Winter, who has named the same starting XV and bench. “Because they’ve done that they’re rewarded by keeping their spot.”
The game is Cov’s first away from home since their defeat at Blackheath, and they will need to be totally tuned in against a Bishop’s Stortford side that, seventh in the table in their debut season at this level, pushed them all the way at Butts Park Arena in October before going down 30-27.
“Bishop’s Stortford are a really good side,” said Winter. “Andy Long has been there for a number of seasons as their coach and he’s created a side that is really difficult to beat.
“They caused us a load of trouble up here, we really needed to dig deep to get that win, so we’re expecting a very tough game at their place.
“We have to be at our best to go there and beat them, and that’s mentally as well as physically.”
Coventry’s Development side is also in action at Bishop’s Stortford in a Zoo Sports Shield fixture. Their October meeting at Butts Park produced a 12-12 draw.
Fatiaki will make his first appearance for Cov in a side which includes prop Andy Brown in his first game back following a hand injury.
Both games kick off at 2pm.
Second row Cameron Gray and prop Jack Higgins are out on loan to Wasps this weekend for their Anglo-Welsh Cup game at London Irish, while Tom Jubb (Chinnor) and Tarik Tin and Charley Robinson (Towcestrians) are continuing their loan spells.
On the injury front, Sam Tuitupou is expected back from an ankle problem in the next two weeks, while long-term absentees Tom Poole and Heath Stevens will hopefully receive the green light to return to full training in the next fortnight.
Olly Povoas is due a scan on his injured shoulder but is likely to be out for some time, while Isaac McNulty is awaiting surgery on his shoulder and Waita Setu continues to progress with his rehab after a shoulder operation.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Rob Knox, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Anthony Matoto, 11 Max Trimble, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Pete White, 1 Nathanael Titchard-jones, 2 Phil Nilsen, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Nile Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway.
Replacements: 16 Scott Tolmie, 17 Luc Jeannot, 18 Brett Daynes, 19 Tony Fenner, 20 Dave Brazier.
COVENTRY DEVELOPMENT: 15 Tom Emery, 14 Kwaku Asiedu, 13 Fraser Dingwall, 12 Ravai Fatiaki, 11 James Neal, 10 Max Titchener, 9 Connor Adams, 1 Andy Brown, 2 Will Priestley, 3 Jimmy Litchfield, 4 Kailus Hutchinson, 5 Mike Ryan, 6 Tom Price, 7 Paddy Ryan, 8 Sam McNulty.
Replacements: 16 Kai Owen, 17 Matt Price, 18 Phil Ackuaku, 19 Myles Hibbs, 20 Sam Payne, 21 Joe Lane, 22 Louis Roach, 23 Brendan Burke.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Blackheath v Birmingham Moseley
Bishop’s Stortford v Coventry Rugby kick off 14.00
Caldy v Old Elthamians 14.00
Cambridge v Plymouth Albion 14.00
Darlington Mowden Park v Old Albanian 14.00
Esher v Hull Ionians
Fylde v Ampthill & District
Loughborough Students v Rosslyn Park
WHILE league leaders Coventry Rugby face a difficult trip to seventh-placed Bishop’s Stortford, their closest chasers – Darlington Mowden Park, Ampthill and Plymouth Albion – all have seemingly easier tasks. It is also a nervous time at the bottom of the league as Hull Ionians look for another win to increase pressure on Loughborough Students, or even Esher, as they attempt to escape the final relegation place.
Darlington Mowden Park, in second place, will be hoping that Coventry slip up as they are at home to 15th-placed Old Albanian. Undefeated at home, DMP will be favourites for a big win, especially as last week OA had a disappointing defeat at Moseley.
Ampthill & District, in third place, will be expected to have a comfortable day at bottom side Fylde. Although Fylde can be better at home, Ampthill have the more experienced and confident side and they are expected to sail through this one. Fylde are already 15 points from safety with their visitors expected to pick up a bonus point win.
Plymouth Albion, back in fourth place but with two games in hand over most of their rivals, travel to Cambridge who were unable to break down Old Elthamians’ defence last weeked. Albion appear to be stronger in all facets of their game and they need this win to bring pressure on the top three.
Even with a crystal ball it would be difficult to predict what will happen at Well Hall where Blackheath entertain Birmingham Moseley. Beating Coventry and then losing to Hull Ionians somewhat sums up the home side’s season, and they cannot take their visitors too lightly, especially with the powerful Moseley pack. Another surprise may be on its way.
Caldy, in 11th place, evidently put up a good fight in narrowly losing to DMP and will be angered at not holding out for the win. They are back at home against sixth-placed Old Elthamians. Evidently it was OEs’ strong defence which prevailed over Cambridge last week, and they will face another doughty opponent in Caldy. A game which could go either way, but home advantage might just sway it for Caldy.
Loughborough Students are at home to Rosslyn Park who have been showing signs of improving form to coincide with the return of some key players. Going solely on form, Park should be easy winners to put more pressure on the Students who are in danger of being caught by Hull Ionians in the battle for NL1 survival.
Perhaps the most interesting game of the week involves two sides trying to avoid relegation, 12th– placed Esher and 14th-placed Hull Ionians. Defeat for Esher last week at Coventry and a win for Ionians has left the two sides separated by just six points, so for both sides this is a crucial game. Another win for the visitors could see them move out of the relegation zone.