COVENTRY Rugby make four changes to their match-day squad for tomorrow’s visit to Rosslyn Park, including a first appearance for prop Jack Higgins.
The 25-year-old played for Coventry-Old Coventrians Colts before offered the chance to play in New Zealand, where he spent a number of years in the North Harbour set up before returning home earlier this season.
He was recommended to Cov by former forwards coach and hooker Dave Addleton, and comes into the 20-man squad on the bench after two outings in Cov’s development team in place of rested Phil Boulton.
Flanker Olly Povoas and centres Sam Tuitupou and Fraser Dingwall also come on to the bench with the side captained by Luke Narraway.
Tom Emery, Nathanael Titchard-jones and Brett Daynes all start this week with Max Trimble unavailable and Latu Makaafi rested, while Ben Palmer plays at fly-half for the development side in their Zoo Sports Shield game away to Cinderford 2nds.
“Jack’s come in and done really well, he’s a good player and this is a good opportunity for him,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter.
“Tony Fenner and Anthony Matoto played exceptionally well at centre last week against Plymouth, but Sam and Fraser returning to the group gives us real options in the back line while Ben needs to play and have game time.”
Cov, who have an 11-point lead at the top of the National League One table, are looking for their 13th straight win of the season while Park are down in 12th place and have managed just three wins and a draw.
The Rock, however, has never been a happy hunting ground for Cov who went down 33-15 in last season’s fixture on a then new 3G pitch.
“The pitch won’t make any difference to us and we know what to expect,” said Winter. “Last year we had a couple of injuries in the warm-up, it wasn’t our strongest team, and we didn’t do ourselves justice. We slipped off tackles and our performance wasn’t up to standard.
“We have to make sure we don’t repeat that. It was typical of our London visits last season, so in a way it’s a monkey we need to get off our backs.
“We’re in a tough run of fixtures, but we are playing well and with Darlington Mowden Park playing Ampthill it’s a good opportunity for us to win and put more pressure on others.
“We did very well last week against Plymouth in what was a difficult test, we have players back this week and others ready to come back in the next weeks, so we are in a strong position and just need to remain focused on our performance and mindset for each game.”
Kick-off is 3pm.
Prop Andy Brown continues his return from hand surgery with a start for the development side, who are captained for the second week by Luc Jeannot.
Coventry are delighted to welcome England Under-20 centre Jacob Umaga to the club on a dual registration from Wasps Academy.
Prop Harry Morley, who is completing a loan spell at Chinnor, has been released.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Rob Knox, 13 Anthony Matoto, 12 Tony Fenner, 11 Tom Emery, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Tom Kessell, 1 Nathanael Titchard-jones, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Jimmy Litchfield, 4 Nile Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Brett Daynes, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway (captain).
Replacements: 16 Phil Nilsen, 17 Jack Higgins, 18 Olly Povoas, 19 Sam Tuitupou, 20 Fraser Dingwall.
COVENTRY DEVELOPMENT: 15 Max Titchener, 14 James Neal, 13 Joe Lane, 12 Isaac McNulty, 11 Kwaku Asiedu, 10 Ben Palmer, 9 Connor Adams, 1 Andy Brown, 2 Willie Priestley, 3 Luc Jeannot (captain), 4 Tom Jubb, 5 Kailus Hutchinson, 6 Mike Ryan, 7 Sam McNulty, 8 Tom Price.
Replacements: 16 Phil Ackuaku, 17 Matt Price, 18 Myles Hibbs, 19 Brendan Burke, 20 Louis Roach, 21 Marley Wolfenden, 22 Victory Chamwada.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Caldy v Old Albanian kick-off 14.00
Cambridge v Blackheath 14.00
Darlington Mowden Park v Ampthill & District 14.00
Fylde v Bishops Stortford
Loughborough Students v Esher
Old Elthamians v Birmingham Moseley 14.00
Plymouth Albion v Hull Ionians
Rosslyn Park v Coventry Rugby
Week 14 sees leaders Coventry Rugby away at Rosslyn Park whilst two of their main challengers, Darlington Mowden Park and Ampthill & District meet in the north-east. Plymouth Albion, in fourth place, could move up to third if Ampthill slip up. Loughborough Students are now only two points from safety and another win for them could put pressure on the three teams just above them.
The key game for the challengers sees second-placed Darlington Mowden Park entertain third-placed Ampthill & District. With a 100% record at home DMP they must be confidant, although some of Ampthill’s away defeats have been close. Two well-matched packs could cancel each other out, but the home side appear to have the edge in the backs, especially with full-back Grant Connon in fine form. A narrow home win is predicted which would keep DMP in sight of the leaders.
On the face of it, Plymouth Albion have the easier task at home to Hull Ionians. A win for Albion could take them back into third place, but Ionians have been in good form recently especially in the pack and the finishing prowess of their wingers so it could be a closer affair than first envisaged. However, home advantage might just shade it.
A surprise defeat last week at home for Blackheath although keeping them in fifth place put them 18 points off the leaders. They travel to Cambridge, who have moved into the top half of the table after an eight-try demolition of Old Albanian. If Cambridge can maintain that form then a home win is on the cards, but it could be very close.
Bishop’s Stortford, who are in sixth place after a strong second-half display to draw with DMP, should have fewer alarms as they face bottom side Fylde on the coast. Still with only two wins, Fylde will come up against a well-organised and efficient BS side with a win for the visitors possibly takin them up to fifth place if Blackheath slip up.
Old Elthamians have Birmingham Moseley as their visitors in a mid-table battle. Last week saw OEs lose heavily at Hull Ionians whilst Moseley struggled to overcome 14-man Caldy. At home, OEs should be slight favourites as victory would bring them within one win of their visitors, whilst a win for Moseley could take them into the top six for the first time this season.
Loughborough Students have the chance to escape the relegation spots with a win at home to Esher. However, Esher have recently been in better form and are in tenth place, and the Students will have to be at their best to win this one. A game which could go either way.
Two sides struggling for wins, Caldy in 13th place meet 15th-placed Old Albanian on the Wirral. Last week a red card and missed goal kicks cost Caldy a win at Moseley whilst OA, without their Saracens contingent, were heavily beaten. Even if OA have the Saracens players back, at home Caldy should be slight favourites for a crucial win.