COVENTRY welcome back winger Max Trimble from injury for Saturday’s game against Old Albanian at Butts Park Arena.
Trimble has been missing since scoring two tries in Cov’s first two games of the season and returns to a match-day squad which includes 15 of the 20 who figured at Rosslyn Park last week.
Ali Bone and Freddie Tuilagi – who will be making his first start for Cov – come into a back row which is completed by captain Eoghan Grace, at open side, with luckless Olly Povoas ruled out for three to four weeks by a broken hand sustained in last week’s game.
There is also a first start for player-coach Brendan Burke at centre, while Rob Knox is back on the wing with Owain James going to full-back and and Phil Boulton starts at tight head prop in rotation with Jimmy Litchfield.
“Both Ali and Freddie have been training well and as a result they deserve their spot,” said director of rugby Rowland Winter. “Both offer a big physical presence and carry hard, and they now have an opportunity to create competition for Darrell Dyer, who has been involved in every match day so far.
“Max has also worked hard to get himself into contention. He was in great form before his injury and was a stand-out player during pre-season. His initial target will be to show that form again, which will help him keep his spot in the team.
“Burkey will slot in at 12 to start with, he will add something different to the back line with Tom Wheatcroft and Will Maisey adding their impact off the bench.
“Eoghan’s experience will be valuable against a well-organised and dangerous OAs side, while Sam Harry is working and grafting hard, and his impact off the bench on Saturday is also going to be crucial.
“The rest of the squad is consistent with the same group of players who have been involved in the last six week and are starting to build strong partnerships.”
Cov’s home form has been impressive with just one narrow defeat to leaders Hartpury College, but Old Albanian have adapted well on their return to National League One after a season’s absence and have already won away at Blaydon, Cambridge and Esher.
Added Winter: “OAs are a side who have the ability and ambition to attack from anywhere on the pitch. They also have plenty of talent and experience across their squad which will create a tough challenge for us this weekend, especially as they are one of the form sides in the league.”
On the injury front, Cliffie Hodgson returned to training this week and is not far away from being available, while James Stokes is recovering well from an ankle problem. He will have a scan in the next few days to determine the next step, but should be back available before Christmas. Scrum-half Sam Grasso continues with his rehab.
COVENTRY: 15 Owain James, 14 Max Trimble, 13 Corey Hircock, 12 Brendan Burke, 11 Rob Knox, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White, 1 Andy Brown, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Tom Jubb, 5 Brendon Snyman, 6 Ali Bone, 7 Eoghan Grace (captain), 8 Freddie Tuilagi.
Replacements (from : 16 Boris Stankovich, 17 Matt Price, 18 Jimmy Litchfield, 19 Sam Harry, 20 Tom Wheatcroft, 21 Will Maisey. Reserves: Jake Byrne, Brett Daynes, James Pritchard, Rhodri Adamson.
Tom Little looks at the rest of the weekend’s National League One programme.
Ampthill & District v Plymouth Albion kick off 14.15pm
Blackheath v Macclesfield
Blaydon v Cambridge 14.00pm
Coventry Rugby v Old Albanian
Esher v Loughborough Students
Fylde v Darlington Mowden Park
Hartpury College v Birmingham Moseley 14.30pm
Hull Ionians v Rosslyn Park 14.00pm
Week 14 sees Hartpury Colege face their most severe test of the season at home, whilst at the other end of the table two out of the bottom three face crucial home fixtures.
It is first against second as Hartpury College have arguably their most challenging game of the season at home to Birmingham Moseley. A real test for both sides as a win for Hartpury would virtually assure them of the title before the first half of the season is over, whilst a win for Moseley could open up the league .Hartpury at home will be slight favourites, but Moseley have shown how resilient they can be so a close encounter is expected.
Another fierce battle is expected as two in-form sides, Ampthill & District in fifth place and Plymouth Albion in third meet in Bedfordshire. Both sides have a lot to prove as Albion are snapping at the heels of Moseley whilst Ampthill are now only one point behind fourth-placed Blackheath. Another difficult one to predict as it could go either way with both sides having impressive packs. A draw would be a fitting result.
Blackheath should be able to keep the pressure on Moseley and Albion as they are at home against 15th-placed Macclesfield. It is also a crucial game for Macclesfield who are now seven points from safety, but the home side should be firm favourites to take five points.
Rosslyn Park will be looking to continue where they left off against Coventry as they travel to 14th-placed Hull Ionians. A mus- win for both sides for opposite reasons as Ionians need to move closer to the safety zone whilst Park could move into the top six. Despite Ionians having home advantage and an ability to score tries, the Park pack should sway it for the visitors.
Loughborough Students put up a brave first half display against Hartpury last week, but they could face a difficult away trip to Esher. The home side can be very inconsistent, as shown by their surprise loss at Darlington MP, but at home do have a better record. Esher are now back in 11th place and only eight points above the relegation zone, so will need to be at their best to win this one.
Bottom side Blaydon will be pleased to be back at home but in Cambridge they will face an attacking side capable of running in plenty of tries. However, Blaydon do appear to have the edge in the pack and if the home side can restrict possession for Cambridge then they could prove to be bonus-point winners, bringing them within sight of the safety zone.
The remaining game brings together two sides that have had their recent ups and downs with Fylde at home to Darlington Mowden Park. The two are separated by just one point and one place in the table. Fylde have a very poor away record so will be pleased to be back home, whilst Park come to the seaside on the back of a fine home victory after a series of poor results. A game which could go either way but with Warren Seals back at Park on loan, his goal kicking and game management might just seal it for the north-easterners.