COVENTRY Rugby welcomes back captain Phil Boulton from injury as one of three changes to the 20-strong squad for tomorrow’s top of the table clash with Plymouth Albion at Butts Park Arena (3pm).
Boulton sat out Cov’s win at Old Elthamians two weeks ago with a hamstring strain but returns at tight head prop for the National League One leaders, who also have second row George Oram back from injury after missing the last two games while dual-registered back Tom Emery is available again and on the bench.
Anthony Matoto has his first outing at centre, moving inside from the wing as Fraser Dingwall has been recalled for the week by parent club Northampton, with winger Max Trimble coming in off the bench.
Boulton’s return seen Nathanael Titchard-jones move to the bench, Oram replaces Tom Jubb, and Cov continue their rotation policy in the forwards with hooker Scott Tolmie and flanker Latu Makaafi both starting in an exchange of roles with Phil Nilsen and Brett Daynes.
Cov go into the match with eleven wins from eleven games and an 11-point cushion over third-placed Albion who, widely tipped as title challengers before the start of the season, have lost two games and also drawn twice.
But at the start of a run which sees them face all three of the other top four sides in the space of four weeks, Cov are solely focused on extending their overall winning run to 20 games and know they will have to produce their A game against traditionally difficult opponents.
“Our approach hasn’t changed and we are fully concentrated on playing Plymouth,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter. “When the fixtures came out back in May or June we looked at this game as key and it’s what we’ve been working towards for the last 11, 12 weeks.
“Plymouth pose a massive threat, they have a big set of forwards and backs that like to run the ball, but we’re well prepared and everyone is excited to take them on.
“It’s a top of the table game between two clubs with a depth of players in their squads. It will be a battle up front to start with, a wrestle for possession which will give a platform for when the game opens up later.
“It’s a pressure game and, to be honest, that’s what it’s all about.
“We can’t get much stronger in our pack, and we can bring loads of energy and mobility into there off the bench.
“In the backs we have Tony Fenner’s organisation at centre, Anthony Matoto can make things happen, our back three – The Three Amigos – are happiest when they’re together, and you won’t find a better half-back pairing than Will Maisey and Tom Kessell in this djvision.
“With two livewire players, Ben Palmer and Tom Emery, who can really spark something up when they come off the bench, we feel ready for whatever we come up against.”
Live post-match entertainment in the Arena Bar will be provided by The Rooters.
Coventry Development take on Richmond Saxons in a Zoo Sports Shield game at Broadstreet (12.30pm) with prop Andy Brown set to make his return from injury after eight weeks out.
The starting XV includes six players who have figured in the first team this season.
Injury update – Pete White is back in light training and two or three weeks away from a return; Alex Grove and Dave Brazier are both on track to be back around Christmas; and Tom Poole, Heath Stevens and Waita Setu are all making good progress after surgery.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Rob Knox, 13 Tony Fenner, 12 Anthony Matoto, 11 Max Trimble, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Tom Kessell, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Nile Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway.
Replacements: 16 Phil Nilsen, 17 Nathanael Titchard-jones, 18 Brett Daynes, 19 Tom Emery, 20 Ben Palmer.
COVENTRY DEVELOPMENT: 15 Louis Roach, 14 James Neal, 13 Joe Lane, 12 Isaac McNulty, 11 Kwaku Asiedu, 10 Max Titchener, 9 Sam Payne, 1 Jack Higgins, 2 Willie Priestley, 3 Luc Jeannot, 4 Tom Jubb, 5 Cameron Gray, 6 Kailus Hutchinson, 7 Sam McNulty, 8 Olly Pavoas. Replacements: 16 Andy Brown, 17 Matt Price, 18 Mike Ryan, 19 Tom Price, 20 Myles Hibbs, 21 Brendan Burke, 22 Marley Wolfenden, 23 Victory Chamwada.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Ampthill & District v Rosslyn Park kick off 2.15pm
Bishop’s Stortford v Darlington Mowden Park 2.30pm
Birmingham Moseley v Caldy
Blackheath v Loughborough Students
Coventry Rugby v Plymouth Albion
Esher v Fylde
Hull Ionians v Old Elthamians 2.00pm
Old Albanian v Cambridge
AFTER a week off, National League One resumes with round 12 including crucial games involving four of the top six sides – leaders Coventry at home to Plymouth Albion, and Bishop’s Stortford at home to Darlington Mowden Park.
Second-placed Darlington Mowden Park face the somewhat daunting task of visiting sixth-placed Bishop’s Stortford who have had such an impressive start in NL1. Both sides have won eight games with DMP having the superior try bonus record. However, at home BS can be a resilient team and this could be a tense and close affair. DMP will be slight favourites but the home side could spring a surprise.
Out of sorts Rosslyn Park, with only three wins, travel to fourth-placed Ampthill & District. Whilst Park were well beaten at DMP last time out, Ampthill were putting up a strong fight at Albion and only lost out due to a superior home defence. At home Ampthill should be too powerful, especially in the forwards, and a win could take them back to second place.
Blackheath, who had a good win at Fylde last time out, are back at home to face another team in the relegation zone, Loughborough Students. The Students gave an excellent attacking display two weeks ago and could surprise Blackheath, who have not been at their best recently. However, at home Blackheath should be favourites for another bonus point victory which would keep them close to the top four.
Birmingham Moseley have recently been showing signs of a resurgence and are back at home to face Caldy whose win over Hull Ionians took them out of the relegation zone. Caldy have shown that they are no pushovers in NL1 so Moseley cannot take them too lightly and it could be a close game. Moseley appear to have the better all-round game, so a close home win is predicted.
Renowned for their poor starts, Hull Ionians have Old Elthamians as their visitors. By all account OE put up a tremendous performance against Coventry, but whether they can match that standard on their travels is debateable. The home pack has a not-so-secret weapon of the driving maul, so OE will have to defend this as they did against Coventry. Another game which could go either way, but Hull Ionians need the win more as they are still just three points above the relegation zone.
Two sides struggling to get a winning run together, Old Albanian and Cambridge meet in St Albans. OA have slipped back into the relegation area, but are still only six points behind Cambridge who are in ninth place. Despite plenty of possession, Cambridge have struggled to convert it into tries. A high-scoring game is in prospect which could go either way, although at home OA might have a slight edge.
Bottom side Fylde, with only two wins, visit Esher who themselves are in tenth place and only six points above the danger zone. Although very inconsistent the home side should be powerful enough to win this one, leaving Fylde at the bottom and at least ten points from safety.