COVENTRY Rugby make one change to their 20-strong squad from last week’s winning line-up against Ampthill for tomorrow’s top-of-the table clash at Darlington Mowden Park.
Club captain Phil Boulton returns from injury to replace prop Nathanael Titchard-jones, who is unavailable through Army commitments.
Jimmy Litchfield starts at loose head with Boulton on the bench, while winger Max Trimble comes off the bench to start in an exchange of roles with Tom Emery.
League leaders Cov take on their nearest rivals secure in the knowledge that a win would put them in a strong position at the halfway point of the National League One season.
The visitors go into the game at the Northern Echo Arena with a perfect record of 14 wins from 14 played and a 13-point cushion over second-placed Park.
Cov will continue with their meticulous week-by-week approach whatever the outcome tomorrow, but director of rugby Rowland Winter concedes that there will be more pressure on the home side to get a result.
“It’s a big game,” said Winter. “Darlington Mowden Park are undefeated at home which creates a big challenge for us, but these are the games everyone wants to be involved in, not just the players but also from a management and coaches point of view, and the games you work hard for.
“The ball is in our court, we’re 13 points ahead so it’s not a title-deciding type of game, but it’s something we’re really looking forward to.
“But the pressure is far more on them, if we go up there and win then it’s massively advantage to Coventry moving forward.
“We’re confident – we’re in good form and we’ve got a strong squad. The boys have worked hard to put themselves in the position we are in going into this game.
“We’ve done our homework on Darlington, they’re a strong outfit across the board, but we know there are a few areas we can work on.”
Added Winter: “Our target was to be in touch after the Darlington and Moseley games and in the mix, knowing this side will get better as the season goes on.”
Kick-off is 2pm.
With Coventry Development’s Zoo Sports Shield game at Richmond Vikings called off, Cov have 18 players in loan and A League action tomorrow and on Monday.
Backs Louis Roach, James Neal and Joe Lane will be with Broadstreet tomorrow for their National Two South game against Redruth. Ben Palmer (Leicester Lions), Connor Adams (Stourbridge), Phil Ackuaku and Kailus Hutchinson (both Chinnor) are also in National League action, while Mike Ryan is with Old Coventrians and Charley Robinson at Towcestrians.
Kwaku Asiedu and Cameron Gray are in the Wasps squad for Monday’s A League game at Broadstreet against Sale Jets, who include Pete White, Olly Povoas, Tom Jubb and Will Priestley; Kai Owen plays for Worcester Cavaliers against Newcastle Falcons at Sixways; and Luc Jeannot is with Northampton Wanderers who face Leicester Tigers at Welford Road.
On the injury front, centre Alex Grove is now back in full training but prop Andy Brown’s return has been delayed by an ongoing hand problem.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Rob Knox, 13 Anthony Matoto, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Max Trimble, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Tom Kessell, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Phil Nilsen, 3 Jack Higgins, 4 Nile Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway (captain).
Replacements: 16 Scott Tolmie, 17 Phil Boulton, 18 Brett Daynes, 19 Tom Emery, 20 Tony Fenner.
Reserves: 21 Luc Jeannot, 22 Tom Jubb, 23 Olly Povoas, 24 Pete White.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Ampthill & District v Hull Ionians kick off 14.00
Caldy v Esher 14.00
Cambridge v Bishops Stortford 14.00
Darlington Mowden Park v Coventry Rugby 14.00
Loughborough Students v Fylde
Old Elthamians v Blackheath 14.00
Plymouth Albion v Old Albanian
Rosslyn Park v Birmingham Moseley
ROUND 15 marks the midway point in the season and sees crucial games at both ends of the league with leaders Coventry Rugby travelling to their nearest rivals Darlington Mowden Park, whilst bottom club Fylde travel to Loughborough Students.
A close game is expected at Old Elthamians, who are now up to seventh place, when they entertain third-placed Blackheath. OEs are still 11 points behind their opponents, so a win for them would see them narrow the gap, while Blackheath need the win to keep ahead of Plymouth Albion and stay in touch with DMP. At home, OEs should be slight favourites.
Plymouth Albion had a week off last Saturday so should be fresh for the visit of 15th-placed Old Albanian. Albion are now back in fourth place and eight points behind DMP but with a game in hand. They should have no trouble beating OA who would then be at least eight points from safety.
A shellshocked Ampthill & District, following their heavy defeat at Coventry, have a good chance to get back to winning ways at home to 13th-placed Hull Ionians. However, Ionians have proved to be a resilient side and have a pack that will be competitive. It won’t be easy for Ampthill, but they have the greater all-round experience to win this one, and defeat for the visitors could see them back in the relegation zone.
Almost a local derby, Cambridge are at home to Bishop’s Stortford who are safely ensconced in sixth place whilst their hosts are in ninth but only 10 points ahead of the relegation area. The home side have been very inconsistent so far this season, but their win at Esher last week should give them renewed confidence, although BS will be slight favourites for the away win.
Two sides struggling for to live up to pre-season aspirations, Rosslyn Park and Birmingham Moseley meet at The Rock. Both had their games postponed last week with the home side now in the relegation zone and in urgent need of a win. Victory could take them out of the danger zone with a game in hand whilst Moseley, after some poor recent results, need to keep in the top half of the table. A close game is expected with Park the slight favourites.
Eleventh plays tenth as Caldy take on visitors Esher on the Wirral. Both are rather too close to the relegation zone to be comfortable, so it could be a season defining result for either side. Caldy need to start winning their home games and should be slight favourites.
Bottom side Fylde travel to 12th-placed Loughborough Students in another important game for both. Fylde have been slowly recovering from a poor start, even if not always getting the win, and they could be a handful for the Students who have struggled for results recently. A win for Fylde could take them within four points of safety, whilst a loss for Students could see them back in the relegation places. This is a game which is too close to call.