COVENTRY welcome back England Counties second row Rob Conquest for his National League One debut at Blackheath on Saturday.
The 26-year-old has completed his return-to-play protocol after being injured in the pre-season game against Ealing Traifinders and replaces player-coach Bendon Snyman, who is away in South Africa for family reasons, as one of three changes from the starting XV against Macclesfield.
Boris Stankovich returns at loose head prop, while Tony Fenner also comes back from injury in the centre with Will Maisey retaining the fly-half spot.
Ali Bone and Sam Harry come on to the bench, and Andy Brown and Callum MacBurnie, who both started last week are in the travelling squad of 25.
Back row Olly Povoas has a knee injury which will keep him out for two to three weeks, while scrum-half Sam Grasso continues to recover from the knee injury that ruled him out last week but is likely to be available for next week’s home game against Hartpury College along with James Pritchard, who is away at a family wedding in Australia.
Games between the two clubs have generally produced a close result in recent years, and director of rugby Rowland Winter expects another tough test.
“Blackheath are going to be up there as one of the favourites to win this league this year,” he said, “and apart from their game against Hartpury they’ve had a good start.
“They’ve won their last couple of games, they looked very strong against Fylde, and they’re stacked with experience and talent – they’re a well-run club and are going to be difficult to break down.
“But we’re backing ourselves and we’re as confident as ever.
“We’re welcoming back a few people into the squad, which again shows the depth we’ve got, and hopefully their experience will help us get the performance we’re searching for and build on the first 40 minutes from last week.”
Added Winter: “It’s key to remember that our strong performances so far have come at home, so it’s important for us to go away and repeat the good parts of what we’ve done against Macclesfield and Loughborough.”
Cliffie Hodgson completed his first contact session on Tuesday and will hopefully be in contention for the Esher game in two weeks’ time, and Pete White is back into touch rugby as he also continues his return from surgery. Tom Wheatcroft also has Esher as a target for his return from concussion; Tom Jubb is serving the final week of his suspension; Adam Canning continues to build his fitness; and Jay Heath had game time with Wasps in their A League win on Monday along with Harry, Alex Smit and Sam McNulty.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Corey Hircock, 13 Rob Knox, 12 Tony Fenner, 11 Dan Rundle, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Rhodri Adamson, 1 Boris Stankovich, 2 Scott Tolmie. 3 Phil Boulton, 4 Rob Conquest, 5 Tom Poole, 6 Brett Daynes, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Darrell Dyer.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Jimmy Litchfield, 18 Ali Bone, 19 Sam Harry, 20 Alex Smit. Travelling reserves: Andy Brown, Callum MacBurnie, Brendan Burke.
Week four National League One match previews
By Tom Little
Birmingham Moseley v Blaydon
Blackheath v Coventry Rugby
Darlington Mowden Park v Cambridge
Esher v Plymouth Albion
Hartpury College v Fylde 14.30
Loughborough Students v Ampthill & District 14.00
Macclesfield v Hull Ionians
Old Albanian v Rosslyn Park
Week four sees the two remaining unbeaten sides at home against two of the bottom sides yet to win.
Leaders Hartpury College have Fylde as their visitors. Although still awaiting their first win Fylde have the ability to score tries, but their pack has struggled to give them the platform. Hartpury have enough strength in all aspects of their game to win this one in another high scoring encounter.
The other unbeaten side, Birmingham Moseley have bottom side Blaydon as their visitors. Lack of discipline in their three games has cost Blaydon dear, so they need to sort that out. If they can, then the Blaydon pack can be a force so Moseley will have to be on their mettle. Home advantage should just give Moseley the edge, enabling them to keep in touch with the leaders.
Old Albanian, who have settled well into NL1, face a winless Rosslyn Park who have struggled to live up to their pre-season expectations. If Park can get their pack going they should be able to match the home side’s adventurous style. A high-scoring game is in prospect which could go either way.
After a difficult start, Darlington Mowden Park have found their better attacking flair as they move away from a forward-orientated game plan. They are at home to a Cambridge side that has lost two close games but can be a potent attacking force, so Park will not have it all their own way. A close contest should just go to the home side.
Loughborough Students, after their opening day trauma at Coventry, have now won two games in a row, running in plenty of tries, even if their defence is suspect. They have Ampthill & District as their visitors, and if the Students pack can move the heavier Ampthill pack around the field, they have a chance to sneak this one. Discipline, or lack of it, might be Ampthill’s Achilles heel.
Esher have had a difficult start to the season with a heavy home loss to Hartpury College last week, and face another difficult fixture at home to Plymouth Albion who have won two games in succession. Another game which could go either way, but the stronger pack seems to be Albion’s which may give them the edge.
The remaining game sees Macclesfield, who were heavily beaten at Coventry last week, at home against Hull Ionians. Both sides have something to prove with the home side looking to build on their second half performance against Coventry, while Ionians will be reflecting on letting a lead go against Moseley in the last few minutes. A difficult game to predict, but Ionians might have the slight edge in what is also likely to be a high-scoring game.