COVENTRY have named a side showing two enforced changes for tomorrow’s visit to National League One leaders Hartpury College.
Will Maisey (pictured) comes off the bench to start at centre in place of Tom Wheatcroft, who has failed to recover sufficiently from a dead leg picked up in last week’s win over Blackheath, and Corey Hircock replaces unavailable Tom Howe on the wing.
Max Trimble, who has missed that last two games through illness, returns to the squad on the bench.
Hartpury have won all 18 games so far, only once failing to secure a four-try bonus point, but they needed a late score to snatch a 27-23 win when the two sides met at Butts Park Arena in October and face a Cov side unbeaten in their last five games.
“Making just two changes is testament to what was arguably our best performance of the season last week,” said director of rugby Rowland Winter, who does not subscribe to the view that this is a game where Cov – sixth in the table – have nothing to lose.
“We played really well to control the game, and we’ll need the same this week and to increase our focus even further.
“Everybody – apart from us – will expect Hartpury to win and I can see why people would say we have nothing to lose, but we have our own performance targets to lose and that is important to us.
“We’ve worked really hard to build up momentum, not just over the last five or six weeks, and it’s important that we continue to show improvement in areas where we have made real progress, such as our defence.
“We will go there with the shackles off, we’re confident, and we expect to see a good performance.
“There’s not many teams in the league with the ability to turn Hartpury over, but we have a few ideas of how to do it.”
Cov’s injury list continues to clear. Back row Ali Bone will have a concussion fitness assessment next week, Freddie Tuilagi is two weeks away from a return after dislocating his shoulder before Christmas, and Rob Knox is continuing his rehab and also close to a return.
Kick-off is 2.30pm.
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Corey Hircock, 13 Cliffie Hodgson, 12 Will Maisey, 11 Owain James, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Pete White, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Tom Poole, 5 Josh Peters, 6 Brett Daynes, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Darrel Dyer.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Andy Brown, 18 Tom Jubb, 19 Rhodri Adamson, 20 Max Trimble.
Tom Little looks at the rest of the weekend’s National League One programme.
Birmingham Moseley v Ampthill & District
Blackheath v Hull Ionians
Darlington Mowden Park v Rosslyn Park
Esher v Fylde
Hartpury College v Coventry Rugby kick off 14.30
Loughborough Students v Cambridge 14.00
Macclesfield v Blaydon
Old Albanian v Plymouth Albion
II may be all over for the promotion place, but Week 19 has some intriguing fixtureswith all the top 7 sides facing potentially difficult games as 6six sides scrap for positions two to seven. The other end of the table sees a crucial game between two of the main three relegation candidates as Macclesfield meet Blaydon.
Second-placed Plymouth Albion will be looking to consolidate their position when they travel to Old Albanian, being only four points ahead of fifth-placed Blackheath. Old Albanian at home have been competitive and have the ability to score tries, but their defence is often lacking. The better all round game of Albion should see them through this one, but it could be close.
After a week off, Birmingham Moseley will be looking to regain second spot when they entertain third-placed Ampthill & District. With virtually identical records this makes a difficult game to predict, and if the visitors can nullify the home pack then Ampthill’s better backs might just sneak it, but at home Moseley will be slight favourites.
Blackheath, who dropped two places after their defeat at Coventry, are back at home to face a Hull Ionians side unable to play last week. A bit of a curate’s egg of a season so far for Ionians which has seen some close defeats with them languishing in the final relegation place. Some close games at home but less so away. Provided Blackheath decide to play this week they should complete a bonus point home victory.
An interesting match is in prospect in the north-east as Darlington Mowden Park have Rosslyn Park as their visitors. Both sides are on an unbeaten run with Rosslyn Park requiring a win to possibly take them above Coventry into sixth place, while DMP have recently moved sharply away from the danger zone and before a large home crowd might be slight favourites to win what is expected to be an abrasive contest.
Mid table sides Loughborough Students and Cambridge meet on campus with both having the ability to run from deep. The two have virtually equal defensive records, but the Students have a far better try scoring record so at home should be firm favourites for a bonus point win.
Two struggling sides, Esher and Fylde meet in Surrey, separated by just one place and three points in Fylde’s favour. Both are far too close to the relegation zone to feel safe and are urgently looking for a win with Esher only five points ahead of Hull Ionians. Although Fylde put up a brave fight against Hartpury College, their away form has been poorand if Esher can replicate their first half performance against Plymouth last week, they might just obtain a crucial home victory.
Bottom side Macclesfield entertain the side just one place and three points above them, namely Blaydon. Macclesfield somewhat controversially refused to play last week at Hull Ionians and with Blaydon also having a week off due to the weather, this is going to be a difficult game to predict. On their day Blaydon’s pack can be a match for anyone but their away form is poor. A low scoring and niggly game is on the cards which could go either way.