INJURIES have forced Coventry Rugby into two changes for tomorrow’s trip to Esher where they bid to extend their winning start in National League One to five games.
Centre Sam Tuitupou picked up a calf injury in last week’s win over Blackheath, ruling him out for a week, while prop Andy Brown will be missing for three to four weeks after surgery to correct a hand problem.
Alex Grove moves inside to centre for Tuitupou with Tom Emery, on loan from Northampton Academy, coming onto the wing for his first appearance in the squad, while Army loose head Nathanael Titchard-jones (pictured) also makes his bow on the bench in place of Brown.
Further changes on the bench see hooker Matt Price come in for Scott Tolmie and a delayed first outing for Anthony Matoto following a visa issue, replacing Ben Palmer.
“Sam should be available next week, and Andy’s finger injury is nothing too serious – he’s been playing with it, but it needed to be looked at now for the future,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter.
“Tom gives us cover across our back three which we feel we needed and is with us on a week-by-week basis, while Nathanael has been very impressive in training and but for an Army game two weeks ago his debut would have come a little bit earlier. He’s very mobile and a tough character.
“Matt’s been playing well in the Zoo Shield side and has worked hard for an opportunity – we feel we need plenty of experience for this game, he knows how hard it will be down there and he’s an important part of the squad.
“This is probably our biggest game so far given that we didn’t perform there last year and were well beaten.
“Esher lost heavily last week, so they won’t want to repeat that and their home form so far has been really strong. They retained the majority of last season’s squad and have added a bit of quality to what they had.
“It’s another challenge we’re looking forward to. It’s important for us to put in a good performance and get the right result – we need to learn from our last trip away from home two weeks ago when we weren’t good enough in any area, but there’s a lot been said and worked on since then.”
Brett Daynes captains Coventry’s Development side, which includes Tolmie and Palmer, away at Esher Cardinals in a Zoo Sports Shield game (kick-off 2.30pm).
Cov take a largely unchanged match squad from last week’s emphatic win over Blackheath. “It’s nice to have a settled group – they’ll start to get consistency in their performance which can only be good for them.
“The more time they play together the better they’ll get.
“We’re seeing that already in players like Luc Jeannot and Joe Lane. Luc is an absolute powerhouse of a prop and as long as he continues to learn from the senior players we will have a real talent on our hands.
“It’s the same with Joe, he’s a confident player who makes lovely outside breaks. He’s kept his head down and worked very hard at training to pick up as much as he can.
“They have similar attitudes to everything, and if they continue like this their opportunities will come.”
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Tom Emery, 13 Alex Grove, 12 Heath Stevens, 11 Rob Knox, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Pete White, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Phil Nilsen, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Nile Dacres, 5 George Oram, 6 Latu Makaafi, 7 Jack Preece, 8 Luke Narraway.
Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Nathanael Titchard-jones, 18 Olly Povoas, 19 Dave Brazier, 20 Anthony Matoto.
COVENTRY DEVELOPMENT: 15 Max Titchener, 14 James Neal, 13 Joe Lane, 12 Isaac McNulty, 11 Kwaku Asiedu, 10 Ben Palmer, 9 Connor Adams, 1 Harry Morley, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Luc Jeannot, 4 Mike Ryan, 5 Cameron Gray, 6 Tom Price, 7 Sam McNulty, 8 Brett Daynes (captain).
Replacements: 16 Tarik Tin, 17 Willie Priestley, 18 Fred Clark, 19 Kailus Hutchinson, 20 Myles Hibbs, 21 Louis Roach, 22 Sam Payne.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Bishop’s Stortford v Ampthill & District
Blackheath v Hull Ionians
Cambridge v Old Elthamians
Darlington Mowden Park v Caldy 2pm kick off
Esher v Coventry Rugby
Fylde v Rosslyn Park
Loughborough Students v Plymouth Albion
Old Albanian v Birmingham Moseley
Week 5 offers the distinct possibility of only 50% home victories to continue an unprecedented sequence. Leaders Darlington Mowden Park entertain another northern side, Caldy, who after their surprise home loss to Cambridge are back in seventh spot, and have a slightly easier task than second-placed Coventry who are away to Esher. However Caldy have an accomplished pack and could give DMP a close contest. It may come down to a competition between the backs and at home DMP should be favourites to keep ahead of Coventry.
Plymouth Albion, despite one loss, are well within sight of the two leaders and are away to Loughborough Students who are still with only one win. It should be another try bonus point win for Albion as the Students are still awaiting more Leicester Academy replacements.
Two sides in the top six, Bishop’s Stortford and Ampthill & District meet with the former now up to fourth place having only suffered one loss. Ampthill had a resounding win over Esher and will look to carry this form on with their impressive defence and a cutting edge in attack which suggests a tight game. At home, however, Bishops Stortford will be confident of a win.
Blackheath have an early chance to get over their defeat at Coventry with a home tie against struggling Hull Ionians, who are still looking for their first win. The home side have too much power and experience to let this one slip, while another defeat for Ionians, even at this early stage of the season, will confirm that they are favourites for relegation.
Two mid-table sides, Cambridge and Old Elthamians meet in the Fens, both buoyed by wins last week. Cambridge travelled to Caldy and surprised the league newcomers with a win thanks to two late tries, whilst OE had the slightly easier task in beating the Students. A high scoring game is in prospect between two adventurous sides capable of scoring tries. It could go either way, but an away win might be on the cards.
Fylde, still winless and without a match point, are back at home to face a Rosslyn Park side who themselves have struggled with only one win. Park have a far more experienced side than the home one and at some stage in this season must live up to being one of the pre-season fancied sides. Fylde at home always have a chance, but this is a game that Park will not let slip.
Old Albanian, at home to Birmingham Moseley, obtained their first win of the season at Hull Ionians, largely thanks to an influx of new players and increasing confidence over their last three performances. Moseley have struggled to cope with the loss of so many experienced players and while it could be a close game, the home side will be confident of taking the spoils.