THE Coventry Rugby squad of 22 for tomorrow’s final home game of the National League One season against Darlington Mowden Park shows just one change.
Freddie Tuilagi (pictured) returns to the starting side at No.8 after missing the 73-8 win at Old Albanian two weeks ago, with Darrel Dyer moving across to blind side flanker, Brett Daynes going on to the bench and Sam Harry omitted.
Phil Boulton, who will captain the side, starts at tight head prop in rotation with Jake Byrne who moves to the bench.
Cov are hoping for a bumper crowd as they bring the curtain down on a home campaign which has seen just one defeat – by a late, late score against champions Hartpury – at Butts Park Arena, and director of rugby Rowland Winter has set his players a challenge to put down a marker for next season.
A record-breaking win at Old Albanian last time out has put Cov in sight of further club league records if they continue their strong finish to the season, which stands at six straight wins with two games to go.
But Winter is more concerned about performance than records which, he says, will come as a natural by-product if Cov continue in their current form.
“We need to focus on what this game brings and not think about records,” said Winter. “Darlington Mowden Park are a very physical, direct side and scored 66 points in their last game against a Fylde side we didn’t beat.
“They are very similar to Ampthill in the way they play and they’ve also got some dangerous wide players, so we will need to be disciplined and match their physicality.
“But we’re a settled group, we’re confident, and we need to back up that performance at Old Albanian.
“The next two games are an opportunity for the boys to perform well and see if they can get half a shirt on their back ahead of September, and put the onus on the new players to come in and take it off them.
“We’re looking to end the season on a high, to finish with eight wins would be something, and if doing that means we score more league tries, score the most home points and have the best home record of any Coventry side, that would be a good bonus.”
Fly-half Tony Fenner is fit again and back in full training following a groin injury which has kept him out since the end of February.
Kick-off is 3pm, and live post-match entertainment will be provided by top local band Big Wednesday.
COVENTRY: 15 Cliffie Hodgson, 14 Rob Knox, 13 Heath Stevens, 12 Tom Wheatcroft, 11 Max Trimble, 10 Will Maisey, 9 Pete White, 1 Jimmy Litchfield, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Phil Boulton (captain), 4 Tom Jubb, 5 Tom Poole, 6 Darrel Dyer, 7 Olly Povoas, 8 Freddie Tuilagi.
Replacements: 16 Jake Byrne, 17 Matt Price, 18 Brett Daynes, 19 Sam Grasso, 20 James Stokes.
Tom Little previews the rest of this weekend’s National League One programme
Ampthill & District v Cambridge
Blackheath v Plymouth Albion
Blaydon v Rosslyn Park kick off 14.30 pm
Coventry Rugby v Darlington Mowden Park
Esher v Birmingham Moseley
Fylde v Loughborough Students
Hartpury RFC v Macclesfield
Hull Ionians v Old Albanian
THE penultimate round of matches and tension continues for the three teams still fighting to avoid the second and final relegation place, especially as all three are at home.
Blaydon, in 15th, have Rosslyn Park as their visitors to the north east. Park somewhat surprisingly lost to Blaydon’s relegation rivals Hull Ionians a couple of weeks ago and can’t relish the long trip up north. Meanwhile, Blaydon gave themselves hope at the same time with an away win at Cambridge, and now back at home will have renewed confidence to cause another upset. Blaydon can raise their game to win and put more pressure on Ionians.
Still buoyed by their win at Rosslyn Park, Hull Ionians will be hoping that Blaydon slip up as they have to face an Old Albanian side who were on the end of a heavy defeat by Coventry last time out. At home, Ionians should be favourites with the incentive of needing the win to keep ahead of Blaydon.
Hoping that Blaydon and Ionians both come to grief will be 13th-placed Fylde as such losses will make them safe. However, if both sides below them win, then the pressure will mount on Fylde who will need a win to make sure of survival but entertain a Loughborough Students side capable of winning and scoring plenty of tries in the process. A nervous game is in prospect for the home side as they look for this crucial win, but at home they should be slight favourites.
Two sides who will be saying goodbye to division for next season, Hartpury RFC and Macclesfield meet in Gloucestershire. Bottom club Macclesfield have recently been putting up some brave fights, but surely there can be only one winner as Hartpury go for their 29th successive win.
Blackheath, in seventh spot, have recently fallen off the pace, possibly in limbo awaiting the arrival of James Shanahan, and are at home to second-placed Plymouth Albion. Already guaranteed the runner-up slot, Albion should be stronger, especially in their pack, to win this one.
Third-placed Ampthill & District, after losing narrowly at Albion two weeks ago, are at home to Cambridge. The away side have been scoring plenty of tries but defensive lapses have seen them slump to 12th place, and although safe they have been unable to turn tries into match wins. Ampthill have one of the strongest packs in the league and at home they should be too strong, a win for them confirming their third place.
Esher, back in 11th place, are at home to fourth-placed Birmingham Moseley. After a poor start to the season, the arrival of new recruits has coincided with an upturn in Esher’s form. Moseley, on the other hand, have recently had some poor games, not helped by a lengthy injury list, and will face a difficult challenge away from home. Moseley need the win to keep Coventry at bay as they are now only two points ahead, while a win for Esher could even take them into eighth place.