COVENTRY’s record league points scorer, Cliffie Hodgson makes his first appearance of the season in the 20-man squad for Saturday’s trip to Esher.
Hodgson, who underwent a shoulder operation in the close season, is named on the bench as Cov make five changes and two positional switches from the side that started last week’s game against Hartpury College
Tom Wheatcoft, concussed in the opening game of the season against Loughborough Students, makes his return at centre with Tony Fenner moving to fly-half at the expense of Will Maisey, who goes on to the bench.
Alongside Wheatcroft is Rob Knox, who replaced Callum MacBurnie off the bench last week.
In the pack, Jimmy Litchfield is recalled at tight head in place of Phil Boulton, line-out coach Brendon Snyman replaces Tom Poole in the second row, and Ali Bone returns at No.8 with Eoghan Grace reverting to open side for Sam Harry.
“Cliffie has been training hard with the squad for two to three weeks now and deserves his opportunity this weekend,” said director of rugby, Rowland Winter.
“He adds to the team on and off the pitch, and looks a different player to the one I saw last season. His natural game fits how we want to play, and he offers lots of experience to the squad so I am delighted he is back available and we will use him in midfield or at full-back this weekend.
“It’s great to be able to welcome back Jimmy Litchfield, Brendon Snyman, Ali Bone and Tom Wheatcroft to the side, and it’s important that we have options on the bench to use, the rotational subs is such a weapon if used correctly and last week I was pleased with the impact that our substitutes had.”
Esher have made a slow start to the season and slipped into the bottom three after last weekend, but Winter is not underestimating the size of the task facing Cov – who are looking for their first away win – in a fixture in which they were heavily beaten last season.
“Esher will be another tough challenge,” he said. “We will have to be at our best to beat them, and we will need to repeat the good parts of our game that we have shown this season to create a strong performance.
“I’ve been impressed with how the team has trained over the last fortnight with our build to Hartpury and now Esher. We have worked hard to get our preparation right for this weekend’s game and with our squad nearing full fitness, we now have pressure and competition in every area for selection.
“It’s not always purely about selecting based on performance. In some cases we look to rest and rotate players who haven’t had a break or an opportunity yet, to make use of squad depth.
“In other areas we can change our tactical approach to the game as we have lots of balance and flexibility with the options available.
“On the injury front, we expect James Pritchard (groin), Pete White (hip), Sam Grasso (knee) and Olly Povoas (knee) to all be back in action and available for selection before the middle of October, which is great news.”
COVENTRY: 15 James Stokes, 14 Cory Hircock, 13 Rob Knox, 12 Tom Wheatcroft, 11 Dan Rundle, 10 Tony Fenner, 9 Rhodri Adamson, 1 Andy Brown, 2 Scott Tolmie, 3 Jimmy Litchfied, 4 Tom Jubb, 5 Brendon Snyman, 6 Brett Daynes, 7 Eoghan Grace, 8 Ali Bone. Replacements: 16 Matt Price, 17 Boris Stankovich, 18 Darrell Dyer, 19 Will Maisey, 20 Cliffie Hodgson. Travelling reserves: 21 Phil Boulton, 22 Alex Smit.
Tom Little previews the rest of the National League One action
Birmingham Moseley v Cambridge
Blackheath v Blaydon
Darlington Mowden Park v Old Albanian
Esher v Coventry Rugby
Fylde v Plymouth Albion
Hartpury College v Hull Ionians 14.30
Loughborough Students v Rosslyn Park 14.00
Macclesfield v Ampthill & District
Week six sees the only remaining winless side, Blaydon facing a difficult trip to Blackheath, whilst the only unbeaten side, Hartpury College have the decidedly easier fixture at home against Hull Ionians.
Leaders Hartpury still have a 100% record despite a scare last week at Coventry, and should be far too powerful in all aspects of their game to be worried too much by their visitors Hull Ionians, who have found it difficult to close out games from a winning position. Not a foregone conclusion but Hartpury should ease to a comfortable victory.
Despite losing for the first time last week, Birmingham Moseley now back at home should find Cambridge slightly easier fare than Ampthill. Moseley appear to have the edge in their pack and if they can restrict Cambridge possession, they should be able to earn a bonus point victory.
Fylde, buoyed by their first win of the season, may well be brought down to earth by a visiting Plymouth Albion side now finding some form and up to third place, equal on points with Moseley. Albion look to have the better pack and if they can keep the ball from the Fylde backs, they should be able to earn a narrow victory.
Ampthill & District, buoyed by taking Moseley’s unbeaten record off them, face a trip to a Macclesfield side who let a large lead against Blaydon slip away. The home side found the Blaydon pack a handful and in Ampthill they face an equal or even more formidable eight. It could be a large win for the visitors.
On the face of it, Blackheath against Blaydon should be a foregone conclusion, but Blaydon’s pack got their act together last Saturday and could be a match for the home side in that area. However, Blackheath are on a winning run and their better backs should give them the edge.
Darlington Mowden Park and their opponents Old Albanian both suffered heavy defeats last week and need to bounce back. Both are equal on 15 points, but DMP had started to look impressive, especially in their backs, and have an attacking approach. At home they should have a slight edge over Old Albanian, but it may be a high scoring encounter.
Rosslyn Park, after their morale-boosting first win of the season over DMP last week, travel to face a Loughborough Students side capable of scoring plenty of tries and being competitive. A game which could go either way, but Park and their better pack should be able to win this one as they look to mount a charge up the league.