Head Coach, Mark Cornwell, and his Hartpury squad might be forgiven for wondering which Coventry team will turn up at the Alpas Arena this Friday evening.
Will it be the side that comfortably dispatched one of the pre-season favourites, Doncaster Knights, in their opening fixture? Or will it be the group who fell to defeat at Ampthill in Week 2, before grinding out a narrow win at home to Richmond last time out?
“They put Donny away quite easily in that first game and scored a lot of points against them,” said Cornwell.
“Then they go to Ampthill and produce an ill-disciplined performance which they lost without conceding a try – which is pretty unusual – and last week’s game was full of errors from both teams, although the conditions will have had a lot to do with that.”
“They’ll bring a style of play in which they are looking to assert themselves up front, with lots of physicality. They’ll come at us at the scrum and the drive and look to control the game from there.”
“When we played against them at home last season we were competitive for the first 40 minutes, but after that we dropped off the pace and they ran us ragged. Happily, we are a different side this year and much better equipped to face the challenge that they will bring.”
“We’ve got a lot more quality in our side and the job now, for us, is to get that consistency of performance.”
Never was that need more evident than in last Friday’s performance at Nottingham. The squad came into that game in good shape and good heart after the win over Pirates in Week 2. However, things unravelled pretty quickly before a stronger effort in the final 50 minutes of the match had the Red & Blacks close to taking more than a single bonus point.
“We lost a player to a yellow card after 15 seconds and that ultimately cost us the game,” said Cornwell. “That was massively disappointing, but it’s something that we need to put right this weekend.”
“In terms of positives, I was happy with the character that we showed. We were staring down the barrel at 22-0 and things could have got much worse. To give credit to Nottingham, they didn’t give us foothold early on and they played with a very high tempo to create their three tries.
“When you look at it from our point of view, we stopped them scoring anything from 30 minutes into the game and in the end we nearly – and probably should have – nicked the game.”
“But we can’t play rugby like we did in the opening half hour last week.”
In terms of selection for Friday, Cornwell has a number of players unavailable. Tight-head Shaun Knight and centre Jack Tovey have yet to be seen this season, although the latter is thought to be close. In addition, Oli Robinson, Xavier Hastings and Aled Ward have all taken knocks in the first few games and they have been joined on the side-lines by scrum-half JB Bruzulier, who tweaked his groin at Nottingham.
In the absence of a string of back row forwards, the arrival of the experienced Mitch Eadie, on loan from the Bristol Bears, could hardly have been better timed and he will be joined in the 23 by another import, Nahum Merigan, from Bath Rugby and a recent age group international.
After two very promising appearances off the bench, England U20 winger Deago Bailey makes his first start in Red & Black, as does Matty Jones – replacing Bruzulier – following an encouraging second half display at Nottingham. The remainder of the squad is largely unchanged, although it is good to see the return of George Simpson, as a replacement, for what would be his first outing of 21-22.