Rugby Union: Coventry comeback outflanked

Rotherham 20 Coventry 13
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The Independent Online
COVENTRY AND Rotherham might well have their foundations in comparable manufacturing towns, but the similarity ends there. While Coventry had spent the first century of their rugby existence lauding it with the elite of the English game, and could turn out sides stuffed with internationals, Rotherham are the product of an altogether different age.

As Coventry began their downhill spiral which led to the Third Division, before receivership threatened to pull down the whole edifice at Coundon Road, Rotherham, who a decade ago were in North Two and content to win the South Yorkshire Cup, are among the highest achievers in the new-style game. Only last May, Rotherham were just a kick away from promotion to Allied Dunbar One.

Having got that far, the point now is whether Rotherham are sufficiently motivated, and have the personnel, to be able to take that final step. It is a question that Coventry have been asking themselves ever since Derek Eves arrived from Bristol in 1995. Eves' ebullience helped them into the Second Division, and it seemed almost axiomatic that a second promotion would follow. But it all went sour, even though Coventry made the play-offs two seasons ago, and Eves was sacked last February.

Now there is a new mood at Coventry. One former international from their glory days, Keith Fairbrother, has masterminded a financial rescue and brought in some fresh faces, including director of rugby Keith Richardson, who was tutored in the Gloucester school of forward pragmatism. It is too early to tell if Coventry are on the threshold of regaining their earlier eminence, but the signs are encouraging, despite Saturday's defeat.

Conceding three tries to one spoiled Coventry's bright start to the first full campaign under Richardson and new captain, Chris Tarbuck. And both will be mindful that, if Coventry had showed more consistency, especially in attack, they could have ended Rotherham's unbeaten Premiership Two record at Clifton Lane, which stretches back 18 months.

Where Coventry were consistent was in the amount of ball they turned over; often at times when the Rotherham defence was stretched to the limit. "We could have won, but didn't deserve to," said Richardson. "We gave away too much possession. I'm not a fortune teller, and I can't say where we will finish up at the end of the season. But I can assure you that we will improve considerably on today's performance."

It might not take much. A few more doses of hard-nosed Richardson realism and Coventry could be on the up again. They led 6-3 at the break and from the restart Coventry were soon on the attack, and just as soon turned over. Alan Buzza ran out of defence, cross kicked, the bounce deceived all Coventry, and Phil Greaves scored by the posts. If that try had an element of good fortune about it, Ben Wade's six minutes later did not.

Matt Gallagher's try and Steve Gough's conversion brought it to 15-13. But when Coventry withdrew both flankers from a scrum on their own line, Rotherham drove over for Howard Parr to claim the touchdown. Richardson was not best pleased at that piece of largesse.

Rotherham; Tries Greaves, Wade, Parr; Conversion Binns; Penalty Binns. Coventry; Try Gallagher; Conversion Gough; Penalties Gough 2.

Rotherham: P Greaves; D Lax, C Hassan, J Shepherd, A Buzza (M Dawson, 51); S Binns, D Scully (capt); S Bunting (J Thorp, 77), T Garnett, S Turner (R Hanson, 77), J Dudley (D Cook, 64), G Kenworthy, B Wade, N Spence, H Parr (P Manley, 77).

Coventry: S Gough; K Johnson, N Osman, M Davies (M Curtis, 62), A Smallwood; M Gallagher, N Cane (T Dawson, 60); J Broady, D Addleton, T Revan, G Delaney, N Watkins, J Horrobin, A Dawling (L Crofts, 52), C Tarbuck (capt).

Referee: C Rees (Twickenham).