CORNISH Pirates know they are in for a tough challenge when they visit Championship leaders for a Round 11 fixture tomorrow (3pm).
Coventry have presently acquired 32 league points from nine games played, Ealing Trailfinders are second with 31 after seven, and the Pirates are third with 30 from eight.
For the Pirates, following their 41-17 victory at home to Nottingham last Saturday – their third league win in succession – this weekend’s contest will mark the first of three challenging away matches on the trot, because it is followed by Bedford Blues on Saturday week (4pm) and then a rescheduled fixture against Ealing Trailfinders on Saturday, February 10 (3pm).
The Pirates make one change in the backs from the team that ran out against Nottingham, with centre Joe Jenkins, who has arrived in Cornwall on short term loan from Bristol Bears, selected at outside centre.
In the forwards, Matt Johnson gets a starting role at tight-head prop, whilst there is a reshuffle involving certain other personnel.
Fit-again Will Gibson returns at open-side flanker in place of skipper John Stevens, who will move to number 8 in place of Hugh Bokenham, who in turn steps forward a row to partner Steele Barker in the engine room.
On the bench, Cory Teague will be keen to make his first competitive match start for the season, plus there is a welcome return to fitness for Josh King.
Pirates’ joint head coach Gavin Cattle said: "Look, if you want to be in the hunt at the top then the likes of Coventry away, along with Bedford and Ealing, are the teams you need to aspire to beat.
“Coventry will naturally be delighted to presently hold top spot and we know it is going to be a big challenge on their fast pitch against such a good team.
“Once again we will need to incorporate the required emotion and energy into our game, plus it’s about how we control their tempo and, naturally being a collision sport, we also need to be on the right side of that.”
Coventry head coach Alex Rae has opted for experience, making two changes, with No 8 Senitiki Nayalo and scrum-half Will Chudley restored to the starting line-up.
Fijian powerhouse Nayalo reclaims the no.8 shirt from Jack Bartlett – who moves to the bench - after missing Cov’s fourth successive bonus point win seven days earlier due to his British Army commitments.
And 2022/23 supporters’ club player-of-the-season Chudley, who left his seat among the replacements to join the action at the Richmond Athletic Ground at half-time, makes his 13th start of the season.
The former Exeter number nine is again partnered with Tongan international fly half Pat Pellegrini who needs three points to become the first blue-and-white to pass 100 for the season.
Ryan Hutler has recovered from the knock that saw him limp off in the closing stages of Cov’s win over the Exiles to take his place on the right wing from where he has already this term registered 13 tries in as many starts.
James Tyas makes his landmark 50th Coventry appearance from the second row against a club with whom he spent a season on loan from Bath’s academy over a decade ago.
Cov are again skippered by in-form hooker Jordon Poole for whom fit-again Will Biggs provides bench cover while replacement props Eliot Salt and Elliot Chilvers will hope to reprise the big impact made in the closing stages last week.
Rae said: “I hear that ticket sales are going really well and we could have close to 4,000 here again.
“That’s really exciting for the lads – it makes such a difference to have that level of support and a buzz around the place. We’ll be doing our best to give them a performance they can be proud of.
“I know teams below us have games in hand but top spot is where you’re striving to be. We might be there for a week or for a month but regardless it sets the tone and shows what is possible through hard work.
“Teams are well aware of how well we’ve done at home and how difficult it is to come to the Butts Park Arena and win. Pirates have three tough away games coming up on the bounce and they will be looking to get the ball rolling for their visits to Ealing and Bedford when they come here tomorrow.
“It should be a great advertisement for Championship rugby.”
Coventry: Wilson; Hutler, Wand, Rigg, Martin; Pellegrini, Chudley; Nairau, Poole, Nicol; Tyas, Nkwocha; Ball, Kvesic, Nayalo. Replacements: Biggs, Chilvers, Salt, Anstey, Ryan, Lane, Titherington, Bartlett.
Cornish Pirates: Will Trewin, Robin Wedlake, Joe Jenkins, Joe Elderkin, Matt McNab, Bruce Houston, Alex Schwarz, Lefty Zigiriadis, Morgan Nelson, Matt Johnson, Hugh Bokenham, Steele Barker, Alex Everett, Will Gibson, John Stevens (captain). Replacements: Rhys Williams, Jacob Morris, Fin Richardson, Cory Teague, Josh King, Ruaridh Dawson, Tom Pittman, Frankie Nowell.