SKIPPER Heath Stevens believes Coventry Rugby have shown they can mix it with the Championship big boys after being edged out 21-17 by visiting London Irish.
In front of a packed and vocal Butts Park Arena, Rowland Winter’s team led an absorbing battle for periods of both halves.
When replacement hooker Scott Tolmie added to Sam Tuitupou’s first half effort 15 minutes from time, a famous home win seemed a distinct possibility.
However, Irish kept their cool as former Wasp Brendan Macken supplemented Dave Porecki’s earlier touchdown after which Stephen Myler’s late penalty gave the visitors just enough breathing space to edge the verdict.
“The main positive for us is that we showed a lot of heart and determination,” said Stevens.
“We’ve shown we can compete with these top teams, and not just that, but also that teams have to compete with us.
“I thought we took it to Irish pretty well today and were unlucky not to come away with a win.”
Ofisa Treviranus made early headway for Irish, only for some determined defence under the home posts to turn possession over.
Coventry then took play into the Exiles half, where strong carries from both centres and Jack Ram eventually led to a penalty which Jake Sharp converted into three points.
Irish hit back through their forwards who sent hooker Porecki powering over from a set move at a five-metre attacking line-out.
Myler converted the extras.
James Voss and Ram then both made powerful bursts through midfield, after which the blue-and-whites took the lead as Tuitupou twisted out of a tackle and raced over from 30 metres following a line-out.
Sharp’s conversion gave the hosts a narrow advantage which they kept intact until the break.
Soon after the restart Myler brought the match level with a penalty.
A repeat performance from the Exiles pack and Myler’s right boot then edged them back in front.
The hosts thought they had sent David Halaifonua on his way to the line only for the former Gloucester flyer to be recalled for an earlier forward pass.
But as they shifted the territorial balance from their own half into away territory at the start of the final quarter, the home side did soon claim a second try through Scott Tolmie.
The replacement hooker was driven over by his pack after Sharp declined a kick at goal in favour of a five-metre attacking line-out.
The home No.10’s excellent conversion gave the hosts a four-point advantage going into the closing stages, but the concession of a penalty on halfway proved crucial.
Irish proceeded to pin Cov in their own 22 from where a well-executed backs move sent Macken sprinting over on a slicing diagonal run.
Myler’s missed conversion left the visitors with the slenderest of leads.
However, when his pack claimed a line-out he made no mistake with the resulting simple penalty to complete the scoring.
Coventry travel to Richmond on Saturday.