National One: Coventry 24 Exeter 21
Ahead of their Boxing Day clash, Pertemps Bees coach Steve Williams would have been an interested observer as Coventry battled hard to claim a deserved win over Exeter.
Despite the recent off field problems — coach Mike Umaga's resignation, fitness coach Darren Grewcock's initial suspension and eventual dismissal on Friday — this Coventry side showed an iron determination to claim the victory, epitomised by a final ten minutes of backs-to-the-wall tackling and scrambling cover.
Time and time again Exeter tried to cross the Cov line, each attempt failing. Exeter were also, at times, their own worst enemies. Twice Cov were helped in the final two minutes as unreleased balls in the tackle gave them vital breathing space, bringing loud and relieved cheers from a nervy home crowd.
Captain for the day Ben Russell had one of his better days, claiming 19 points with a try, four penalties and a conversion and led by example throughout.
After falling behind to a third-minute Tony Yapp penalty, Cov roared back in tremendous style. Russell's 12th-minute penalty levelled matters before Cov scored 18 unanswered points in a 13-minute spell from the 22nd minute.
Russell's penalty was improved as Russell finished off an excellent backs crafted try on 27 minutes, Centre Kieran Geraghty's burst from the Exeter ten-metre line to the 22, Geraghty slipping the ball outside to Aaron Takarangi, the wing passing back inside to supporting full-back Russell to claim the unconverted try.
George Dixon squeezed over three minutes later and Russell's conversion was supplemented by another penalty five minutes from the break.
If Cov thought they were home and hosed those thoughts were soon proved ill-advised. Exeter hooker Simon Jenkins scored from close range pressure on 39 and 47 minutes, Yapp converting the latter and added penalties on 63 and 67 to pull Exeter within a score of Cov.
Try as they did, that was as good as it got for the Devonians.
Acting coach Dave Addleton — reluctant to throw his hat into the ring to replace the departed Umaga — was pleased with the win: "It was a good win and we held out at the end, they came back at us well and we knew that they would.
"We had a good first half, but again, a missed touch led to their try. Mostly we stopped the mistakes that happened last week (at Rotherham) and the lads are well pleased. We knew it was going to be hard and it was.
"There was a lot of pride in the performance. We scored well worked tries and the backs played a part in it as well. After having a drubbing last week at Rotherham, we came back and that's five wins on the bounce at home as well."
Even the appearance of the Butts Park Arena's first ever streaker early in the second half failed to dent the concentration of a determined and disciplined Coventry side.
COVENTRY: Russell (capt ), Dixon, Geraghty, Sanders (Binham, 80), Tearing, Dorrian, James, Treston, Friswell (Protherough, 64), Brits (Rimmer, 68), Tonkin, Nimmo, Johnson , T O'Connor, Rheeders (Venter, 68). Replacements: Toft, K Johnson, Montague.
EXETER: Breeze, Luff, Fatialofa, Fisher, Kingdom, Yapp, Barrett, Parkes, Jenkins (Blythe, 60) Horn-Smith, Brown, Hanks (Hodge, 60) Walker, Miller (Willis, 60) Baxter (capt). Replacements: Liddington, Bolt, Staniforth, Bedford.
Referee: Nick Williams (RFU)