Following on from the tightly-contested victory over Wharfedale at the weekend, Macclesfield Blues could really have done with a good few days of hard training ahead of their visit to Old Albanian on Saturday. Unfortunately the weather isn’t playing ball. Outdoor team training had to be cancelled on Tuesday evening because the pitch at Priory Park was frozen solid. Still, when has a little thing like the weather ever stopped the Blues before? The team is determined to put in a performance at the weekend, so decided to take the training session indoors. That determination is one of the qualities that most impresses Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett. The team will fight for every point, as they showed at the weekend: the result may not always be the one they would’ve wanted, but what you can be sure of is that the boys leave everything out on the park. Win or lose, they give everything for the team. So, what did Geoff make of that narrow win over Wharfedale, and what is he expecting when the team turn up at Old Albanian on Saturday? Here are Geoff’s thoughts.
You must be delighted to have come out of such a tightly-fought game with 4 points?
“Absolutely. I was really pleased with the result. We stuck at it in spite of the referee’s best efforts. We spent almost half the match a man down after a series of cards were shown. Now obviously playing 30 minutes or so with only 7 forwards was a blow, but it’s a testament to the lads that they showed the character to overcome that. Now I’ve had a talk with the boys and stressed that they’ll have to be a bit more sensible in terms of discipline in future. 2 out of the 3 cards could’ve been avoided with a little more care and thought. But that shouldn’t take away from the result and the performance. It was a great effort and a real slugfest at times – perhaps that’s not the best or most accurate description, but certainly every player was called on to put their bodies on the line during the game.”
“At 13 – 5 at half time I thought we were nailed on for the win and looking comfortable, but Wharfedale came back with a couple of tries early on in the second half and put us under pressure. Still for the last 20 minutes I thought we seized the initiative again. Our scrummaging throughout the game had been strong, but the boys added extra intensity in the last 20 minutes and the pressure brought us a deserved penalty try. Hopefully we can feed off that performance over the coming weeks.”
What did you find most encouraging about the Wharfedale performance?
“There was a lot of good lead-up play, and we were desperately unlucky to be held up short on a number of occasions. The running of Elliot Brierley and Matt O’Reagan has been a revelation. Elliot has really found himself and hit a sparkling run of form. The forwards are coming together well. Mike Finnemore had his first game back after 7 or 8 weeks out with a knee ligament injury and performed really well. He gave our back row a little more enthusiasm and punch. Unfortunately as seems to be the way this season, we then lost Joe Clowes with a knee injury which will keep him out for 6 weeks or so. So 1 in and 1 out again!”
“It was also great to have Billy Robinson back again, and it was important because he’s played a major part in the revitalisation of the scrum. Equally adding Tom Mantell into the second row on the tight head side behind Billy has made a big difference. Peter Hardwick had a fantastic game: it was his first game of the season and as ever he gave his all and worked his socks off. He caught, tackled and did everything that was asked of him.”
What are you expecting when you play Old Albanian at the weekend? Do you think the Blues can get a result?
“I think Albanians are the sort of side we might be able to upset. James Shanahan, a former Cambridge centre and now head coach at Old Albanians, is big on throwing the ball about and getting it wide whenever possible. The wide game they play is certainly impressive, but they can and do make errors when under pressure. If you can deny them the ball, they start to do things that are probably inappropriate: by that I mean they have a tendency to push on and try to force play when the option isn’t necessarily on. I think they are a team that our forwards can get amongst. Our pack is performing particularly well at the moment, especially in the scrum, and if we can starve them of possession and play in the right parts of the field I think we have a reasonable chance of coming away with the points.”
It would be nice to go into the Christmas period with another win, especially in the knowledge that come the New Year some of the Blues injured stalwarts will be fit again. What’s the news on injuries?
“Hopefully by the time the Christmas break is over several players like Dean Williams and Chris Jones will be back with us. You can’t overestimate how important significant players of that type of quality are to the team effort. Ryan Parkinson is also making good progress too. Having Dean and Chris back will put a very big tick in the box for the team, and we look forward to welcoming them back.”