Macclesfield Blues travelled down to Old Albanians at the weekend buoyed by the narrow victory over Wharfedale. The team had hoped to come away with something, but alas it proved to be a step too far. Logically the task was always going to be tough when you consider that Albanians had won five of their last six matches and were on a good run of form. The enormity of the task was then further compounded by the atrocious conditions: the gusty wind and heavy rain put pay to any Macclesfield hopes of playing expansive rugby. Once the game got away from the Blues, it was simply a case of manning the trenches and doing their level best to ensure the score line didn’t become an embarrassment. So what did Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, make of it? Did the comprehensive defeat completely take the wind out of his sails, or is his confidence in the team’s ability as strong as ever? Well, you won’t be surprised to learn that he still remains confident that Macclesfield Blues will be plying their trade in National One next season. All that’s missing he believes is a little self-confidence and self-belief, and that will come after a win or two.
What would you say was the fundamental difference between the teams?
“I’d probably say it was confidence. Albanians obviously believed in themselves and their abilities. Macclesfield at the moment don’t appear to. It’s not as if we haven’t got the players. We’re as good as any team on our day, with the possible exception of Ealing and Esher. What we lack is self-belief. In the first 10 minutes or so – well actually for most of the first half really, we played well and more than held our own. Our scrum was good and our line out functioned well enough.”
“The problem is we can’t seem to turn our good approach play into scoring opportunities. I suppose you could say we’re lacking a cutting edge in a sense. I’ve mentioned this before on a number of occasions. We attack well, and often get within a sniff of the opposition’s line, only to turn the ball over. We don’t seem to be able to take our opportunities in the face of resolute defending.”
The score line at half time still offered some degree of hope: what changed during the second half? Why were Albanians able to run away with it?
“It’s probably down to a number of factors. Albanians stepped up a gear and really decided to take the game to us. The weather also took a turn for the worse, and heavy rain made playing a wide game all but impossible. I know it was the same for both teams, but we were also playing into a strong wind which made clearance kicking difficult. Then we had the matter of the sin-binnings. Martin Kent’s yellow card was unfortunate: he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens in rugby at scrum time, and it’s something you have to learn to cope with. Alan Marsh’s yellow card on the other hand seemed very harsh to me. It appeared very innocuous, and I’m not sure it merited a card.”
“The problem is you can’t play an in-form team for most of the second half with players missing. It just stacks the odds against you. In fairness to Albanians they were good value for their win. They were able to capitalise on our mistakes, whereas we just couldn’t manage to take our chances. But it’s history now, and we have to learn from that performance and try to put things right. Saturday’s game at Priory Park against Sedgley will be crucial now.”
So what are you expecting from Sedgley Park?
“Well, it will be a tough and tightly-contested match as ever. This is a real old relegation scrap, and has to be a must-win game for both teams. We’ll have home advantage which will help and a noisy and supportive crowd on our side, but it will still be an uphill battle. We have to address the issue of discipline and make sure we keep 15 men on the park if we want to compete. I don’t think we’ve got a problem, but we just need to be a little more thoughtful and careful with our actions. The last thing you want to do is give the officials an excuse to show a card.”
“We’re also hopeful that Tom Davenport will be back. That should add a bit of defensive stability and creativity to our midfield. We’re also hopeful that Dean Williams and Ryan Parkinson will be available soon too, and that has to be a good thing. All we need to do is keep our focus, concentrate and play to our abilities, and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to send the crowd home happy. It will be a fitting Christmas gift for our supporters who’ve not had a great deal to shout about so far this season.”