Hands up if you think pre-season friendly games are meaningless? A lot of people do, but in the opinion of head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, such people are misguided and are totally missing the point. Pre-season friendlies are vital preparation for a competitive and arduous league campaign. They show you how well the team is playing, they highlight the areas where extra work is needed and they tell you what you need to know about your strength in depth. There’s no point only finding out this crucial information once the league campaign is up and running. So what are Geoff and Andy Northey hoping to learn from the upcoming friendlies? Plenty- actually. Here’s what Geoff had to say to Macclesfield Rugby this week.
People are dismissive of pre-season friendlies: do you share this view, or do you think they’re invaluable?
“I think they’re invaluable. What we want to gain is insight: insight into the team’s strength and depth and an insight into how players are adapting to systems that they might not have experienced before. Andy and I both think it’s important for the squad to get some quality game time. You want to be playing these types of matches so that the players get the opportunity to get their bodies hardened in preparation for the league. The best way of doing that as far as we’re concerned is by playing competitively.”
“We may be building up our training regime and slowly but surely making it more competitive and physical, but no matter how much preparation you might put in or how much you might choose to focus on contact, at the end of the day you still can’t beat a real game. It shows you how far the squad has come and what needs to be done in preparation for the big test that will come when we take on Darlington Mowden Park on 7 September.”
“The pre-season games will offer various levels of challenge. Wilmslow, I suppose, might numerically be the lowest league placed side, but they will still want to make it as competitive as they possibly can. Games like that give the coaches the chance to take an objective look at all the squad members. Every member of the squad will be given opportunities during the warm up games, and this will give us the chance to assess where they’re at and what they’re capable of. That’s vitally important when it comes to assessing the new players, because you don’t always get the full picture during training sessions. In my time I’ve lost count of the number of players I’ve come across who train like Tarzan, but play more like Jane when they’re put in a competitive environment. Game time sorts the men out from the boys.”
“These games also give Andy and me the opportunity to try players out in various positions. We need to know before we start the season who is capable of stepping in if say Tom Eaton got injured. You’ll need to know who can step up and play fly half, or who can fill in at full back should our regular full back be unavailable for one reason or another. These games give us the perfect opportunity to assess our strength in depth before the season starts.”
Rotherham and Loughborough will make life hard for the Blues, what’s the thinking behind these games?
“The games with Loughborough and Rotherham may well be our toughest fixtures, but they’ll also give us the best indication of where we’re at. Playing a Championship and National 1 side will give us the chance of seeing how well our defence can stand up to pressure. Top quality sides will take the game to you and will attack and put you under pressure. As far as I’m concerned there’s no point only playing opposition you can wipe the floor with, then going out to play your first league fixture ill-prepared. What you want to establish is whether the team can defend and cope with the inevitable pressure they’ll find themselves under throughout the season. It’s all about getting balance in preseason games. We’ll face tough opposition as well as lesser opposition with a point to prove, and we’ll also get the opportunity to play an away game. So all in all we should be in the best possible shape once the season commences.”