They say that the fulcrum of any good rugby team is the half backs, or the 9/10 axis. What happens there determines how successful a team will become. If the half backs can control the game, then they’ll be able to open up defences, put players in space and pick teams off. We doubt whether you’d ever get a forward to agree with that, mind you. Forwards win matches, so they tell us: backs just decide by how many points. Well, whatever your opinion, the one thing that everybody must agree on is that if your team doesn’t have a top scrum half, then you’ll struggle to make an impact whatever league you play in. Macclesfield Rugby Club is fortunate to have one of the brightest and most dynamic scrum halves in National One league. Charlie Mulchrone, brother of Fergus, is that player. He’s mustard around the fringes, dominant behind a good pack, and he’s not bad at scoring tries either. How the Blues missed him when he was injured. Well, he’s back and firing on all cylinders again and the home fans must surely be thankful. 8 wins out 10 isn’t a bad return, is it? We managed to catch up with Charlie this week, as he kindly spared us a few minutes out of his busy schedule. Here he speaks to Macclesfield Rugby about the season so far, the expectations for the rest of the year and what it’s like to finally play along your brother.
We’re used to getting other people’s views about you and your playing style, but how do you see yourself? What sort of scrum half are you?
“I tend to sit behind the pack and let them do their stuff. Our pack at Macclesfield is set up for that really. I tend to just hold back and leave it up to them, but keep my eyes open for opportunities and options. Having said that, if I spot a gap and we’re not making progress, then I’ll go for it. That’s not to say I don’t want to get involved, or shy away from confrontation. I mean I’ve come out of last week’s match against Tynedale with a cauliflower ear, which, believe me is quite rare for a scrum half. So, whilst I like getting involved and amongst it, I don’t really need to go looking for opportunities generally with a pack like we’ve got. They set up the platform, and I just tell them where to go.”
How difficult was it to sit and watch the team hit that bad patch when you were injured?
“It was awful. I just hate being on the sidelines. I mean I’ve never been very good with injuries, and I found that whilst I wasn’t playing I was just getting heavily involved in the game and shouting a lot. If I’m honest, I don’t like watching rugby at all. But you get injuries every now and then and have to accept it because it’s part and parcel of the game. All you can do is take advice, look after yourself, and get back as soon as you can without rushing it.”
“Fortunately we’ve got a great physio here at Macc who looks after us really well. Mind you, I’m still not very good when I’m sidelined and I just get really frustrated. The good thing is that no-one will ever push you to get back playing, even if other things aren’t going to plan. They’ll wait to see what you say, and it’s only when you tell them you’re ready that they’ll let you get on again.”
How badly did those 5 consecutive defeats affect team morale?
“After we had that bad run of results we changed the way we approach matches. Now we just deal with them one game at a time. Now ideally we want to be in third place, and we’ll work out what we have to do with each game to achieve that. So, we’ll play on a Saturday and analyse how well we did on a Tuesday: then we’ll plan for the next game later on a Thursday. Our coach Andy Northey always says with each game that we should approach it thinking right this is another opportunity to get 5 points, let’s take it. I know we had that blip in the middle of the year with 5 back-to-back losses, but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing when you think about it. It got everyone’s back up, and maybe made us re-focus on what we needed to do in the future. Anyway, we’re on a bit of a roll now, in spite of the loss up at Tynedale, and we’d like to push on from here.”
Do you agree with Geoff’s sentiment that the next 5 games are a testament to how far you’ve come as a team this year?
“Yes, I do. The next 5 games are against teams we’ve already lost to this season. What we don’t want is to lose to them again – Coventry, Solihull, Flyde, Jersey and Rosslyn Park. We don’t want to lose any more games, especially not against them. It’s only ever happened to us twice before last season and once this one, and frankly we don’t like it. Like Geoff says, he’s targeting these next 5 games as a benchmark for the rest of the season. All games are important, but these 5 are crucial and will determine where we finish up at the end of the year.”
Is it strange playing alongside your brother after all this time?
“Well, yes: people think that, as brothers, we must have played with each other before, but the first time we did play was last summer for the England Counties. So yes, playing with him week in, week out is good. Of course we have our differences of opinion, like with other players, but I suppose you tend to get a few more with brothers. Having said that, when we’re playing together I don’t think about him as my brother: he’s just another player.”
What do you hope to achieve over the course of the next 3 months?
“Our aim for the rest of the season is to have an influence on what happens at the top of the league and to be involved right up to the end. Ideally we’d like to win it, but realistically top place is probably just out of our reach now. Then again you never know: teams can go on horrible runs and lose 4 or 5 games on the bounce like we did, then everything changes. We haven’t really set ourselves a target as such: all we can do is like Northey says win every game as they come along and try to get 5 points if possible. The rest will sort itself out in May.”