Having set the bar so high last year, and ended the first season in National league One in third place, Macclesfield Blues were always likely to be on a hiding to nothing this season. Anything less than another third place finish and the critics would be quick to point the finger of blame. The question that really was never asked was whether last season’s top three finish was an accurate reflection of the ability of Macclesfield Rugby Club. Maybe it was more a reflection of being an unknown quantity in a new league and simply being able to punch above their weight. Whatever your views on last season, Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, is not a great believer in living in the past. Sport, he would argue isn’t about previous results, but future promise. What matters is the next game and always striving to improve. Obviously it would have been nice to finish third again this season, but it was not meant to be. Clubs with bigger squads and bigger budgets dominated this season’s competition. Was Geoff disappointed overall? Well, yes and no. Here in the first part of the season’s review, Geoff talks to Macclesfield Rugby about competitiveness, pragmatism and pride.
Macclesfield won 15 games this season, drew 1 and lost 13, are you happy with that level of performance?
“I think we did fairly well over all. I know I’ve said it before, but it is a very competitive league. Consequently to end a campaign on the right side of wins against losses is pretty good in my opinion. We obviously set the bar high last year and probably over-performed, with a consequence that everybody expected us to do just as well this year, if not better. Now we might not have performed quite as consistently as last season, but if you ask me a lot of that is down to the fact that the league this year has been much stronger. I stand a good chance of mixing this review with next season’s preview, so I’ll choose my words carefully: I think next season’s league is going to be even stronger and present a greater challenge.”
So, what made the league tougher this year then?
“Well, just look at the sides that came up this year: Ealing, Fylde and Jersey – all exceptional sides and all with substantial resources behind them. It was obvious from the outset that they would put the cat among the pigeons. That was always going to make Macclesfield’s task more difficult. Still, all in all, whilst we may have had individual disappointments, we have to be satisfied with what we achieved. Yes we tried to be ultra-competitive all the time which occasionally backfired and made the margin of loss appear greater than it actually was. But that’s in the nature of the team.”
“They go after results every game; it worked in our favour more than it worked against us this year, so we can’t really complain. Maybe had we played more pragmatically in some games, we might have sneaked another win or two. But you can never predict that, and it’s in the past now anyway. All I would say is that I don’t think we’d have turned Ealing over on their patch by playing pragmatically. They were the form team at the time, yet our ‘cavalier’ spirit justly earned us a victory down there.”
Did injuries and a limited squad size hamper the Blues chances of finishing higher in the league?
“We can’t claim that injuries are the reason why our form wasn’t always consistent. Every team in the league had injuries too. However, the injuries we did sustain were to key players. When you’ve got a limited squad you really can’t afford to lose key players like Charlie and Fergus Mulchrone, Chris Jones, Jack Scott-Sugden, Ross Winney and Tom Eaton for large parts of the season, many at the same time. Obviously these injuries will take their toll. Our resources were strained to breaking point at times. Still, there’s always a silver lining to every cloud. The injuries meant that younger players who otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have got an opportunity were able to step up and be counted. Chris Roddy, and Johnny Marsden who’s just gone off to Oxford, made their mark and showed what good rugby players they are.”
So to end the first part of the review, what is your gut feeling about the season? Did the overall performance tick all the necessary boxes for you?
“All in all you have to bear this in mind: to come out in sixth place in such a tough league where every team at one stage or other could beat the opposition is pretty respectable. If you look at the bigger picture, then by finishing sixth, Macclesfield Blues are in the top 30 sides in the country. Given the level of resources we have available to us, you have to accept that that is a remarkable achievement.”