The final score in the weekend’s fixture down at Birmingham Solihull may have looked comfortable, but it was hard-fought game none the less. Macclesfield Blues were made to work for the victory, and in the opinion of Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, that’s no bad thing at this stage of the season. Yes there were some signs of rustiness and perhaps early indications that the squad isn’t quite as match sharp as you’d ideally like ahead of the first National One fixture, but there are encouraging signs that if all goes according to plan Macclesfield Blues could give a good account of themselves in the coming months. Here Geoff talks to Macclesfield Rugby about hopes and expectations, disappointments and niggling injuries ahead of the Blaydon game at Priory Park this coming Saturday.
What was your overall view of the Birmingham Solihull game?
“I suppose it was the kind of game that you might call the ‘next stage’ on the road towards where I’d like us to be. We weren’t a well-oiled machine by any stretch of the imagination, but we’re constantly improving. There were some moments where we really look quite accomplished, but there were also moments where we looked some way off the pace. I suppose overall you could say that for a large part of the game we looked pretty tidy, if you know what I mean. We scored 5 tries, all well-worked, and created lots more opportunities, but disappointingly we didn’t take the chances when they were there. It’s not that surprising at this stage of the campaign, but when the season really gets going, we’ll have to make sure we capitalise on all these opportunities when they arise.”
What improvements have you noticed over the course of these friendly games?
“What has been encouraging, I suppose, is our ability to create scoring opportunities. We had three different people playing on the wings on Saturday, and all three had scoring opportunities: unfortunately they failed to take them. I guess you’d simply have to put that down to a lack of sharpness so early in the campaign. Hopefully game time will solve that. What we’ll need to work on over the next few weeks is our execution and finishing off scoring chances. Our set piece and scrum was much better than it has been of late, and our defence was solid. It was fortunate in many ways that the weather played ball and allowed us to play in a way that suits us best, in spite of the wet conditions: there was a massive thunderstorm before the game, and another even bigger one straight after, but at least the rain held off during the game.”
Have you any worries ahead of the season-opening fixture against Blaydon?
“If I have a concern for the start of the season is that’s some of the young players we’ve brought in over the summer will be playing sooner than I would ideally have liked because of injuries. We really need more time to fully integrate the new lads into the set-up here, but our hand has been forced to a certain extent. For a start Alan Marsh will be missing for 2 weeks as he’s away on a family holiday. It’s also a particular disappointment that the likes of Ryan Parkinson and Frankie Barker, who would’ve been certain starters in the back row, won’t be available for a while. Ryan will be out for 6 weeks after having his broken hand pinned back together, and Frankie will be out for a while after the knee injury he picked up against Rotherham. It’s disappointing, but that’s life, and it will give an early opportunity to Joe Clowes.”
Will you be starting the season with confidence or trepidation?
“Well I’m confident we can go well, but I’m also realistic. We’ll be forced to start the season 3 or 4 players light of what I’d normally expect us to be, but having said that, it’s now up to the young players to step up to the mark and stake their claim. Players like Tom Cruse have already done that. Tom looked like a class act on Saturday, as did Matt Rhodes at scrum half: they both had storming games. Dave Marwick, another of our new signings, also showed his class. What I will say is that confidence is good, and we’re working hard in training. What we have to do is build on that. If we can win on Saturday against Blaydon we’ll be able to settle our season down. No one expects miracles at this stage of the campaign. It will take several weeks before the squad will be fully match fit. It’s only then that we’ll start to look like a well-oiled machine.”