It was always going to be tough at the end of the day. What made the task even tougher was that Macclesfield Blues were playing one of the in-form teams of National League One. Esher were lying second in the league, and they were there for good reason, as their performance showed. To a neutral the score no doubt looks little short of a drubbing, but any spectator who went to Priory Park last weekend will have seen that for a substantial part of the game Macclesfield Blues were able to stand toe to toe with Esher. The only difference between the 2 sides was that Esher had another gear, and they also had a full back who was scoring for fun. Still, Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, has put Saturday’s disappointment behind him, and is focusing all his attentions on the weekend’s crunch game with fellow league strugglers, Wharfedale. Here Geoff talks to Macclesfield Rugby about what went wrong against Esher and how the players can learn from the disappointment and put matters right next weekend at Wharfedale.
I suppose the good run of form had to end sooner or later: was it really such a surprise result, or did it play out as you might’ve expected?
“Well the bubble burst a bit, but it was always going to be a big ask. The result doesn’t necessarily reflect some of the good things we did during the game, but we have to accept that Esher are a top, top team. I know Ollie Smith quite well and we had a chat both before and after the game, and he told me that in that game they were able to play their strongest team of the season. They looked extremely athletic and strong and had quality right through the side from 1 to 15. As for Charlie Walker, their full back – well what a player. He’s a real game-changer and definitely the most impressive player I’ve seen in this league since we’ve been in it. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a breath of wind, so in many ways it was perfectly set up for them.”
What do you think went wrong?
“Well, we didn’t help ourselves by getting off to an unfortunate start when the referee penalised Ed Styles for a cynical foul and yellow-carded him. I‘m not sure how that holding on offence was cynical, but there you go. I would’ve thought every holding on offence is similar. Before you knew it we were 10 points down. Yet once we’d recovered from that, we had a decent spell of play for 20 minutes or so, and dominated the ball. We played much of the game in their half and scored two really good tries. We always knew they probably had another gear, but we were still doing relatively well. But in the last 10 minutes of the half, Charlie Walker stepped in and scored 3 tries. He looked massively dangerous every time he came into play and unfortunately he was coming into play all the time. It wasn’t over at 27-12, but we were definitely on the back foot.”
What did you say to the team at the interval?
“At half time I told the boys we had to get to grips with Walker before he did us real harm, and for 20 minutes or so we did. We pressed and were looking for another couple of tries so that at least we came away with a 4 try bonus point. But Esher defended fantastically well, and even though we battered away at them we just couldn’t get the breakthrough. With around 20 minutes to go they stepped up a gear and absolutely murdered us. We couldn’t live with their pace, power and movement, and they tore through us. By that time we just looked like we couldn’t wait for the game to finish.”
Does the score a fair reflection of the game?
“The 50 point winning margin might look shocking, but I don’t think it adequately reflects the way the game panned out. What it does reflect is the quality of the individuals they had playing for them. Walker, the fly half Luke Daniels, Chris Chesney and their number 8 were just outstanding. So there no shame in what happened – just disappointment. What I stressed to the players afterwards was that although we were well beaten, Wharfedale also lost: so in our own little competition down at the bottom of the league nothing had changed.”
How are the team preparing for the crunch match with Wharfedale?
“We’ve been focusing on our work rate and our composure levels ahead of the critical game next weekend. All the team are looking forward to it. We’re in the fortunate position of still having something to play for; unlike most of the mid-table sides. We’re going there to win and build on our lead over them. We have confidence in our ability, and know that if we play to our strengths then we should be able to come away with the points. Last time we played them I think it’s fair to say we were a good bit better than them. As far as I can see nothing much has changed since them, save us starting to play a much better and more expansive game. Since we last played them they’ve only won 2 games and 1 of those was against Loughborough Students, and most of that team had just played for England Students. At the end of the day we’re still the in-form team, so we’re looking forward to putting that to the test on Saturday.”