So it won’t be long before Macclesfield Blues take to the pitch again. The training is going well, and everyone is knuckling down and getting their heads around playing in National League 2 this season. Although relegation may have been disappointing, it does open up new opportunities. That’s certainly the opinion of head coach and director of rugby, Geoff Wappett. Granted, he’d prefer to be playing at a higher level, but he also understands that playing in what should be a less challenging and less-physical environment could actually benefit Macclesfield Rugby Club in the longer term. Playing in National 2 will give Geoff the opportunity to blood some of the exciting new young players he’s identified, and that can only be a good thing. Here is Geoff’s take on the comings and goings over the closed season.
So have you managed to keep the majority of last year’s squad, or have a number of players moved on?
“We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve managed to keep together the majority of last year’s squad, which is good for continuity. The only players leaving are Alan Marsh, Gavin Woods and Josh Fowles. Alan was going to retire anyway, but it looks like he’s been persuaded to keep going for a season or two more by Sale F.C, who could flash more money at him than we could. Obviously we’ll miss his presence and his experience, but we wish him well.”
“Gavin unfortunately couldn’t get a regular start for the Blues as Tom Mantell was our number one loosehead. He made quite a number of appearances off the bench, but every player wants to first choice and a certain starter. Sadly we couldn’t guarantee him that last year, and we couldn’t guarantee it this year, so Gavin’s moved on to Chester. Josh has served Macclesfield well for 5 seasons, but felt that it was time for a new challenge. He’d be the first to admit that he didn’t quite play as well as he could last season, so I understand why he needs a new challenge. I believe he’s going to play alongside his brother at Walton this season. We’d like to thank all 3 of the players and wish them well for the future.”
So 3 out then, but who’s joining us?
“In terms of new recruits for next season, well I’m pleased to say we’ve managed to bring in some real talent. We’ve secured a couple of talented players from Buxton RFC, Josh de Groot and Greg Miller. Josh is a back row forward or an occasional second row, and is going to be a real handful. He’s a big physical specimen and a real athlete, and I got high hopes for him. Greg is a full back/wing and came through Kings School in Macclesfield. He’s a likely candidate and shows real promise.”
“We’ve also got a new back row forward called Dave Eaglestaff who played quite a bit of rugby at Caldy, and a new centre called Mike Barlow from Stockport. Mike’s only a young man of 20, but he’s got terrific potential. He played for Cheshire this year. He’s not only a big solid customer: he’s also a talented footballer too, so I’m looking forward to working with him. Richard West, a utility back, has come up from Weston Super Mare because of work commitments. Prior to playing for Weston he was in Australia and played with Rangeley and Manley, so he’s got a good pedigree. He’s currently playing a little at Rochdale, but I think his pace and rugby brain will serve us well.”
You said at the end of last season that you were looking to recruit some younger players as you thought the National league 2 would be an ideal place in which to blood them. Have you managed to do that?
“We’ve brought in 3 young lads who’ve come up through the ranks in school rugby and have played for Macclesfield Twos occasionally too: I’ve got really high hopes for these boys. Jack Sadler has come to us from Kings School, and I think he’s going to be outstanding. He’s a big lad with real pace, and can play anywhere in the back row. Jonny Kenny is a big young second row who’s just finished school. He played for England Under 16s last year and will in my opinion be outstanding. Henry Ravenscroft is a full back/9. He’s not just a talent: he’s a ball player also and has a good rugby brain. We’ve also spotted another young player called Matt Thorpe. He’s currently at York University and has come up through the ranks. He’s got a big heart and a big engine, so I think he’ll fare well too.”
Obviously relegation was disappointing, but can you see any positives in playing at a lower level?
“One of the best things about going down to National League 2 is that I think it opens up opportunities for these young players – opportunities that might not have been available playing at a higher level. I would have felt rather hesitant blooding some of these young players in National 1 because it’s a hard place to learn your craft. In National 2 I think they’ll prosper. They can learn their league rugby and develop quickly.”
“I’m not using that as any sort of excuse, or perverse justification for being relegated, but I think we have to seize the opportunities we’ve been given and use them to our advantage. Playing in National 2 will still be a challenge, but I think it’s the right kind of environment for rebuilding our team, blooding these young talented players and re-establishing our credentials. We have to make the most of our new opportunities and get back to where we should rightly be playing.”