Forget the criticism I’d play 8-man rugby if I could find a number 8 that could kick

Is there ever such a thing as a perfect rugby game where everyone comes away satisfied? Well, judging by the reaction of some to Saturday’s hard-fought game against Hull, the answer appears to be no. Macclesfield Blues emerged victorious against a spirited and determined Hull team, scored 6 tries and secured yet another bonus point; yet not everyone was happy with the performance, arguing that 10-man rugby did not sit comfortably with Macclesfield Blues adventurous nature. Was Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, stung by the criticism? Of course he was. Did it bother him or make him reassess the way the team will play in future games? Of course not. According to Geoff, if he could find a number 8 that could kick he’d play 8-man rugby if that’s what it took to win a game. You play to your strengths, and you play with the resources at your disposal: what matters is the result. Here’s what Geoff had to say to Macclesfield Rugby following the 36-26 win against Hull.

Saturday’s result was hard-fought and probably closer than you would have preferred, but how satisfied are you with that victory?

“I have to be pleased with the way things are going: 3 wins out of 3 with 3 bonus points and 16 tries. All in all that has to be satisfying. Mind you, we’re not naïve enough to say we couldn’t be doing better, but in the circumstances we’re pretty happy with the way things have gone. You can only play with the team you have at your disposal, and sometimes that means you aren’t in a position to play the sort of game you’d ideally like to play.”

“The problem is some people don’t understand that you can’t always play the sort of fantasy rugby they’ve seen on television: most of the time you have to adapt your plan because you can only play with the team you have available. For the last 2 weeks we’ve had to play without our regular scrum half. Chris Townsend’s got a groin strain, so Tom Eaton’s had to move to the unaccustomed position at 9. That means we’ve been looking to others to fill in at fly half: Tom Davenport played at Tigers and got injured, then Chas Ianson finished up with a swollen knee so missed his big chance. So we’ve had to experiment at half back, and whilst it’s been a good experience for us, we’ve lacked some of the cutting edge we would normally expect to have on game days. But that’s been more than compensated for by our forward play. The boys played magnificently well on Saturday and deserve praise.”

How do you respond to the criticism that the Blues are just playing a 10-man game?

“There’s been a lot of talk about us playing a 10 man game, but in my opinion such views are nonsense. All I would say is that if we’re playing like this with just the 10 men; just imagine what we’re capable of when we start to play with all 15. My response to criticisms is simply this: you do what you think is best for your team. If you’ve got a really good dominant pack, to move the ball out to inside centre or out wide is both stupid and negligent. You play to your strengths. After all Darlington, Sheffield and Hull all tried to play a wide game; and you know what – they all lost.” 

“Sometimes you just have to accept you can’t win: you can’t please all the people all of the time. They want you to win – so you win: they want to win with a bonus point, so you do. Finally they want you to play fantasy rugby all the time, and frankly that just isn’t possible. All we can try and do is play to our strengths and satisfy some of the people some of the time.”

“There’s a lot of talk about our forward-orientated game, but the irony is our backs are also scoring tries and playing with adventure. In fact they’ve scored just as many tries as the forwards. I often wonder whether some of the people criticising have actually seen us play.  The same people who are now criticising would’ve been more than happy last year had we managed to get any sort of result – whether with 15 men, 10 men or 9 men. I once heard a comment from a Welsh coach who was criticised for playing what was perceived to be a 9 man game with the scrum half kicking: his only comment was that he wished he could find a number 8 that could kick, so the criticism would end. I know exactly how he felt, and I, too, would play 8-man rugby if I could find a number 8 that could kick! At the end of the day I just have to accept the criticism, and carry on putting out the best team we can muster to win the points. You won’t be able to please everybody, but it would be nice if some of the critics just got behind the team instead of nit-picking.”

The local derby against Sedgley will no doubt be a hard-fought affair as usual – what are you expecting?

“Sedgley Park are playing pretty well. They’ve had a couple of wins and a loss, and I know they’ll be up for our encounter, because they’re that type of team. We’ve been to Park Lane in the past with a better team in my opinion and come away losing, and the reason for that is that they are one determined team. They’ll never give up, and will make you work for every single point. I have to say that I really admire that fierce determination and it’s something every team could learn from. The Club will always fight and has great character and those attitudes and qualities are ones I really admire. You might fancy yourselves as favourites given our relative league position, but you just never know. If we do come away with anything, then we’ll certainly have to earn it. They respond to pressure, so we’ll need to keep our concentration throughout the full 80 minutes. If we have to do that playing a 10-man or 8-man game, then so be it. The end justifies the means.”  

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