Any supporter who predicted a nailed-on home win ahead of Saturday’s clash against Sheffield Tigers will have had an uncomfortable afternoon. Sheffield came to Priory Park with a definite game plan – and that was to make life as difficult as possible for Macclesfield Blues. In that they definitely succeeded. What any supporter wants from their team in these circumstances is resilience. They want their team to show courage, fight and determination. Thankfully that’s what they got. It wasn’t particularly pretty, but it was the result that mattered. Macclesfield Blues’ narrow victory keeps them top of the league going into the Christmas period. But what did Coach Andy Northey think? How did he see the game? Here’s what Andy had to say when we caught up with him before Christmas.
Was that result too close for comfort, or where you expecting a battle anyway?
“Yes it was a lot closer than we would’ve wanted and we would’ve liked it to be a lot more comfortable than that, but Sheffield Tigers came with a plan and they stuck to it. They attacked us up front, much like Preston had done the week before, and we just didn’t cope with it too well. Our execution and skill levels let us down on the day. It’s been a problem for the last couple of weeks and it’s something we’ll need to address for the second half of the season.”
“When you go into games like this, and by that I mean against teams who are struggling in the league, there’s an expectation that you’re guaranteed to pick up 5 points every time you play. The fact is it was a relief to come away with 4 points and a win. When you’re expected to win, and to win comfortably, it puts an added pressure on the team which they could well do without. What’s vital is that you win the game after all: bonus points are exactly that – bonus points.”
In spite of the result what pleased you about the performance?
“I think it was probably the fact that we showed a lot of character. We were struggling with form, but we dug in and came away with the win. Sheffield made it difficult for us, but we showed that we had the bottle to tough it out.”
The match reports suggest that the Blues were dominant in the scrum but struggled at the breakdown, what seemed to be the problem?
“Well, I don’t really like to criticise referees as it serves little point, but I have to say the refereeing of the breakdown was a little bit erratic. Let’s call it loose for want of a better word. I felt he didn’t deal with certain things well, like the tackler releasing. There was only one penalty in the game for not releasing and that was given against us, yet Sheffield left several players in and around the ball at the breakdown throughout the game. That meant we couldn’t really generate any pace. For us that’s a problem, as we’re at our most dangerous when we can put pace on the ball.”
“That was the issue we tried to address at half time, and the team went out with the message, lift the pace and inject some speed in the game. When we managed to up the tempo we looked very dangerous and caused Sheffield trouble. We’d talked about injecting more physicality into the breakdown in training during the week, as we’d encountered problems in this area with Preston the week before. Obviously it’s something we’ll have to keep working on in the New Year.”
What does 2014 hold for Macclesfield Blues?
“Well, we’re just past the halfway point of the season and we’re sitting pretty. From now on though, the challenges will get tougher and tougher. There are 3 or 4 teams, Darlington, Stourbridge, Sedgley and us who have dominated so far, and I can’t see any reason why that will change during the second half of the season. We’ve all played each other once, and we’ve got a good idea of how teams play: so that usually makes the second half of the season more difficult than the first. You’ll also need to factor the weather into that too. So far the weather’s been relatively benign: yes we’ve had wind and rain, but so far no snow or frozen pitches. When the weather turns nasty it adds yet another complication. But our focus remains clear. We’re top of the league, and if we want to remain there, we have to continue playing our best rugby. The priority is to win matches: bonus points, if and when they come, are a bonus like I said. If we can keep playing well, then we’ll be in the mix at the end of the season and can hopefully challenge for the title.”