Any local derby match is usually a tough physical encounter. No quarter is ever asked for, and none is ever given. Anyone who went to Priory Park at the weekend wouldn’t have expected anything less. As it turned out the encounter proved to be far more physical and aggressive than many had predicted. Preston Grasshoppers came with a game plan, and proved to be a match for table-topping Macclesfield Blues for much of the game. In the end territorial domination and superior finishing skills gave Macclesfield Blues a deserved bonus point win, but make no mistakes about it; this was a victory that had to be earned. Even with 13 men Preston Grasshoppers still provided a challenge. As Head Coach Geoff Wappett is on holiday for two weeks, Macclesfield Rugby caught up with Coach Andy Northey today: here’s what he thought of the game.
You said that you were expecting a challenge and that’s what you got: how satisfied are you?
“We were certainly happy with the result and the overall team performance. We got the bonus point win against a team who had obviously come with a game plan and the right sort of attitude. As I’ve said before though, you don’t necessarily always fully appreciate the performance on the day itself because you’re too emotional and too involved in the game. It’s only when you sit back and reflect later on in the weekend you then start to appreciate what you’ve achieved.”
Do you think Preston were at times a little too physical?
“Preston were quite a challenging team. They’d obviously prepared themselves, knowing that they faced a tough old afternoon, and they played accordingly. They came with attitude and physicality and matched us up front. That made our afternoon’s work tough and quite challenging. Maybe their physicality perhaps went a little bit too far at times, but I think it was genuine with no malice involved. I spoke to Preston’s coach after hooker, Phil Mills, got red carded: we both thought that it was a bad and dangerous tackle, but both agreed he didn’t mean any harm by it.”
Did the game change after the dismissal?
“Well, no – quite the opposite. Under normal circumstances losing a player would cause a team all sorts of problems, but Preston to their credit carried on unaffected. In fact you could even say that the red card actually seemed to galvanise them and spurred them on even further.”
Were you concerned that after dominating possession for 40 minutes the Blues still only had a slender lead?
“Well, I suppose the answer to that is yes and no. Normally we approach each match with a game plan and work out in advance how we will play the game. Naturally you have to adapt that game plan depending on how the opposition plays, but by and large you can still stick to your basic strategies. Preston didn’t want to let us do that.”
“Preston were more physical and determined at the break down than most of the teams we faced, and that meant we were unable to get the ball moving and play our natural expansive game. That perhaps explains why in spite of dominating possession we only went in at half time with an 8 point lead. We knew that under normal circumstances we would normally have put the game to bed by then, but Preston did everything they could to make our task very difficult. Having said that even then we’d create 4 or 5 guilt edged opportunities to extend that lead, but our composure and poor execution had let us down.”
“When we turned round after the break and played into a howling gale, the attitude of the lads was first class. I was delighted that the lads knuckled down and got some real forward domination. The reward for that was an extra 3 tries and another bonus point win. I was also pleased that we were able to stop Preston scoring and to limit them to just the single penalty kick. So all in all it was very pleasing and just reward for a determined and spirited effort.”
What sort of challenge are you expecting from Sheffield Tigers when they visit Priory Park at the weekend?
“I expect we’ll face a similar type of challenge this weekend when we take on Sheffield Tigers. We beat them 39-5 at their ground in September, but, as is often the case, the score doesn’t always accurately reflect what went on in the game. We might have looked like convincing winners, but believe me, Sheffield Tigers fought for every point. I know they’ll do the same this weekend. Any team with nothing to lose is capable of raising their game, especially if they’re taking on the team at the top of the league. We know we’re there to be shot at, so it’s vital we remain composed and fully concentrate on our own game. It will be a challenge, but if we play to our potential and take our opportunities we should be able to come away with maximum points. If we’re not on our game, Sheffield have the potential to take advantage. That’s the message we’ll be telling the lads in training this week.”