The weather may not have been up to much, but last weekend the sun shone for Macclesfield Blues. Not only did the Blues put 30 points past local rivals Chester and secure a winning bonus point; table-topping Darlington Mowden Park failed to in a bonus point against Birmingham Solihull. The gap between first and second place is now just one point. Fresh from this victory Macclesfield Blues travel up to Harrogate. Last time the teams met at Priory Park, the score line was far closer than the performance merited. Macclesfield Blues were superior in most areas of the park: had it not been for momentary lapses of concentration and some sloppy defending, Macclesfield Blues would have come away with a resounding victory. The issues that dogged the team earlier on in the season have all now been addressed, and the Blues will travel up to Harrogate in confident mood. How will the game pan out? Here’s what Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, had to say when he spoke to Macclesfield Rugby this week.
What are you expecting from the team this coming weekend?
“We’re obviously looking for a good performance when we travel up to Harrogate. We’ll be looking for 5 points from them, because we know that Darlington and Stourbridge will be doing exactly the same. No team can afford to be complacent however. You have to earn those bonus points. If you aren’t completely on your game you can slip up as Darlington found against Birmingham Solihull. Still, we can travel there with confidence because we’re playing well at the moment.”
Has the league now come down to a 3 horse race?
“I think it’s pretty clear now that the title will be contested by just 3 teams. As well as Sedgley have played you’d have to say that their weekend defeat has probably ruled them out of the race. They’re 13 points adrift of Macclesfield and trailing Darlington by 14. The matter though is far from settled. Darlington have to travel to Stourbridge, Stourbridge have to come to Macclesfield and we have to travel up to Darlington. The interesting thing, however, is that Sedgley may still have an important role to play in all of this. Sedgley are still the side that can cause most trouble. Stourbridge have to travel to Sedgley, and Sedgley still have to visit Darlington. Maybe ultimately Sedgley won’t decide who wins the title, but they’ll certainly have say in the matter.”
Are Macclesfield now playing more convincingly than when they last played Harrogate?
“When we last played them we were going through a difficult period. The performance was reminiscent of the game against Bromsgrove. We were scoring freely, but we were giving points away cheaply. It was an annoying day I remember. We were considerably better than them I thought, but our errors kept them well and truly in the game. Credit to Harrogate for taking the soft opportunities we offered them, but we can’t afford to be so generous anymore.”
“Those issues have now been addressed. You saw that against Bromsgrove recently: we gave them 34 points at Priory Park, but we restricted them to just 5 when we played the return fixture. We’ve tightened up our play since we last played Harrogate and worked on our defence. Our forwards are in a dominant mood at the moment and I’d match our pack against anybody at the present time. We know the weather probably won’t make playing easily, but we’ve shown over the last 4 weeks that we have the game to cope with these difficult conditions.”
Are you expecting any particular challenges from Harrogate?
“Well, no – not really. I’ve said it time and again that unless there’s an obvious alarm bell ringing about the opposition, we tend to concentrate on our game in the run up to these matches. At National 2 North level I think you can waste an enormous amount of time watching video analysis of the opposition. If you’re in the Championship or full time maybe you need to do that. We’re neither. In all the time I’ve spent at Macclesfield we haven’t spent much time talking about the opposition. We’d rather use the time to talk about ourselves, and that approach has proven effective. We only meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so we need to use that limited contact time concentrating on being more effective in our own game and addressing any weaknesses.”
Do the Blues feel confident?
“Yes we’re confident, but there are no guarantees are there? The last time we played Harrogate in the year we won the league, we went up there and finished up losing 25-24, when Ross Winney had a daft conversion attempt charged down 5 yards from the touch line. That was in the year in which only lost 2 or 3 games. Rugby can be like that. I wouldn’t put my mortgage on any result, but fortunately I don’t have a mortgage. Let’s just say we’re going to travel there quietly confident.”