Macclesfield Blues’ bonus point win at Hull at the weekend was just the New Year fillip that was needed. The performance may not have been as convincing as was expected, but it set down a marker for the other teams who will be challenging for the title come the end of the season. However, things start to get a lot tougher from now on. The next visitors to Priory Park are local rivals and fellow title-challengers, Sedgley Park. Experience has shown that every game with Sedgley is always fiercely competitive, so Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett, knows that Macclesfield Blues can expect a battle when the teams meet at the weekend. League form and position mean nothing in derby matches. It’s all about who performs best on the day. Who will emerge victorious? Well, here’s what Geoff thinks.
Is everything going according to plan ahead of the Sedgley game?
“I think the Hull game showed that we’ve lost a little sharpness over the Christmas break. The shape and the intention were there, but we lacked intensity and were going through the motions too slowly. When we found our game we were able to score 5 tries in a half hour period, but then we did what we have a habit of doing and switched off, allowing Hull to come back at us with 2 soft tries in the dying minutes. We’ve proved time and time again that we perform best when we feel threatened. We have the ability to up our game when it matters, and that usually happens against the better teams. When we feel comfortable and believe we’d done what we need to do, we switch off. That attitude won’t get us far against Sedgley Park. We’re going have to focus and maintain our concentration levels for the full 80 minutes if we want to win at the weekend.”
What have you made of Sedgley Park this season?
“Sedgley may have lost to Sheffield at the weekend, but they still offer a very serious threat. In fact that loss probably makes them even more dangerous than ever. Sedgley have the firepower and can offer a genuine threat, but hopefully that will bring the best out of us. When we played them earlier this season at Park Lane, we came away with a 5 point victory, but they made us earn it. We conceded a couple of tries to soft cross field kicks. Granted some of that was probably down to having to play Ed Stobart out of position at full back. Where I think we did have the upper hand, and where I think we took them by surprise, was up front. Our forward pack did a comprehensive job on them. Sedgley are a good scrummaging outfit, but we outperformed them and put tremendous pressure on their line out too.”
What are you expecting on Saturday?
“Saturday’s game will no doubt be another tightly-fought and intense contest. Every game we’ve played against them in my time here has been very competitive. None of the matches were easy to read, and you could never predict which way the result would go. Generally we’ve managed to win our home games, but have struggled up at Park Lane. Fortunately we were able to put that right earlier this season.”
“From Macclesfield’s point of view I think the game is probably coming at just the right time. We need to be challenged to play our best and our game needs some sharpening up and testing, and the Sedgley contest will do just that. Sedgley have got a good pack with a big ball-carrying number 8, and they’ve also got a very good goal kicker and ball-carrier in centre, Matt Riley. I think they’ll be hurting after the Sheffield loss, and probably concerned that they didn’t manage to score a try. So we’re expecting a reaction.”
“My players know that Sedgley are one of the 4 teams who will be challenging for the league come the end of the season along with us, Darlington and Stourbridge. They also know that if you win those games and manage to pick up a couple of bonus points as well, then you’ll be in a great position come April. Each game is potentially worth 5 points, so it’s up to us to try to earn those points. Maybe I might be criticised for putting unnecessary pressure on the lads, but I make no excuses for that.”
“The message I always hammer home to the boys is that every bonus point we fail to take is a point lost as far as I’m concerned, and it’s those precious points which may be crucial in determining who wins the league. As for who will win Saturday’s game, then all I’ll say is this: if home advantage is everything it’s cracked up to be then you would think the ball would be in our court. Still that only means anything if you apply logic, and as I’ve said time and time again, logic and sport are not the easiest of bedfellows.”
The last three results have seen the blues win 2 out of the last 3 fixtures, this season winning away at Sedgley Park 37 – 21 and last season winning at home 19 – 3 after losing away earlier in the season 39 -17.