The last experience of life in National League 1 may not have ended positively for Macclesfield Blues, but there can be little doubt that the team is excited by the prospect of high-level rugby returning to Priory Park. The successful sojourn in National League 2 has simply whetted the appetite, and the coaches and players are looking forward to mixing it with the big boys once more. But after the disappointment of being relegated in 2012/13, what can the team do to successfully compete at this higher level this time round? How can the Blues remain competitive in this toughest of leagues/ Well, the man who has the answers is new Head Coach, Giles Heagerty. Here’s what Giles had to say when he spoke to Macclesfield Rugby earlier this week.
What sort of challenges do you think the team will face in National League 1?
“The biggest challenge for us in the coming season will be having to compete against the full-time Clubs at the top of the league. In fairness it’s a challenge that probably exists for all the Clubs in the league outside the top 3. I spoke with the Chief Exec of Doncaster Knights last week, and he shares my opinion that National 1 is probably the most attritional league in England because there are massive differences in resources between the 16 teams. You only need look at the way the league was structured last year to see that clear gulf. In many ways the structure of National League 1 last year was very similar to that of National 2, as you ended up with what was effectively 3 leagues within a league; 3 or 4 teams at the top, 2 or 3 at the bottom and the 9 in the middle very closely- matched. Still that’s the joy and the challenge of competing at this level and it’s a challenge we’re all really looking forward to.”
How can Macclesfield hope to compete with the full-time teams at the top of the league given the limited budget?
“Well, there’s no doubting it will be difficult, but I think we’re strong enough to compete. When we last played in National League 1 we played predominantly in one way – I think you could also say the same thing about last season too. In National 2 that proved to be incredibly successful because of the dominance of our pack. However, the game moves on and realistically we will have to mix things up when we compete at the higher level. I think we’re going to need a Plan B next season, and probably a Plan C too. When we did come unstuck last season, which fortunately wasn’t very often, it was generally when our Plan A didn’t work. The problem then was that we didn’t have any other tactical strategy to fall back on. Sides like Sheffield and Darlington targeted the contact area and stopped us getting our pack on the front foot: when they did that they caused us some problems and were able to neutralise the effectiveness of much of our game.”
“The challenge for us next season is to come up with Plans B and C. As far as I’m concerned that’s a really positive challenge. I also think this type of tactical variation can play into our hands massively, as many teams will expect Macclesfield to play in a certain way. These teams will be in for a surprise, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we catch a lot of teams on the hop during the first term of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no intention of throwing the baby out with the bath water, if you’ll excuse the cliché: our forward-dominated game has been very successful so we won’t be neglecting that. The key for me as a coach is to develop this Plan B and C and find a way to move the team forward and develop the team and the individual. It’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to as I know we have the players who are capable of doing this.”
“So tactically we’ll be making some changes in the coming months and we’ll be aiming to develop our game and bring consistency to our performances. For me performance is more important than results. There’s too much of a pressure when you focus purely on results. If you’re constantly looking at league tables or watching the score board during games, you tend to make bad decisions and start chasing results. What I want the players to do this season is focus on their performance and to try and make improvements every week. I’ll be challenging the players and my staff, and I want the players to be challenging me too. We need to improve and we need to evolve if we truly want to compete at this higher level.”