With the new season less than 6 weeks away, preparations are well in hand at Macclesfield Rugby Club. The squad are looking fit and well, and are keen to get playing competitively once more. Hopefully the series of pre-season games should help with conditioning and improve match sharpness, but all the players know that there’s no substitute for the real thing. It’s indisputable that life in National 1 will be tough. But if there’s one consolation it’s that, unlike last season when Macclesfield Blues sat on top of the league all year; this year they will be competing with fewer expectations. Supporters want to see a competitive team, but they’re realistic and appreciate that that situation is unlikely to be replicated this season.
Never the less, Macclesfield Blues will face a number of challenges as they ply their trade in National 1, and it’s the coach’s to make sure the team are as well prepared a possible to face those. What are those challenges likely to be? Well, who better to answer that than head coach, Giles Heagerty? Here’s what he had to say about challenges when he spoke to Macclesfield Rugby earlier this week.
What challenges will Macclesfield Blues face in National League 1?
“I think the biggest challenge that stands out for me immediately is the travel. Obviously that’s not to say that the travel issue has changed at all since we were last in the league, but I still think it will come as a bit of a culture shock to some of the lads who haven’t experienced it before. Most of the fixtures in National 2 North were relatively local: whereas travelling nationally will definitely be more challenging. The lads will have to get used to lots of early starts, and will need to adjust quickly. Our role is to manage that accordingly.”
Adjusting to the higher standards of rugby in National 1
“The next challenge facing the lads will be competing against full-time players in what should really be a semi-professional league. It’s not a situation some of them will have encountered before, but I’m afraid that’s the nature of the beast, and the way the league is moving in general. What gives me great confidence is that from the way I’ve seen the team preparing and training in terms of fitness and conditioning, I think we’re already in better shape than we were when we last played in National 1. I think it’s important to emphasise that my view is only based on what I’ve experienced personally at Macclesfield, and on what the players and medical staff have told me. I’ve only been with the team for 2 years so I can’t judge what the standards were like before that time.”
Competing in an attritional league over the course of the whole season
“That might sound an odd thing to say, as every rugby season is long and competitive. If there’s a difference it’s that National League 1 is one of the most attritional leagues to play in. So we’ve got to manage that. We’re in the fortunate position of having a number of good players and that means there will be tough competition for places. As a coach you have to be pleased with that. But that competition creates its own challenges for coaches, because we’ll need to manage the situation very carefully so that all the players remain hungry and continue to press for a starting berth throughout the course of what will prove to be a long and competitive season. For my point of view that’s a challenge I’m particularly relishing.”
“I’m reluctant to say this as it could come across as some kind of excuse, but I believe it’s true none the less. At the end of the day it is what it is. Any team coming up into a tough league like National 1 knows that they will have to compete with the spending power. Therefore the team will have to face and overcome internal challenges; by that what I mean is that players will have to challenge themselves. They’ll need to be able to challenge themselves to play at the highest levels week-in, week-out, and they’ll need to be able to sustain that level of performance throughout the season if they are to prosper in this league. As far as challenges go, I don’t think they come much tougher than that.”
“I think if we can overcome that particular challenge, then money and what you spend on the team isn’t all that important. Other teams will know that it won’t matter how much money they have; when they play Macclesfield Blues they’ll know that they will be playing a very competitive side which will always look to play an exciting brand of rugby, and they’ll know they’ll have to deal with that. They’re going to have to stop us scoring points because that’s what we’ll endeavour to do to them and we’ll also be coming at them with everything we’ve got.”