If you could ask Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, one question, and one question only, what would it be? The chances are if you’re a supporter the question would probably be why aren’t Macclesfield Blues winning games this year? It’s a reasonably enough question in the circumstances, given Macclesfield Blues swept all sides before them last year on their way to the National League 2 North Championship. His answer to that question would no doubt be we’re competing with the big boys this year, and we’re finding the going tough at the moment. Hopefully the situation will improve soon.The question we wanted to ask Giles was a little more circumspect than that. We wanted to ask Giles to set aside his Head Coach’s hat and give us his objective assessment of Macclesfield Blues’ first month in National 1. We wanted to ask him to give us his objective assessment of why Macclesfield Blues are struggling to make a mark in National League 1. So that’s exactly what we did. Here’s what Giles had to say when he spoke to Macclesfield Rugby earlier this week.
“As a Coach it’s very difficult to be objective and to distance yourself from events which you are so closely involved in, but I think it’s a fair question so I’ll try my best to answer it. I think the reality is that National 1 is proving to be an incredibly competitive league. Those of us who’d experienced it before already knew that of course; but this year it’s proved to be much more competitive than even I was expecting. National 1 now is a completely different league from the one we played in 2 years ago. That’s not only because there are no easy games – just difficult ones, it’s also because the standard of the players has increased dramatically.”
“That, I feel, is partly down to the increasingly competitive nature of the Championship and the trickle-down effect to National 1, and also to the financial clout of teams which has improved dramatically. Having spoken to a number of Directors of Rugby I know that there is now clearly much more money in the Championship, particularly in and around the London or South East-based Clubs. I’m not suggesting that this is a London-centric problem alone: but it is clear that there is more money available to Clubs in the South East and that means they are able to attract better players. As a result of that many smaller Clubs find it difficult to compete week-in week-out.”
“We do get help and cooperation from professional sides based here in the North, but there’s only so much they can do. Pete Angelsea at Sale Sharks has always been helpful where he can be, and we’ve also got good contacts at Leeds, Doncaster and Rotherham too. We’ve got a player from Sale on duel-registration at the moment and it’s likely we’ll get one or two more after the A League games have finished, but the harsh reality of professional sport is that once you get an injury to an established squad player, loan players are often called back to their home Clubs.”
“Unless professional Clubs have got enormous squads they, too, will struggle. There’s a dearth of second rows available at the moment: you only have to look at the situation at Leicester Tigers for proof of that. They’ve had to cancel A League games because they haven’t got any fit second rows available. So we can’t approach teams like this and ask for loan players when they’re struggling to put out their own teams, can we? The challenge facing any team is to have strength in depth right across the squad to cover for injuries: with the greatest respect to the lads, we haven’t necessarily got that at the moment. ”
What about an objective view of Macclesfield Blues’ performances?
“How would I explain Macclesfield Blues disappointing run of results objectively? Well, I think the first thing that should be pointed out is that in the first 3 games of the season Macclesfield Blues played top quality teams who were then lying 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the league. Our bad run of injuries hasn’t helped our cause either. Because of injuries we’ve been forced to introduce players to the league much earlier than we would’ve liked. It’s also worth noting that we’ve got a significant number of players representing the team who’ve never played at this level before, and I know they’ve struggled to come to terms with the pace and the power of higher level rugby. Finally I’d have to say that the adjustment to our new playing style has taken much longer than any of us would’ve expected or liked. So I guess all those reasons might go some way to explaining why we are sitting where we are at the bottom of the table.”
So where to now from here?
“Listen, there’s no point moaning or complaining. We are where we are, and we just have to make the most of the situation and get on with it. What we as a group need to do is apply ourselves and keep working hard. We turn up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, train hard and keep getting better. What we have to do is set ourselves clear targets. The expectation levels within the squad and amongst the supporters are very high, largely because we won the league last year only losing twice. But we now have to manage those expectations in light of our difficult start to this year’s campaign. We, and our supporters too, need to roll up our sleeves and keep working hard and keep believing. We’ve seen glimpses of what we’re capable of, but we need more consistency. We’ve played very well in parts: what we now have to do is keep that performance level up for the whole 80 minutes and then we’ll start to see the sort of results we and our supporters would like.”