We may have played the top teams in the league and lost, but we’re still managing to improve week after week.

No one expected an easy game at Ealing, and nobody got it. Ealing are top of the league, and last weekend’s performance demonstrated exactly why that is the case. They are the stand-out team at the moment and they will take some stopping. Still, Macclesfield Blues showed a new grit, resilience and determination last weekend even though the game was clearly lost, and that gives Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, hope and confidence that the Blues may just have turned the corner. So what has Giles made of the last 7 weeks? What improvements has he seen, and where does he think the team still need to improve? Macclesfield Rugby caught up with Giles earlier this week ahead of Coventry’s visit to Priory Park this weekend. Here’s what he had to say.

The results may not have gone the way you would’ve liked, but have you seem improvements in the team over the course of the last 7 weeks?

“I think I’ve seen improvement in two different ways. There is undoubtedly a practical improvement in that we’re now holding our shape in attack a lot more. That’s largely down to the fact that we’ve changed the way we play. I think there’s also been a significant improvement in our mentality too. Circumstances have forced us to toughen up, and now we’re sticking around in games a lot more. There were times when our performance level dropped off during the last 20 minutes, but on Saturday we showed that we’ll persevere right to the end, even when things aren’t going our way. Against Ealing it would’ve been all too easy to get blown out of the water during the last quarter, but I’m proud to say the boys fought right to the end even though the game was already lost.”

“I think this change in mentality is down to two things also: we’ve changed the way we practice on a Tuesday nights and shifted our focus, and we’ve also changed the way we approach games on Saturdays. I’m obviously not going to reveal what we’ve changed, but on Saturday I saw for the first time that the changes we’ve made are starting to pay dividends.”

What do the team need to do better?

“Well, obviously our error count has to come down for starters. Having errors forced on you by opponents is one thing, but creating the errors and making mistakes is another thing entirely. In that respect we’ve been our own worst enemy. We’ve been gifting teams possession, giving penalties away in the wrong areas of the field to allow teams easy exits, coughing up the ball through mistakes like a forward pass or a dropped pass, or forcing passes in promising areas and squandering opportunities. I guess in many ways this succession of errors is self-perpetuating, because we’re under so much pressure to get a result that you do things you wouldn’t normally do, and not do things you would normally expect to do. Even though there were definite improvements against Ealing, I still noticed 3 or 4 examples of this when I watched the video back. We need to get this under control, and I think when we do manage that we’ll start to find games a little bit easier.”

Has the step-up to National 1 rugby standards been tougher than you anticipated?

“Our re-introduction to National 1 rugby has been a bit a gruelling baptism of fire. Had Darlington not had 5 points deducted we would’ve played the top 8 teams in the league by the end of play on Saturday. The thing I find encouraging is that in spite of playing the top teams we’re still managing to improve week after week. That gives me and the group hope and encouragement. We’re hoping that things might get a bit easier from here on in, at least until the second half of the season anyway. Things won’t be dramatically easier because there are no weak teams in this league, so every game will be challenging. But easier in the sense that we’re going to get a couple of bodies back and we’ve got a couple of loan players coming in, and both of these will make a difference. We’ve played the best and we’re well aware of the gulf in class in every sense between us and teams like Ealing, but I feel the gulf between us and the teams at the bottom of the table won’t be as big. We know that the games for the next few weeks will be a lot closer. If we can still be in the game come the last 20 minutes then we’ve got every chance of winning it.”

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