Hopes and expectations for life in National League 2

With the season only weeks away, team preparations at Macclesfield Rugby Club are well in hand. So Macclesfield Rugby took time out to from a busy pre-season schedule to chat with Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, about life in National League Two. We wanted to know how he thought Macclesfield Blues will fare in the league this time round. Whether the challenges will be different than when the team last played there? What are the team’s expectations this season, and what he made of the fixture list? Here’s what Giles had to say.

What are the teams’ expectations for the coming season?

“I think as a group we’re all fairly clear on what our goal is. We’re perhaps not prepared to say what that goal is, but I think most people could probably guess what we would like to achieve in the coming season. I think our more general goal is to make sure that, come the end, of the season we’re in one of the top three positions in the league. To achieve this we know we’ve got to make some improvements on last season, and we’ve already made great strides to achieving this in the first five weeks of pre-season. But as a Club we have lofty aspirations and these have to be met on the field at the end of the day.”

Will playing at what is on paper a ‘lower level’ will be a help or hindrance to the team?

“That’s a very difficult question to answer. We had a year out of National 1 and quickly found out that the league had moved on hugely in our absence. I suspect the same circumstances will apply to National 2. I know the league will have changed and standards will have improved dramatically. Anyone involved, be that player or supporter, in this year’s National 2 squad who expects to have an easy ride is probably in for a stark shock. It will be a very competitive league. There are no weak teams and there will definitely not be any easy games.”

“There are certain benefits of being in this league, however, and I feel those could work in our favour. The reduction in travel demands will definitely be of benefit to the players. We’ll also be involved in a number of local derbies, and that will be good for both the players and the supporters. But for any perceived benefits you should never lose sight of the fact that this is still National League rugby. It’s level 4 rugby- just 3 tiers below the Premiership – and that means it’s going to be tough. It will be challenging for the players, but at the end of the day that’s what we want. We want to get better.”

Are this year’s preparations different than last season?

“Yes, they have been slightly. We’ve changed the structure of the last 2 or 3 weeks of pre-season, and by the looks of things the players look like they reaped the benefits of that. It’s been hard going, in fact a number of the players say it’s probably been one of the hardest pre-seasons they’ve been through. But it needs to be. We may have got a number of things right last season, but there are a number of things we still need to do better. Our pre-season preparations have reflected that.”

“We’ve deliberately scheduled 4 pre-season games in a very short space of time so that the players are fully prepared. These games will challenge the players’ ability to function under pressure and fatigue. We’re deliberately putting the players under mental and physical duress, and although it’s tough I think it will be worthwhile. The idea is that we will still continue to operate at National 1 level even though we’ll be playing in National 2.”

What did you make of the fixture list?

“I’m only looking at the Stourbridge game and no further. We know that facing Stourbridge on their home turf is going to be tough. They’ve done some good recruitment and they’ll certainly present us with lots of difficult challenges. When you’ve been relegated you’re in an interesting position. People tend to look at you in one of two ways. They either look at you and think they want to go straight back up so they’re going to be a tough proposition, or they’ll think they’ve come down a league so they’re there for the taking. I can’t for one moment prejudge how Stourbridge will view us, but I do know that they will not lie down, especially at home during the first game of the season. So we’ve got to be fully prepared for the battle.”

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