The challenges we’ll face next season in National 1 will be very tough: so the players now have to up their game if they want to be part of that

Macclesfield Blues’ winning run ended abruptly at Heywood Road last weekend, with the team going down 26-12 to Sale FC. In a way it was almost inevitable that there would be some form of hangover following the bonus point win over Sedgley the previous weekend and the securing of the National League 2 North title. Still, it was not the loss itself that upset Head Coach, Giles Heagerty: it was the manner of the loss.

Giles will be looking for a much better performance this weekend when the Blues take on top 4 Side Stourbridge at Priory Park. It promises to be a tight and physical game, but Giles knows this is the type of challenge the team will have to face every week in National League 1. So it’s up to the players to demonstrate to him that they have the character and attitude to meet those challenges.

Here’s what Giles had to say ahead of the game:

Was Saturday’s loss a major disappointment after the highs of the previous weekend?

“Yes it was very disappointing, but I can’t really say I was completely surprised by what happened. Sale deserved the win at the end of the day. Granted their first try was maybe a little bit fortunate, but I suppose you could say it was just reward for the pressure they put us under early on. But we managed to get ourselves back into the game and score a well-worked try. Then unaccountably we let them straight back into the game with a poor kick chase. If anything, that was probably the turning point of the game.”

“If we’d been able to keep the hammer down, I think we perhaps would’ve been able to build a bit of pressure ourselves and get things rolling. I think it’s fair to say that shift in momentum just after we’d scored meant that we never really got a foothold in the game. But Sale showed a lot more energy than us, for a number of reasons, and they thoroughly deserved the win.”

Would you put that defeat down to the dreaded ‘celebration hangover’ you feared last week, or did Sale play with added intensity because of their precarious position in the bottom 3 of the league?

“I think it was probably down to a combination of the two. I think we maybe went in at half time with a degree of expectancy, thinking we’d come back from this position before this season; so there’s no reason why we couldn’t do it again. But it doesn’t always work like that. You also have to be fair to Sale and praise their performance. They defended really well: they put us under pressure and took their chances well.”

“Maybe we didn’t get the rub of the green with the officials; certainly at the scrum where we were dominant. I think during the game we were only awarded 1 scrum penalty which was ridiculous. But at the end of the day Sale wanted it more than we did. They are fighting for their lives, and they needed those 5 points: we really didn’t have that much to gain. I guess was the difference between the two teams on the day.”

Will you change things round this weekend against Stourbridge, or will you stick with the tried and trusted gameplan that’s served you well all season?

“We’ll continue to approach the game as we’ve always done. However, we have to factor in that this match is our last home game of the season. Our supporters deserve a good performance and that’s something we’ve discussed as a group. Although we’ve had lots of highs this season, we would really like to end on another one. So we want to finish the season on a positive note.”

“Stourbridge are a top 4 side, so we know it will be a battle. They beat us convincingly in the first game of the season, so they won’t fear us. The reality is we’re going to be a National 1 side next season, so we need to start planning now. The challenges we’ll face then will be very tough indeed, and some players now know that they need to up their game if they want to be part of that.”

“Whilst it’s been a long and challenging season both physically and mentally, we have to be competitive right to the end of the campaign. I learned about a lot of people last weekend, and in that respect it was a very valuable exercise. The same will apply this weekend too. We’ll face tough challenges every week next season, so the players have to show me they are up to it.”

Is Saturday’s game a dead rubber for Stourbridge, or do they still have something to play for?

“Stourbridge can’t make the Play Offs after Sedgley got the bonus point victory last weekend, but they could still make the top 3. Stourbridge have definitely therefore got something to play for. Their results have been impossible to predict over the course of the whole season, and I’m sure they’d be the first to say that themselves. But they are still a top side. They’ll roll up at Priory Park full of confidence given what they did to us at their place, and they’ll want to finish their season on a high too; so we have to make sure we prepare accordingly.”

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