Macclesfield Blues suffered the second home defeat of the season at Priory Park last weekend, coming up short against a physical and powerful Ampthill side. Despite a resurgent second half rally, the Blues were unable to impose themselves on the game. Next up is a trip down to Cambridge. Cambridge will go into the game confident after last week’s narrow win over Loughborough Students, and Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, knows the Blues will have to be at the top of their game if they are to get anything out of the match. Here’s what Giles had to say:
Was the Ampthill game every bit as challenging as you suspected it might be?
“We knew Ampthill would be a very powerful and physical side, and that proved to be the case. However, I thought there were times, particularly in the second half where they changed how they played, possibly because of the threats we were starting to pose. That demonstrated that they have more to their game than just physical power. They are a very good side of that there’s no doubt, but I thought we perhaps made their job easier at times than it should’ve been. We were our own worst enemies at points in the game and they capitalised on that.”
You said last week that Ampthill would be the best side you’d faced so far in the season; did that prove to be the case?
“Let’s just say they played to their strengths very well. They are a good side, but I don’t know whether they’re the best side we’ve faced. In terms of organisational ability and physicality they probably are, but they didn’t dominate as many thought they would. They scored one try thanks to a freak bounce; they scored one try after a howler of a decision by the referee which he acknowledged after the game; they probably earned one of their tries and we gifted them the other. So contextually they were the better side on the day, but there wasn’t any evidence of a gulf in class. Having said that they deserve to be where they are in the league this season and last. The positive thing is we are improving all the time, and have clearly showed that we are now capable of being competitive with even the best teams.”
Have you anything to say about the standard of officiating in last Saturday’s game?
“I would never point the finger at officials because they have a very difficult job to do. All you can ask for is consistency. On one occasion we were given an advantage following a knock on, and were then forced backwards by 20 metres. The referee then calls advantage over and Ampthill gain possession and score. Where’s the advantage in that? I asked the question after the game and the referee admitted he got that wrong. That’s all you can ask for I guess, but that doesn’t change the outcome of the game.”
“I think the biggest challenge facing National 1, and this is something the RFU and Referees Association will have to deal with, is enforcing consistency in matches. I understand that they want the referees to get consistent game time, so can understand why we occasionally get Championship officials in National 1. Whilst that’s admirable and good for the National 1 game, the issue for me is that they sometimes officiate in a manner that doesn’t necessarily suit National 1 rugby. Because they don’t officiate week-in-week-out in National 1, they aren’t used to National 1 standards at the scrum and the break down. The speed at which things happen in National 1 is significantly different than in the Championship, and it takes time for them to adjust. Referees have admitted as much to me. That didn’t necessarily happen last weekend; certain things were allowed to happen which shouldn’t have, and penalties were given where they normally wouldn’t have in National 1.”
What sort of challenges do you think Cambridge will pose?
“Cambridge are a team that like to play rugby. They’re a team who like to throw the ball around a lot, and they’re also a team who’ve scored a lot of points late on in games. So consequently we’re going to have to make sure we play for, and maintain concentration for the full 80 minutes. We’re also going to have to make sure certain areas of our game are tighter than they have been. Our execution needs to be spot on if we want to get anything out of the game, but I’m not really going to say too much more on that.”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea what Cambridge will be working on this week, and we know what we need to work on to get a favourable result. We’ve got to maintain possession, and we’ve got to show the same sort of ruthlessness we showed against Fylde and in the first 40 minutes against Blaydon. The only difference this time is that we’ve got to do that for the full 80 minutes.”
“What I would say is that the next 3 games against Cambridge, Rosslyn Park and Old Albanian are massively important for us in the context of the first half of the season. We need to approach these games as if they were a mini-season, and we know it’s imperative we do certain things right. These are the type of games where we need to get points on the board, and the players are all well aware of that.”