It was always going to be a big ask to stop the Hartpury College juggernaut. Undefeated and on a roll, Hartpury had made short shrift of every other team they’d encountered this season. However, the task becomes even more difficult when you’re reduced to 14 men 20 minutes into the game. In the end it proved a task too far for Macclesfield Blues. Despite mounting a valiant rear-guard effort, Hartpury left Priory Park with a comfortable 62-12 victory. Next up is a trip to the Woodland to face local rivals Fylde. These games are always tasty affairs, and are generally free-flowing and entertaining encounters. However, with so much at stake for both teams, tensions couldn’t really be any higher. What can the Blues expect from Fylde this weekend? Here’s what Head Coach, Giles Heagerty, had to say.
Would you say Hartpury were the best side the Blues have faced this season?
“I’d certainly say they’re the most complete side I’ve seen. They’ve got some fantastic players in their squad and they’re very good at what they do. By their own admission I don’t think they had their best game on Saturday, but they still won at a canter. That’s why I say they are the most complete team I’ve seen. There’s no question in my mind that they’re going to get promotion to the Championship.”
Did the red card change the course of the match, or were the Blues already chasing the game by that stage?
“When the red card was shown we were 15-5 down, and digging in. We were definitely in the game by that stage: we’d scored a good try and were putting Hartpury under some pressure. Then the red card was shown. Did it change the course of the game? I’m not sure. I don’t think the result would probably have been any different had we kept 15 players on the pitch; but I do think the scoreline would’ve been different.”
“It’s very difficult trying to defend against a team as good as Hartpury with 14 men for the best part of 60 minutes. Because we were short of numbers Hartpury were able to exploit the space on the channels and score 2 tries. However, we also gifted them 2 or 3 scores through missed tackles. The red card certainly knocked the wind out of our sails, but credit to the boys: they put in one hell of a shift trying to keep Hartpury out.”
Can you draw any sort of positives out of the weekend’s performance?
“The positives are that the backline we started with had not even played National League rugby, let alone National 1 rugby before this season. The oldest starting backline player was 27, so still young and inexperienced relatively. These players will get better with more experience, and that for me shows we have depth in the squad. That bodes well for the future of Macclesfield Rugby. What’s more the players stuck in there and executed what we asked them to do well, in spite of the fact that that few people really expected us to get anything out of the game.”
The game against Fylde at Priory Park in September was probably one of Macclesfield Blues’ best performances this season: are you expecting a different game at the Woodlands?
“I’m not sure. Fylde will certainly want revenge for what happened earlier this season, and they’ll look to exploit the space on their big wide pitch. What I do know for certain is that it’s an important game for both sides. Obviously you have to keep things in perspective, in that I don’t think either the winner or loser’s final league position will be determined by what happens at the weekend: none the less, it’s still an important game for both teams given the current league positions both sides find themselves in. Having said that I’m wary of building the game up to be something bigger than it actually as that can result in the players struggling to play to their full potential.”
“Someone asked me the other day what message I’d be saying to the players this week, and I said it’s not a question about giving out message: all we’ll be concentrating on is technical and tactical stuff. The boys already know what they have to do, so they don’t need me to tell them. It’s a big game against our local rivals. There’s more than pride at stake: there’s league position too, and for sides that are struggling that’s critically important.”
Do Fylde still pose the attacking threat of old, or has their playing style changed over time?
“I don’t think their style has changed at all. They’ve always had a playing philosophy of attacking from anywhere, and judging from what I’ve seen of them this season I don’t think that’s changed at all. It was the same when they played at Priory Park in September, and I’m pretty sure it will be the same at the Woodlands. That’s what Fylde are good at. We’ve just got to make sure we’re clued up on that and do everything in our power to stop them playing like that. What we can’t do is let Fylde dictate the play: we have to be the ones who do that. Playing at home or away has little bearing on that.”