It’s rare for a game to generate such vitriolic criticism, particularly when the game was never played, but that’s precisely what happened last weekend. Macclesfield Blues travelled to Hull to play a game of rugby, but after a pitch inspection by the referee the game was called off. He deemed the pitch ‘unfit and unplayable’; and therefore called the game off. Yet the blame for the postponement and much of the criticism has unfairly fallen on the shoulders of Macclesfield Blues’ Director of Rugby, Giles Heagerty, and the Blues squad. What really happened on Saturday? Well, the person best-placed to answer that question is Giles. Here are his thoughts on that postponement and the upcoming game against Blaydon this coming weekend at Priory Park.
How do you feel about the criticism you and the team have received since the postponement of the game at Hull?
“The whole experience has left me deeply frustrated, and I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. There have been some fairly vitriolic reactions by one or two Hull supporters and also a number of comments made on rugby chat forums by some Macclesfield supporters. I think it’s important that we address these. I’m not unduly concerned that I have been singled out for criticism, but I do fundamentally object to any comments which question the integrity of this Club or criticise the squad.”
“We were told by Hull at 8.30 on Saturday morning that the pitch was fit for play, so we travelled. When we arrived at the ground at around 12 o’clock we were informed that the ground was a little hard in places; but with a couple of hours left to kick off we were assured it would be fine to play on. We went out on the pitch and noticed that it was a little bit crispy around the Clubhouse, but we thought it was still going to be OK. We established which end we were going to warm up on, but it soon became clear the far end of the pitch was very hard.”
“We began our warm up and quickly realised that the pitch was not going to warm up in time for kick off, so we followed RFU and NCA protocols and raised our concerns with the referee. The referee carried out an inspection and then spoke to Hull’s captain and Director of Rugby, raising our concerns about player safety. They disagreed with our assessment: however, the referee shared our concerns. He deemed the pitch dangerous and said “this pitch is not fit and unplayable.” Therefore, in the interests of payer safety he was going to call the game off.”
“Our decision was wholly informed by the concerns we had about the welfare of our players. The accusation that we wanted the game called off so our squad would be fresh for the ‘must-win’ game against Blaydon this weekend is frankly ludicrous. Let’s be clear, every game from now until the end of the season is a must-win game. Why on earth would I and the players waste 5 hours of our time travelling to and from Hill to not play a game of rugby? The pitch was unsafe for the players and that’s the end of the matter as far as I’m concerned, and I really find it irritating, if not bordering on the disrespectful, to suggest otherwise. We put our players in harms’ way as it is with our game: I ‘m certainly not going to add to that risk.”
Back to more pressing matters, how are you going to approach this weekend’s ‘must-win’ game against Blaydon this weekend? Does this game have any special significance, or is it simply a normal game where the Blues need to get a result?
“It’s hard to answer that question. As I said earlier, I think that every game from here on in is significant and needs to be treated as a must-win fixture. We’ve had a change of focus about how we’re going to approach games from here on in, so I don’t think there’s any particular added significance or pressure to this game.”
“I’m pretty sure both teams appreciated the importance of league position, but regardless of what happens this weekend; next weekend will be just as important. I don’t want to speak on behalf of Blaydon, but I’m pretty sure they will be thinking similar thoughts. At the end of the day we’ve got to win. It’s that simple. I’m sure they’ll be saying the same thing and targeting this game because we’re currently bottom of the league.”
“We’ve reached an odd stage of the season. With Hartpury are so far ahead, the league is effectively done and dusted at the top of the table. For all the teams outside of the bottom 4 or 5 and below first, the season is effectively over as there’s nothing really left to play for. That inevitably changes the mentality of teams, though I’m fairly sure Hartpury will want to try and go through the season unbeaten. All the teams at the bottom of the league know they’ve got to win their remaining games, so given that, it doesn’t really matter who you’re pitched against.”