Last Thursday evening saw the first contact rugby to be played at Priory Park since the North Premier League was prematurely terminated 9 months ago. After the March lockdown, the only rugby played has been a ‘touch-rugby’ format to help keep players fit. Rugby eventually returned, after the news, on Monday, that the RFU’s lobbying to the Government, to move to Stage E, in the Return to Rugby Roadmap, had proved successful. Thursday evening had been an eagerly anticipated session for players and coaches alike, with everyone mad-keen to get back to what rugby is all about. The 1st team squad split into Blues v Greens for a full-on, full-contact contest under the new adapted laws, created to minimise the risk of any potential infection. Playing within the new adapted laws would be a first for everyone, and the session was split into 10-minute learning-curves for Head Coach, Andy Appleyard, and Forwards’ Coach, Rick Jones to develop skills and strategies with the players.
The game looked very different to that which we are used to seeing; with scrums and mauls outlawed, the ball was kept alive, with free ricks replacing scrums, and mauls not being allowed to form, transforming into semi rucks. The result was a high-speed session, with full-on tackles and plenty of scores being created. The lineout equally was over in a flash, as the ball must be immediately shifted, with any mauling again being penalised. There was little kicking to be seen, other than the odd tactical kick, but this was ostensibly a training session; what happens in a competitive game scenario is yet to be seen; although many will hope it’s the end of ping-pong rugby for a while. Andy Appleyard pointed out after the session, that this was very much work in progress; one of the grey areas would seem to be the ruck, Andy commenting: “We’ll learn a lot more in the next few weeks, as for the ruck, I think Referees will probably limited it to two players going in, but there a lot of areas that are going to need clarification”. It’s going to be quite a task for the Referees, which they are no doubt working on.
Stephen Branch, the Chairman of Macclesfield Rugby Club, reflects upon the rugby to come and the fantastic efforts of the members of the Club.
At last, and maybe a little surprisingly, Rugby Union comes out of the darkness of the recent lockdown and into the light of Stage E on the roadmap to match play rugby. This means that the senior rugby sides can resume training for 15-a-side rugby in preparation for a series of fixtures to be played in the New Year. Macclesfield 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams will play in a cluster with six other Clubs; Lymm, Wilmslow, Birkenhead Park, Waterloo, Northwich and Wirral. The 4th team and the Ladies’ team will also be part of a local cluster; and the great news that spectators will be allowed. The games will be played under adapted laws to minimize the risk of infection. Those who play in the front five may not be happy about the limitations but are being encouraged to participate; this is significant progress for the game and allows for full contact rugby to take place. If you have been waiting to put your boots-back-on, then now is the time to do it and to come to the Club evening training sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday. Thursday is the main Club night and a substantial pie and a pint are available from the Sin Bin Bar.
The Mini/Junior section of Macclesfield Rugby Club has been able to operate well under the guidelines outside of the two lockdown periods and the Club is very grateful for the participation and support of the younger players and their parents along with the coaching and support staff who have made a huge contribution to the Club’s ability to remain open for business. It has demonstrated that the benefits of being a Community Rugby Club, offering participation in the sport for all age grades from U6 to over 60, are huge. Our younger players and their parents or guardians and those who coach and manage them are the future of the Rugby Club, and their active engagement in the Club and its activities over the last nine months, in particular, has made a huge difference to the Club’s wellbeing.
The Senior Section of the Rugby Club has been badly affected, on the field of play, with no league rugby being played since March 2020 and no resumption of competition league rugby until the new season in September 2021. However, the membership, players and non-players, have shown tremendous spirit, determination, enthusiasm, energy, commitment, imagination and a real can-do attitude throughout. The level of activity on-and-off the pitch, as the guidelines have allowed, has been hugely impressive and as a result, the Club remains a happy, successful and sustainable community asset. In some ways, it could be argued that despite the limitations brought about by the pandemic the spirit within Rugby Club has strengthened and players and non-players alike are bursting to play and watch the game under the temporary laws in the New Year.
The number of people associated with Macclesfield Rugby Club who have stepped up and volunteered of their money, time, products, materials, services and skills or who have turned out to support the Club’s activities has been significant and the Club owes them all a massive debt of gratitude. Everything that the Rugby Club has achieved throughout the pandemic has been achieved by the membership and those associated with the Club, and it demonstrates that the environment and culture of the Club as a community is in good hands.
The contribution of several individuals at the Club was recently acknowledged by the wider rugby community when two of our members were recognised for their contribution to the game and to the Club through the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer Recognition Award Scheme run by the Rugby Football Union.
Phil Mason, Chairman of the Mini/Junior Section of the Rugby Club was immensely proud to have been nominated as the Mitsubishi Motors Volunteer of the Year 2020. Phil has been Chairman of the Mini/Junior section since 2015. He joined the Club in 2009 when, in his words: “Like many, I brought my Son down to the Club to try out the game. Not being one to stand on the touchline for long, I soon put my hand up to help coach, put cones out and keep kids playing. This was a shock to me having played about six games of rugby at school, in my entire life!”. Phil goes on to say: “The section has been running since 1971, with next season being the 50th Anniversary of Mini/Junior rugby at Macclesfield. It is a huge honour to support the section, enabling a team of over 80 volunteers deliver quality coaching to over 390 children, from age 5 to 18. During my tenure I have focussed on creating a ‘player pathway’ from Junior into Senior Rugby at the Club, ensuring that players have a clear direction and focus to achieve their potential. From my perspective, this involves ensuring the Coaches have the qualifications, training and support they need to develop players in their age grade, and to feed their players into the senior teams.” Phil has done a fantastic job and his commitment to quality has resulted in many young players following the ‘player pathway’ through to 1st XV rugby at Macclesfield Rugby Club.
Matt Bowden has been involved with Macclesfield Rugby Club, in a coaching capacity, since 2006 and was nominated for The Cheshire RFU President’s Volunteer Recognition Award 2020. Matt says: “I can quite honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding experiences to date. Having the chance to have coached these players from the age of six, and watch them develop through the years to the young adults they are today is humbling.” In the 2019/2020 season Matt recognised that the Colts (U18-U20) were going to really struggle for players; with a number of the Colts being selected to play for Cheshire, Lancashire and the Sale Sharks Academy. With regard to the remaining players, Matt says: “There was no way we were going to let their Macclesfield journey end there and risk losing players from the game we love. We started to look around for a like-minded team that could be experiencing similar issues. We made contact with Neil Clark at Knutsford RUFC, had a beer (as you do in rugby) and the rest, as you say, is history; the MK Blues was born. We then had a squad of 41 players which we knew would see us through the coming seasons and ensure rugby for all players, at all levels”. Matt and Neil rustled up some generous sponsors who purchased match-kit and training-kit to give the new side an identity and they decided to play all home games at Macclesfield Rugby Club due to the outstanding facilities available. Matt recalls: “I’ll never forget the faces of some of the new players, on their first visit to Macclesfield Rugby Club, as they walked down the hallway, through the maze of corridors and rooms, into the First XV changing rooms, then out onto the main pitch. It made us immensely proud as Coaches and certainly proved that we had done the right thing in bringing these players together. I don’t think I’ll ever experience something like this again, the friendships and camaraderie between Coaches, parents and players; but I can tell you this, I will enjoy sitting in the stands at Macclesfield RUFC having a beer (or two!) with my fellow Coaches, watching the players we used to coach, plying their trade on the pitches at Priory Park.
Phil and Matt represent the very best of Macclesfield Rugby Club. The Club is about the membership and the membership is building an environment in which players across all ages, their families, and everyone else involved in the Club can enjoy participating in and enjoying everything that the game has to offer on and off the field of play. Why not come down and join us. Stephen Branch, Chairman, Macclesfield Rugby Union Football Club.
Whist we await a date for the local ‘Friendlies’ to commence, the Club was hoping to arrange a match with one of the local teams for Saturday 19th December, however this is now looking increasingly unlikely. If no opposition is found there will still be a match played, Probables v Possibles or similar; look out on social media and the Club website for details.