By David Wilkinson
As is the way these days, the only rugby in Macclesfield last week was that been played out on the internet’s various platforms and portals. Yours truly had rabbited-on, about his 54 years of mediocre rugby, starting in the black and white years with a heavy case-ball, to stumbling out as an OAP for Macclesfield Vets; although Matt Coleridge, interviewing on the Macc Rugby Podcast, seemed pretty impressed with my early climbing career; anyway, enough about me. The following Podcast, of far more importance, but less sensational, was between Club Lead Coach and General Manager Andy Appleyard and Chairman Stephen Branch. Andy told us that he was still busy at the Club keeping everything ship-shape, whilst planning for the future and Stephen reassured that whilst some people were Furloughed, the Club, whilst in Lockdown, was still in a strong financial position.
Matt went on to ask the two if Covid had actually changed the Club for the good. Andy explained how the Club had adapted with each stage of the first Lockdown, to carry on activities, within the guidelines, both on and off the pitch. Saying that all the initiatives that were created, were only possible through the members’ input. Andy went on to also say that he couldn’t wait to see the impact of the outdoor Sin Bin bar once we get back to playing ruby. The Chairman was in no doubt that it’s only through Andy’s and the membership’s energy and support that the Club is in the position it is in, pointing out that the Club took more money in December than it did the previous year.
The One Club ethos is most graphically displayed in the way that Andy and Rick Jones now coach the players. The idea of a first and second team squad has been disbanded. There is now one senior squad numbering 30 plus players, this is besides the third and fourth teams, which may even spur another side when we return to playing. Andy says that this is not just for the times of Covid but that he sees it as the way ahead, being the most effective way to coach the players; going on to say that they recognise the importance of creating the right pathway for players not just in the first team squad but throughout the Club, and that the concept of a full senior squad training together means that players get seen, can learn from the senior players, and can play full 15 team-on-team sessions that the players can get maximum benefit from.
Stephen talked about his recent meeting with Andy discussing plans for the future, the first being to again create social and rugby events within the guidelines, as we come out of Lockdown for the full enjoyment of the membership: “We want to create a ‘summer of fun’ for everyone”. One of the events mentioned by Andy is a summer 7s competition. As I said to him recently: “Music to my ears”. Priory Park is an ideal venue for a big Rugby 7s competition and when we have re developed the old pitches, even better. Whilst Andy is in the concept planning stages, his idea is for two competitions, one in June for the Junior section and a Senior Rugby Competition in July. The Junior competition would take place over 3 days, Friday, Saturday and Sunday involving local clubs and played across as many age groups as possible, including the Colts.
The senior competition in July would most likely take place Friday evening, Saturday and finals on the Sunday. This is an area that Andy has a lot of experience in, with both other Clubs and the England set-up. His initial ideas are to start small, so to speak, given potential Covid restrictions, with a vision to grow the event in the forthcoming years. Year one he hopes to involve netball on the all-weather pitch, Walking Rugby, Veterans and a full senior event involving existing teams and local clubs (And perhaps the President will organise a Petanque Competition on our new pitch). Camping would be made available on the top pitch, with musical events in the evenings. Andy is looking for interested parties to be involved in sponsorship for these events, as in a main Festival sponsor as well as other sponsorship opportunities; any interested parties please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Prior to the summer period, as we come out of a complete lockdown and enter the RFU’s stages of Return2Rugby again, Andy hopes to repeat the very successful Touch Rugby Festival across all of our rugby sections.
As we build to the start of the Six Nations Championship again, yes it was only 3 months ago since we finished the last one, all eyes were on the resumption of the Premiership. Here in the North West we waited with bated breath to see how Alex Sanderson would fare in his new role as Director of Rugby at Sale Sharks. Success was immediate on Friday night, but only after a tricky start to the game, with ex Sale scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth keeping the pressure on Sale with some towering kicks. Tom Youngs crossed the whitewash first in his 200th appearance but an interception and lung-bursting dash to the line, by Sam James in his 150th appearance put Sale back in the hunt. Further tries in the second half by Cobus Weis and Marland Yarde sealed it for the Sharks. In his post match interview Sanderson was pleased with the way the team had reacted to what was missing in the first half. They certainly showed far more dominance in the tackle and scrum and maul.
The second half saw the introduction of three players that had previously worn the Macclesfield Blues shirts: Will Cliff, Curtis Lang and Cameron Neild; with Sam James already on the pitch. I think that Will Cliff might not have made it from the twos into the 1stXV back then as a certain charlie Mulchrone and Tom Eaton had the 9 shirt covered. Curtis Lang had half a dozen or so substitute appearances behind the exceptional Sam Moss. Cameron Neild turned out quite a few times for the Blues as a young player, always punching well above his weight; his man of the match performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Macclesfield. Standing in for the injured Ryan Parkinson, who had scored 33 tries from no.8, he had a tough act to follow in the season’s decider for National Two Championship at the Echo Arena in Darlington. Cameron stepped up to the plate with an outstanding performance, scoring two tries. Sam James also played quite a few games for Macclesfield over a couple of seasons scoring quite a few tries.
Ex Macclesfield players could be seen elsewhere in the Premiership on Saturday, playing in Wasps encounter with Harlequins were Tommy Taylor and Tom Cruse. They have become a hooking double act for the Wasps, usually Tommy starting and Tom coming on for the last twenty minutes. However this season has seen a reversal of roles; Tom Cruse seems to have bulked up a bit, but has not lost any of his pace, scoring two tries a few weeks ago. As for the game it was a one-sided affair, although Tommy brought a lot energy and tackle dominance to the game when he came on. Wasps were depleted missing four instrumental players to the England squad, whilst Quins were at full strength and playing out of their skins. One has to ask why the same players couldn’t do it for their sacked Head of Rugby Paul Gustard.
Another ex Macclesfield player has signed this week for Wasps from Ealing Trailfinders; Elliot Millar-Mills has apparently been in their sites for some time. Although the deal was probably already done, Lee Blackett will have been more than pleased to see his new signing put Billy Vunipola on his bottom in Ealing’s recent win over Saracens. Elliot had several successful seasons at Macclesfield and was sorry to leave after we had fallen out of National One, but he was determined to make a go of becoming a full time professional rugby player (a chance of a bit of sibling rivalry with both sisters playing international rugby). The Macclesfield Alikadoos remember Elliot fondly, a very polite young man and the epitome of a modern rugby prop. President Peter Harper remembers a particular rugby incident: “Away at Broadstreet a few seasons back, home side line out deep in our 22 with just minutes on the clock. They win the line out and the ball goes across the backline to their winger on the far side, with the line beckoning. He’s smashed into touch just short by a covering Macclesfield forward- Elliott Millar-Mills. He then takes a quick line out to Jordan Brookes who flies 80 metres up the park, lines up the full back and throws an inside pass to the supporting Macclesfield player who promptly scored under the posts to seal a win. Yup ‘twas Elliot Millar-Mills who’d run 90 metres to support Jordan Brookes; absolutely stunning from a tight head prop!” We look forward to watching him run-out for Wasps when the time is right.
On a sad note, James Welch advised us on our social media that our one time opponents in National One, Ampthill Rugby Club, were now in dire-straights and appealing for financial help. Now playing in the Championship this very successful, once community rugby club is due to start its pro season in March, but without its usual income streams and with the added burden of having to find £120,000 to cover Covid testing. After pleas to Sport England and the RFU for support they are left to foot the bill themselves or not take part. One presumes that they will not be alone in their struggle; and begs one to wonder why the Championship is attempting to return to rugby given these conditions, particularly given the almost bankrupt state of several of the clubs in the Championship prior to Covid.