By David Wilkinson
Andy Appleyard arrived at Macclesfield Rugby Club in 2018, then as an Attack Coach, working with Head Coach Marshall Gadd. Before long he had taken on the job as General Manager at the Club and then taking over the top coaching job at Priory Park. I asked Andy how it all started for him and he told me that the local RFU Rugby Development Officer, a guy called Dick Wareham, came into his school, to do some ‘taster sessions’. Andy says: “The school, like the rest of Barnsley, played football and I played in the nets as I had all-right hands. He told me I should go to my local club, so I went down to Barnsley, but they didn’t have a team in my age group”. He ended up at a Wakefield club, playing Rugby League for a season or so, then going back to Barnsley and by age 15/16 was playing senior rugby. As Andy hadn’t started until aged 14 he was a bit of a late starter, but he caught up quickly and was soon playing 1st team rugby either at Full Back, Fly Half or in the centre. Keen to progress Andy took himself to Sheffield Eagles and played League again for a couple of years in the Academy.
Andy told me that the time had come to decide upon a career and whilst all his pals got proper jobs, he got accepted at The University of Lincoln to study Sports Development and Coaching: “That got me playing Union again, they had some really good players and we got promoted year-on-year for the four years I was there”. Through this period Andy immersed himself in coaching, both the men’s team and the ladies for a season. In the holidays he would continue coaching back home while working in multi-sport activity camps.
After graduating he started to play again for Barnsley but with the intention of going abroad to play: “It came out of the blue, this development job with the RFU was advertised, so I thought I’d go for it, and I got it”. Andy covered the North West and Yorkshire coaching at all levels, in schools, clubs and at a regional level: “It was a really good time, putting my coaching degree into practice and learning off other coaches and teachers”. With a year to go on his development contract, with the RFU, a position came up with England. Andy was put forward, along with several other candidates, and went along to Pennyhill Park for the interviews. After an intimidating interview with Steve Borthwick, he sat down for a chat with Eddie Jones: “He was dead relaxed with me and asked me more about my family than rugby, I got to ask him some questions, so I thought, go for it, and asked him loads of questions – perhaps that’s what swung it for me”. Andy told me the year with England would be priceless: “You would be sent the coaching schedule leading up to sessions with the squad, then an hour before, Eddie would change everything; you had to really think on your feet”.
Andy went back to his home Barnsley Rugby Club, but was tempted away to a Rotherham club Wath Upon Dearne as a player-coach. Before long Barnsley got him back as Head Coach: “I was still playing a bit, but I found the coaching there really difficult; it was very different trying to coach your rugby mates that you’d grown up with. The opportunity came up at Macc, which was a difficult decision with a young family, but I hoped it would lead to other things”. Andy joined Marshall Gadd at the Club on a part-time basis, whilst still working with the RFU, and formed a good coaching partnership with him: “Although I was Attack Coach, I got involved in all facets of the coaching, Marsh was excellent on the detail, the ‘top two inches’, particularly in the front row”. When Gadd’s contract was terminated, Andy took over for the last two months of the season, it gave him the opportunity to make his mark with the players, speeding up the game and the training.
During this time and indeed since Andy told me that he has tried to bring his England experiences into the coaching sessions: “It’s a delicate balance, as a coach you try to pass on every bit of knowledge that you’ve got, but you’ve got to remember that these lads have not been on the same path that you’ve been on: a focused coach, a student of the game, you’ve been looking at how you can change things by 1% – and they haven’t; they’re just loving the game, playing the game, working nine ‘til five then coming to training.
Listening to Andy talk, it is obvious that he has invested time in each of the players, getting to know how they tick. He says that some want to be left alone to get on with it, whilst others benefit more from a hands-on approach. He says that only when you’ve developed this culture, the environment, that you can develop the game to the next level: “At first players wanted to be told what to do all the time, but if you’re not on the touchline barking instructions and things change on the pitch – you need to react”. Andy spoke at length about leadership groups within the team and how the players were now embracing this, to the extent of buying into the style of rugby they want to play: “It doesn’t end with Senior Players, look at Marcus Smith (Harlequins 10), he’s only a young lad, but he’s in charge of the whole team when he’s on that pitch”.
In tandem with Andy’s very successful coaching journey with Macclesfield, he took on the role of General Manager: “At the time I was still in the England set-up, my contract was due to end after the Autumn international series in Australia. If I went for it, it would be an even bigger commitment; so again, I sat down with Katie and said, there’s an even bigger opportunity at Macclesfield now, we discussed it, and she said go for it”. In December 2018 Andy became full-time, full-on Macclesfield; and the rest, as they say is history (see Spiral Lounge, Lounge, Lift, Sin Bin outdoor bar, and a new Club bar in May).
The Barnsley boy has certainly made good in Macclesfield, and long may it continue.
Weekly Rugby Round-up
The weekend didn’t bring quite as many tries as last week’s record-breaking 52 (a paltry 41), but it was still full of last-minute sensational finishes.
Friday night rugby fun and games started early, with Gloucester needing a win after their heavy beating last week against Quins, and Exeter resting half their team for the arrival of Lyon this
Saturday. Although Exeter’s Hodge scored the try-of-the-season, so far, the fun stopped there with the Chiefs going down 34 – 18.
What followed, according to many of our French friends, was supposed to be an academic win against the plucky Scots, after all they hadn’t won in Paris for 21 years; although Townsend had written a different script, possibly with a headline: “I was there in 1999”. Scotland’s South African got the scoring going, and whilst France responded, their thirteen points at half-time was always going to make it very difficult to get the full five points and a synchronistic 21-point difference. France lost their shape in the second half, as they panicked for points, while the clock clicked down. A poorly timed hand-off by Finn Russell turned into a red card fend to the throat, with ten minutes to go, but the Scots would not lie down. France was forced deep into their 22 as the clock turned red, France only had to tap the ball into touch to win the game, it was the only thing left to win; but the French being the French couldn’t get off-script and played on, only to be penalised 5 metres from their line. What followed must have been 20 phases until van der Merwe was released to secure the match-winner and his brace. Wales were already rejoicing their Championship and whilst Scotland had not moved-on statistically, they had the prized scalps of both England and Scotland to toast over a dram or two.
Saturday’s action saw a nail biter at Ashton Gate where Bristol sneaked it at the death, with a penalty try against Quins to win 35-33. Northampton crushed Saints scoring 9 tries, with Sleightholme bagging four. Once again Sale Sharks aggressive style was costly in the penalty count, with four yellow cards in the second half. As DOR Alex Sanderson puts it: “We want to forge Northern grit with South African steel”. Their ferocity is winning them games, but they need to be more precise. Saying that the first card against Luke James, his first-ever, seemed exceedingly harsh. Josh Bassett completely lost his footing in the tackle with James subsequently making head contact. The Officials breakdown of the incident seemed to be at odds with the video footage shown, and whilst following World Rugby’s protocols, they had little sympathy with the game of rugby. The sale was down to 13 players on 70 minutes and 6 points behind, but their aggression took any sting out of Wasps that was left, with Beaumont going over in the red, and du Preez slotting the conversion for the four points 19 – 20.
And at Macclesfield we now reprise the Return2Rugby. As of this week the Seniors are back in training, as are the Ladies, and Walking Rugby, Touch Rugby and Mini and Junior’s are all back.