The second insight into the coaching team at Macclesfield Rugby Club features Rick Jones, who as Assistant Coach, provides the coaching support to Head Coach Andy Appleyard and the squad.
Rick, commonly known at the Club as Jonah, followed his father’s footsteps into rugby. Peter, his Dad, was a legend at the Club, starting as a sixteen-year-old, and Kings Boy, he broke the Jones family’s football fanaticism, much to his Father’s chagrin! Rick watched his Dad play at Tytherington, then started himself just after the Club had moved to Priory Park: “Albert Simpson was my first Coach and he stayed with us all the way through, I had some great players with me then, Andy McClean, Scott Goodfellow, Tony Amos and Simon Street – Streety was dragged down by his Dad as well.” Rick told me that it was when he started playing Colts Rugby on a Saturday, drinking beer no doubt, that he realised that rugby was really for him.
Rick would then play for 3 seasons with the Colts, and by the last season they had grown into a very-good side that also included Tim Sturgeon and Rob Oliver – just missing out on the Cheshire Cup. By the following season, most had advanced into the senior sides, he recalls: “Nige King was the captain of the Fourth Team back then, and he kept hold of us all at Selection Meetings, saying we were still very young, even though we were winning every week”. Eventually graduating into the Thirds, he got his first chance to play with the First team, away at Rochdale, when one of the Back Rows had not turned up: “I was white-as-a-sheet, but I think I did all right, didn’t let myself down; although it then took a while to get my proper debut, Steve Burnage was the Player Coach then”. Rick remembers he got brought in for a Cheshire Cup game but was then in and out of the team and often on the bench; “with Dave Worthington, Taffy Watts and Mark Droy in the Back Row it was difficult to break-in;” consequently, he played a lot for the Second Team until 1997 when he established himself as a regular.
Rick remembers after Macclesfield’s outstanding victory over Sale in the Semi Final of the Cheshire Cup, the Final was against Winnington Park: “Winnington were a top-side then, much higher than Macclesfield, but Macc were due to play Tynedale for a place in the National Leagues, within 6 days, so it was decided to play the Second Team against them, and I was the Captain then. Rob Oliver was playing for Winnington, and they beat us easily by thirty odd points. The following week I was on the bench up at Tynedale but didn’t get on!” The game was drawn after a last-minute goal, which would give Manchester promotion, instead of Macclesfield.
The following season Rick cemented his place in the First Team, becoming Captain in 2000 for two seasons, which was to be followed later by a further two seasons. Rick is rightly proud to have been Captain for 4years: “In my second year as Captain we played Gosport & Fareham in the Semi Final of the Intermediate Cup, if we’d have won, we would have played the Final at Twickenham”. He remembers, however, that a couple of weeks later he would Captain the side to win the Cheshire Cup: “Dimes (Steve Diamond) was Player Coach then, he was a big influence on the team bringing a lot of professionalism from Sale Sharks”. The following season Rick would take the team to Luctonians for the play-off to get into the National Leagues, Macclesfield won easily; and the following season Rick recalls the trip to Redruth (but that’s another story) to win promotion again, but it was a bridge to far: “That was on the Saturday on the Monday we were due to play in the Cheshire Cup Final”. The Cheshire RFU would not rearrange the Final so Macclesfield were forced to field an understrength side: “We massively changed the side with only four playing from the Redruth game, the rest being made up of second-teamers, we still only lost by a few points”. It was to be one of the few Cheshire losses, during Rick’s time, as the team made 6 Finals in 7 years winning the trophy on 4 occasions.
I asked Rick if he was still playing when the ‘big man’ (Geoff Wappett) took over as Director of Rugby: “Well yes, but it was big Geoff that finished-off my First Team career, and quite rightly so, I was 38”. Rick would go on to play for, and Captain, the Second Team for a number of years, several of the squad had dropped down at the same time, and Rick recalls that they were unbeaten for several seasons: “Anyone who got dropped down, or were coming back from injury, had no problem playing for the Twos, because we were that good; I remember Fergus Mulchrone played a heck of a lot for us; we even had Tommy Taylor back then, who played in the Cup Final for us”.
In 2012 after losing to Sedgley Park in the Cup Final, he says that he was sat in the changing rooms, after the game, thinking “where are all my mates”, some had moved down a team, or into the Vets or retired. Turning to the younger players he said: “That’s it boys, that’s me finished, I’m going to play Vets Rugby with my mates next season”. It was not to be, as later that month he was approached by Brendan Thomas, the Head Coach at the time, at Wilmslow. Brendan tried to talk him into joining Wilmslow as a Player Coach in charge of the Forwards. Rick says at the time the prospect of playing for Wilmslow was a bit difficult, but he thought about it on holiday and decided it was a way in to Coaching, and if he didn’t like it, he could always come back.
At age 41 he decided to give it a go, but after 6 months Brendan moved on to Sale FC and Rick took on the top job. In the 7 years that he was there, Wilmslow have enjoyed their most successful period, in recent times, Winning the Cheshire Vase and gaining promotion into North Premier. Before the end of that first season in the North Premier, Macclesfield approached Rick, to join Andy Appleyard as Forwards Coach. Being Macclesfield through-and-through Rick had no hesitation and was excited to be coming back to his home Club. His first season back nearly saw promotion back to the National Leagues only to be thwarted by, as he puts it, the ‘Duckwoth-Lewis’ calculation: “We finished third by point five of a point behind; but at the end of the day we can only blame ourselves for the silly games that we lost, and we know that; and now we’ve just got to make sure, that when we start again, that we just don’t repeat those bad mistakes.”
I asked Rick about the game itself, how we were playing, he said that he was excited about the running game that we were able to play, but equally that we need to know when to put it up the jumper, so to speak; “We had a very young squad last season and there were several times when up to 14 of the 18-man squad were all home-grown players, which is great to see. Come next season, a lot of these players will be that much more mature, being 18 months older”. Talking about the young talent;like the sons-of the various Dad’s, Rick was extremely excited about their prospects. Which led into talking about his 10 years coaching at Kings School: “I’ve Coached right the way through from 12-year-olds to the First Team, Guy Mason first got me involved, and now with Giles Hetherington and the First Team.”Rick has watched all of Rob Davies’s boys make their progression through Kings School: “They are all good lads, it’s a real shame for Alex, as he’s missed the whole of his last season through the pandemic”.
I asked Rick about the new-comers to the Club: “There were quite a few last season, who have yet to play, but all look exciting prospects, we’ve also had one new-comer so far, since starting back, a Tight-Head Prop who’s moved up from Taunton.”
It’s great to have Jonah back at the Club, there has been many in the past, that have had a dalliance with the Waa-Waas – but they always return home!
Weekend Rugby Round-up
It was to be the end of any English interest in the Champions Cup at the weekend, Sale Sharks were first to fall to the considerable challenge of La Rochelle. Sale had no answer to the side from Aquitaine whose players were dominant and creative, clinically finishing their opportunities. In Devon, the Exeter Chiefs started brightly, with two scores up after just 8 minutes, but Leinster countered just as quickly with two scores of their own. After that the Irish contingency forged ahead winning comfortably. The other matches were 100% French affairs, both of which were competitive, with Bordeaux and Toulouse going through.
In the Challenge Cup the Premiership sides did better, with Leicester and Bath making it through to the Semi Finals, although Northampton finally fell to Ulster in a nip and tuck affair.
The Women’s 6 Nations continued, with England’s Red Roses taking on Italy. After 23 minutes it was all ‘Azzurri’ until Emily Scarratt picked up a loose ball for a clinical finish, with Fleetwood finishing for another try minutes later after a weaving run by Jones. Whilst the Italians continued to be competitive for the rest of the half, the highlight had been Meg jones; a breath of fresh air at 12, after last week’s dull centre play, always creating space with dominant running and fast feet. England’s finishers finished-off the little resistance that was left in the last quarter, running in another six tries to finish 3 – 67, an unlikely final score given the half-time score line.
Priory Park opens-up from Tuesday, with improved socially distanced facilities, welcoming back the membership, to The Sin Bin outdoor bar. Rugby, across all of its formats, continues as we step nearer to a full return.