By David Wilkinson
As we enter a short break for the rugby squad, I took the opportunity to catch up with the Club’s Lead Coach and General Manager Andy Appleyard.
Caption: Andy Appleyard MRUFC Lead Coach
Andy as we go into the summer break with the boys taking a rest for 4 weeks, I suppose it is a good time for you to reflect how the boys have coped during lockdown.
The boys have been brilliant, throughout it all; there has been a lot out there about people’s mental health, being at home and not doing much. I think that the programme that we have run, throughout the pandemic, has been fair to the boys, with regards to not asking too much of them, we’ve given them time-off when they’ve needed it, and tried to keep it as interesting as possible, to keep the lads focused, and the enjoyment levels up as much as possible; the lads have reacted really well. We have managed to do a lot of self-development, as well as team-development, which the lads have had a lot of input into. We have had a lot of time on our hands, so that’s enabled us to reflect on how we have performed in the past, how we want to play going forward, what our strengths and weaknesses are; and really focus in on, how we can perform on a Saturday and really do the best job possible.
You brought in the legendary dual code player and coach Clive Griffiths for some specialist defensive work last month. What was your thinking behind it and how has it worked out for the boys?
Clive’s been a breath of fresh air! Always when you bring in a new coach, it is good for the boys, good for the other coaches, and good for the environment. And that is specially the case with Clive, he has been in and around at the highest level, with both codes, for so long, he has got bags and bags of energy and that rubs-off on the other coaches and the boys. A lot of the stuff we had been working on, but Clive was a different focus, a different message, a different voice. It is painted a clearer picture for the boys. Clive has brought a difference to our defence, which could be seen in the Tigers games. There are still things to improve on, but we have seen a difference. It is a long time to the start of the season in September, but we’ve got those things to work on now.
Caption: Clive Griffiths coaching defence at the ruck
Is using specialist coaches something that you will try again?
Yes definitely. It’s always hard to get senior specialist coaches to come for more than one session; but Clive reached out to us; and he is coming back for some more sessions, but he’s not just committing to Macc Rugby Club, he’s into sharing his knowledge with everyone; which is great, and I think that’s the right attitude, so he will be doing work with other Clubs, but he will be about and always part of our extended team.
The squad finished off with back-to-back games against Sheffield Tigers, what are your thoughts on the overall performances and what were the things that you have learned from the games to take forward.
The whole thing about playing Sheffield Tigers, was to put us back on that National Two platform. And to show the younger lads that have not been there, what it’s all about. So, introducing that to the lads, especially the five Colts that were playing their first senior rugby, and it is no easy thing going away to Sheffield Tigers. The way all the young lads played was brilliant, but it was not just all down to them, but the senior leaders as well, so hats-off to them for the way that they brought them on. There were plenty of things to work on, but I was pleased with how some of the things that we had been working on went, like finishing off attacks in the fifteen channel. Last season there was only a fifty-fifty chance whether we would make the right decision; it seems now that that decision has become a much higher success rate. We are looking sharper in that channel and the attack really impressed me. Plus, the work that Clive had been doing in defence, they looked so solid. It was just a few little errors that we got punished on, and the lads will learn from that. You may get away with those in the North Premier, but not National Two, and that is what we’re preparing for.
The next competitive rugby to be played at Priory Park will be the Macclesfield Sevens on the 9th and 10th of July. Firstly, how is that going in terms of entries, over the two days, and secondly how many senior men’s teams do you intend to put in the competition from the Club?
It’s going well, we’ve hit our target of 12 teams for the Men’s Senior competition, but we may extend that up to 16. The Women’s teams are up to 4 at the moment, so we are looking to grow that. The Vets are looking like 5 or 6 teams, so all in all it’s looking good but there is still time to get some other teams involved. We are entering 3 senior teams from the Club and I believe there are 2 Vets teams, which is 35 plus and played on half-pitch size – so that should be good for them. We’ve also got a Walking Rugby Competition on the Friday Evening, plus entertainment.
In the Men’s seniors are they all club sides, or are there some invitation teams?
It’s a good mixture, there are plenty of club sides but also some Sevens sides, so it should be a good mix; and we have a new 7s team coming called the 99ers. We have had 7s competitions here before, but if this goes well, it should become a permanent date in the diary. Bob Jenner has dug out an old 7s trophy that we won many years ago, so it looks like we are going to use that for the competition.
Once the 7s is over, subject to the greenlight from the Government, we will be into full-on rugby. How is the squad looking in terms of personnel, are you looking at new players or indeed are there also some that haven’t played, as yet, in any competitive games?
The squad’s looking really strong, it’s bigger than it has ever been, with real strength in deep. Whilst we are always looking for new players, for any of the teams, but our real focus is on the lads here and how we can improve them. There are new lads that have had some game time, but we want to see more of that. Jonah is looking forward to spending time with the lads once the set-piece comes back in. We have managed to keep hold of our key players and the new players who came in last season have all stayed with us, trained hard, and had some game time. Then there’s the Colts that have come up, and hopefully some of them will be about next season. Our plan is to develop a real professional environment for the squad and to make the 2nd team extremely competitive and a real pathway into the Ones making the Ones as strong as possible.
What is your plan in terms of warm-up games before the start of the season, do you intend to play teams from higher leagues like Sheffield Tigers?
We do want to play National 2 teams, and we want a bit more game time, as we have been out of the swing of things for so long. So, we might step down a little and play some of the local sides, which could be mid-week, with the likes of Stockport and probably reach out to Wilmslow for a mid-week game; and then look at some big-match Saturdays to really test the boys and see where they are at; and then there’s the Cheshire Cup, and it would be great to do well in that,
Caption: The North Premier kicks off on the 4th of September with a home game against Burnage
There are five changes to North Premier since we last played, with Otley and Preston Grasshoppers dropping down, both should be a threat, but It goes without saying, that presumably the playing ambition is to win the league. How do you envisage things might be different this time around?
I think that the last season that we played in North Prem, we did well, and it was a learning experience for some of the players that had come down. I think maybe some of them thought it would be an easy run, but it was not. There are a lot of very good home-grown teams out there with lads that are mega-passionate about their clubs. I thought that we did fantastic throughout the season, but were there times that we slipped up, and made wrong decisions maybe, and perhaps lost games ourselves – our own worst enemies at times? I believe during the past year, talking with the boys, looking at new ways of playing, with the boys also coming up with new ideas, has already put us in a position of strength where the 50/50 decisions that we made last season are a thing of the past. It could be a blessing in disguise that we are in this league for another season, with the squad ironing out all the things that we have worked on. We’ve got a good opportunity now to have a really good season and just progress to the end goal.
What’s your plan for the team, in terms of its growth and ambition, and the strategy to where you want to get to?
Obviously, you cannot look too far ahead, as you might trip yourself up in the short-term. The key thing for the Club is to create a sustainable business, that then funds the rugby, whether that be under sevens, girls, women, third team, fourth team, the whole rugby environment. But we do have an elite team, that drives match-day Saturdays, and we want to improve that as much as we can. So, the short-term aim is to get back into Nat 2, and on top of that it would be to sustain that status. If the business is then as successful as we hope it will be, the world is our oyster, so to speak, for us to further develop the Club and the first team.
There is still plenty going on at the Rugby Club, throughout the week, although the highlight this week will take place up in the hills, on Thursday 3rd June. Around 20 people will take on the Cheshire 3 Peak Challenge to raise funds for Motor Neuron Disease, and legend of Macclesfield Rugby Club, Richard Usher, who was diagnosed last year. Full details of the walk and the fundraising can be found on the Club website.