By David Wilkinson
Although Macclesfield had a rest-week, we were entertained by the Rugby World Cup 3rd/4th play-off and this weekend the Rugby World Cup Final, for the William Webb Ellis trophy. No doubt the players, coaches and supporters were glued to their TVs as the contests unfolded. Those expecting try-fests would have been disappointed, but the excitement was none the less as compelling.
Knockout rugby has its own strategies; without bonus-points for tries there is but one raison d’etre, and that is, that your team has at least one point more than your opponents at the final whistle. And strangely enough that became a reoccurring theme in the knockout stages. Engand’s matches against South Africa and Argentina were only separated by 1 and 3 points and South Africa’s final three matches by a mere point. One may be excused for thinking that these games would have been turgid; far from it. The competitions were incredibly intense, both in attack and defence. The tackling had to be intense to stem the tide, so much so that some tackles would be penalised to the extreme. The takeaway for any rugby player or coach watching these games was the importance of completing tackles, how they stem the tide, create turnovers and stop tries. Against Argentina Sam Underhill made a lung bursting 24 tackles, with Pieter-Steph du Toit making an incredible 28 tackles against New Zealand in the Final. It takes two to tango, and in the latter stages of the Final, the South African’s ferocious blitz defence just succeeded against the Kiwi’s creative steps. It had been precisely the same the previous night in Paris as England’s tackling held out against Argentina’s footwork.
Harry Oliver trying to break the tackle
To put it into context Macclesfield’s top-tacklers might sometimes hit double figures during a match. These players are nearly always back row forwards, stemming the tide before the quick boys get their hands on the ball. Macclesfield’s players have at least four games this season where all their defensive qualities will be put to the test. The first against Rossendale two weeks ago demonstrated what’s needed to stop an international player in his tracks, and the Macclesfield players will have learned a lot from that. In two weeks, the boys will face up to the second defensive challenge against a direct running Blackburn pack of heavyweights; they may not have the international class of Rossendale but are very good at bludgeoning a team before releasing some of their exciting runners. Although these are league matches getting the win takes on the same intensity as knockout rugby, in that the win is more important than the how!
These were Head Coach Darren Lamon’s thoughts after the Rossendale match, talking to team Performance and Analysis statistician, Matt Coleridge. Matt asked if it was a bit of a reality check: “Credit to Rossendale they were really solid, a strong side, it was our first game against someone near the top of the table, a real credit to them, I thought they were very good, we’re now level on points, we’ve now got some work to do starting with this week off. We’re a different side now, but hopefully we’ll still be there when we play them again, when we will be stronger. What an opportunity when we go to their place and return the favour”.
Rossendale’s superstars had an edge over Macclesfield
Matt asked if it was the defence that made the difference: “Some other things as well, but when you have the fire-power that Rossendale has you have to stick your tackles in early, we’re a side that prides itself on our D but we slipped off a couple of tackles early in the game that gave them some momentum, and then we were chasing that in the second half.
Matt asked if the game was a bit of a rangefinder for the team: “Yes it was, they had some good combos, and while we had lads returning from injury, we were also missing a few, but yes it was good to play against a quality side, the lads will learn from that as we go into the next batch of seven games.
Sam Adu doing his best to get around ex England International Denny Solomona
Matt said that even though we were short of some of our forwards we were competitive in the pack and the phase play, and that must be a positive to take away: “Yes, and that’s the way I’m feeling now, and all credit to our coaches really, that players coming back from injury, can get fit and ready through training; we showed that we were competitive, and for major parts of that game we could compete with their solid pack, compete with their star-studded backline; I was pleased with that, but their kicking game and their strike phase play, at the end of the day, was what won it for them.
Matt said, we must be pretty much back to full strength after the World Cup break, and ready to take on Leek: “Yes, the lads are going to need the break after that game with Rossendale, and you can see how important the squad management is. It’s going to be a good headache to have really, we’ve got Blackburn away in two weeks, as part of that block of seven. So yes, we’ll go to Leek, they’re a quality side but hopefully we’ll right some wrongs. You should see a number of team changes in the next 3 games, and then come the New Year hopefully we are still level-pegging with the top two teams or overtaking them”.
The squad is certainly looking in good shape, 6 wins out of 7 so far and all the players back in the reckoning after injury and availability, plus Josh De Groot, who had a strong 30 minutes against Rossendale. There are permutations to be considered throughout the front five, six and seven, and 10 to 15. It is a very good situation to be in, but keeping everyone happy will be difficult, with only 18 on match-day to pick from with at least 24 candidates. Leek on Saturday will be far from a formality that said, all eyes will be on the arrival of Blackburn on the 11th and selecting a side that can really challenge the unbeaten Lancastrians.
These were Darren Lamon’s thoughts leading up to selection this week: “We’ve used 28 players so far this season, and we, the coaching group are really pleased with where we are now, having scored the most tries in the last 8 seasons. Once we’ve played all of the top four teams we will know how far we are and the challenge ahead. The challenge made to the players, is to go into the New Year having scored more points than any previous team in the last ten years. As for selection against Leek this week, it will be a challenge, but we will play our best players, we will trust the game-stats. There are always reasons if a player gets dropped and we always talk those reasons through with the players. After 7 matches so far, we have used 7 different groups of players in the pack, backline and on the bench”.
Please get behind the lads on Saturday at Leek Rugby Club, which is situated off the A520 North of Cheddleton, kick off is 2.15 pm.