I managed to catch up with our First Team Captain to get his views on how the season is progressing having got several games under the belt.
Last time we spoke it was in the aftermath of the Otley game and I don’t think you, or anybody else, was too satisfied with that match but, three games on and three good wins, what are your feelings now?
I think we got the reaction we looked for. As I said at the time, it wasn’t a bad ‘wake-up call’ to have so early in the season. I think it gave us a bit more of a benchmark as to where we need to be as a squad and what the league is going to look like.
There are no walkovers. We’ve played three decent teams that we had to turn up against and did so. I think we’ve learned a lot about the squad, who’s good in what position and doing what in terms of the new attacking shape we’ve been given this year. We’ve adapted to that well and I think you can see that has turned into pretty consistent, high-scoring games.
The big ‘work-ons’ for me are the penalty count, which is an easy thing to say but it breaks down into smaller things such as repeating errors rather than making new ones. That’s fine. Everyone makes mistakes but it’s when we make the same mistake three or four times on the bounce it becomes harder and harder to plead our case with the referee.
That’s just a bit of the maturing of the squad. We are still a young squad but that is a positive. I think you’ve seen in the last twenty minutes of games that we kick on and have been able to out-work people but there are still other things, ‘tricks of the trade’ that we’re still picking up as a team. It’s all been positive.
The rest week this week has come at the right time. We have a fair few knocks and bruises being carried by the squad and now we’re looking forward to getting back into it in another week’s time.
I think the noticeable thing I’ve seen in the last three games, the good wins, is the fact that you did seem to be much fitter in the last twenty than the opposition, good as those teams were.
Yes, if you put a game to bed early it becomes much easier later on to have more room to express yourself than be a team who has been under the cosh for sixty minutes. There is always that factor but I do think our fitness since the start of the season has been excellent. The work that Jamie’s been doing and the support that Lucy has given has been amazing and the injuries are no reflection on them in my opinion. They have put in an inordinate amount of ‘pre-hab’ for all the lads, preventing potential injuries. If we’d not had their hard work it would have been a lot worse.
I think also that it’s to be expected when you’ve had two years off, that there’s going to be a lot more knock and bruises and I think this is happening across many teams but the fitness work from Lucy and Jamie is excellent and that’s paying dividends.
Going on from that, at the beginning of the season we talked about the team ethic and the First Team Brand, how do you feel the squad is settling in now?
I think it’s been excellent to be honest. I feel we’re getting an appreciation of what the strengths and weaknesses of what is a very talented squad are, and how best we can use those various talents to fit the system we want to play under Arnie and Byron .
Off the pitch there has been, not exactly a difference from last season, but there has been a conscious effort from the lads to spend more time together, to socialize together to get closer and bonded and also to feel closer to the Club which is extremely important. It’s always good to get off the away bus and come into the Club and there are still twenty or thirty people in there who you can sit with and have a beer. It’s excellent and it helps to endear the First Team to the Club and vice versa. I think that it’s a positive feedback leap in as much as the more you enjoy your rugby, the more you enjoy the surroundings of the rugby, the better you play and it builds and builds through a season.
We will be able to take it into some results on the pitch when, I’m sure, it will be a bit more difficult in the middle of winter in some of the other places we will be visiting. That’s when the team bonding will help to drag us through the more difficult moments which we will have if we want to get to where we want to be this year.
That brings me nicely on to my final point which is, how do you feel the position we are in the league at the moment reflects where this team, this side, this squad should be in this league?
For me, there’s only one place we should be in this league and that’s top. I feel we have the squad to do it and we have the support and the infrastructure to do it. That has to be the ambition. I don’t think you can go into a season thinking that second or third will do. I know everyone wants to be top but it is a genuine option for this club. It’s too big to be just in the top three. There’s no way that Preston Grasshoppers should be this low down the leagues and that is obviously reflected in the support we get. We have to deliver on that and there is a definite feeling in the First Team that that is where we should be.
That said, it is early in the season and most teams will have their purple patches, have a few good weeks, put a string of good performances on but everything can change.
So, you could say that in some respects that almost vindicates the reason that we were relegated which was, primarily, down to the massive amount of injury with key sections of the team, not just individuals that caused us to be unable to be consistent.
I totally agree. In very much the same way that I spoke about positive feedback, you also get negative feedback when you’re losing and you’re bottom of the league with your decision- makers injured or unavailable. With the young team we had then which was, after the injuries, even younger than we have now, I think there were a lot of lessons learnt then. I know myself I learnt a lot that season and it’s just important now to use those experiences going forward to enable us to get over whatever hurdles we encounter and to build the cohesion that will take us onwards.
Article by John Le Page