MATLOCK RFC’s new first team coach says he ‘can’t wait’ for the season to start on Saturday and has called on local rugby fans to come along and be a part of ‘an exciting time’ at the club.
Alan Johnson played for the club on the wing and at full back between 2000-2005 and is now at the helm of the Cromford Meadows-based club’s first team as they embark on their Midlands One East campaign on Saturday.
Last season proved an epic, extending into May due to the bad winter weather, but ended on a high when they won the NLD Shield.
They have continued this good form into the pre-season programme, the high point of which was victory in the Matlock Rugby 10s tournament last month, beating clubs from across the Midlands.
Now Alan, 36, can’t wait to get going in competitive action, against Nuneaton Old Edwardians at home this Saturday (3pm start).
Alan, known to all at the club as AJ, is a head of year at Lady Manners School in Bakewell, where he has been involved in coaching their teams for the past ten years, as well as providing coaching to Matlock RFC’s under 17s and under 18s sides.
His first bold move as coach was to bring the squad in for pre-season training in late May/early June, only a couple of weeks after the end of the season, but it’s a gamble he feels has paid off.
Alan, who has linked up with new capitain Chris Young, explained: “I’m delighted with how it’s gone. We began pre-season maybe three or four weeks earlier than usual. I wanted to have a good look at the lads, to have more time to get to know the squad and to get my ideas across.
“There were one or two raised eyebrows at first but they’ve all bought into it and the numbers that we got throughout pre-season were superb, sometimes as many of 32-33, which is practically unheard of.”
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“People caught on to what we are trying to do and and their attitude has been first rate.
“The 10s tournament was something where we were looking at putting some of the things we had worked on into a match situation and in the end we were really impressive. Some teams couldn’t get near us, so that was really pleasing.
“Looking to Saturday, it’s not so much that my main feeling is confidence, it’s more a case of simply looking forward to playing in a 15-a-side game and using what we have worked on so far. I can’t wait, to be honest.
“We have worked a lot on ball-to-hand co-ordination, fitness and having a positive attitude. Our big ethos this year is that no-one makes a mistake on purpose and when it happens, we pull together because we’re all in the match situation together. We want to play a fluid game when we can, but also to alter it according to the position of the match.
“I think our strengths are based around our fitness and I want to make mention of Adam Gallagher, who has been assisting me with coaching and working on the fitness too.”
He concluded: “We’ve got a new captain in Chris Young and he has bought into all of this. He’s been very supportive, a good intermediary between me and the players and he is a very exciting player too.
“We’ve got a young squad with some experience sprinkled among it. The average age of some squads for pre-season was 24, which is very young, but we hope we’ve got a good blend and we hope we can excite our supporters this year.
“There’s a real buzz around the club and we hope local rugby fans will come along on Saturday and get behind us and get involved. All three teams are at home, which is ideal, and there’s a social afterwards so we hope for some good support to start the season.”