MATLOCK RFC 1sts return to competitive action this weekend with coach Alan Johnson hoping his side can add greater consistency to last season’s promising displays.
The first test of the Midlands One East season is a trip on Saturday to newly relegated Old Northamptonians as the side looks to build on last campaign’s encouraging fifth-place finish.
One slight concern has been a shortage of pre-season games but coach Johnson feels the level of work that has been put in during training means the team will be more than ready when Saturday comes.
He told the Mercury: “Obviously we won the Matlock Tens tournament and then had a very good and useful friendly against Bakewell Mannerians, which is something we’d like to continue in the future.
“But a couple of games fell through and I’m of the opinion that you can never have enough pre-season games. However, they’ve worked really hard in training and we’re certainly ready. I’ve noticed an improvement in the last two weeks as the intensity levels have gone up.”
There have been no departures from last season’s squad and the club has brought in two forwards to increase the competition for places.
Johnson explained: “Lewis Richardson is facing a toe op next month so we’ll be without him for a bit but Jonny Bunting is back to full fitness after his broken leg and the likes of Ashley Statham have really worked consistently hard in training so we’ve got options right across the squad.
“We’ve added strength in depth with back row Matt Fenton returning to the club after a few years away and also prop Matt Goodall has joined from Amber Valley, so the competition for places is good.”
He went on: “We realised that we did a few things last year that were not good sometimes, particuarly on the road. We only lost one or two at home but away from home we lost around half of our games so we want to address that because the teams that finish in the top three are the ones who can do it home and away.
“We want to be creative, perhaps even more so than last season, and the lads really want to play that way, but we have to know when to rein it in a bit and adopt a more defensive style of play if the situation demands it.
“We want consistency and creativity but we need to use the ball effectively when we have it in key phases.
“A new rule has come in where you can only keep it in the ruck for around five seconds and something like that will keep the game flowing and will certainly suit our game. I felt there were one or two things that need fine tuning and the lads have really worked hard at it.”
Captaining the side this year will be Ben Neville, whose performances in the backs last season certainly impressed onlookers.
Alan Johnson said: “By his own admission, Ben would probably say he’s not the most vocal player but he definitely leads by example. He’s one of our key linebreakers, always puts in a high level of effort, and is a local lad too. He’s ex-Highfields School, he’s been with the club his whole playing career so it’s great to see him come through.
“We’ve got lots of experience to help him too, so we can continue to get the best out of him as a player, and that’s where the likes of ex-captains in the team such as Dave Ball, Jonny Bunting, Jack Wagg, Chris Young etc. can prove valuable.
“James Cooper is our vice-captain now. He’s a more vocal player, he leads by example too, so they should prove to be a good partnership as captain and vice-captain.”
Matlock will aim to get their campaign off to a winning start at Old Northamptonians on Saturday.
“They came down last year so we haven’t played them for a few seasons and it will be an interesting test for us.
“We need to pay some attention to how our opponents play and be savvy about it but we also hope to force teams to change their tactics too, simply by the way we go about things.
“We are aiming to be a bit more forceful when we need to be and with more consistency we can build on the good things from last year and see where that takes us this season.”