My “Take” of the week this time around is a classic question in sport, Pep Guardiola versus Jose Mourinho, win with flair, win at all costs; Style over substance.
It was Napoleon who said the best form of defence is attack, and I think our head coach must have come from a long line of ‘old guards’, as his whole playing ethos is straight from Napoleon’s plan of attack; understand your enemy, find his weakness, populate that weakness in numbers, be quick supportive and clinical in your pursuit, and if it all goes wrong stand your ground.
Wise coaching words two hundred years later, and it has been so this season as Sedge have been terrific on the field plying a wonderful style of rugby which has you up on your feet in a roller coaster ride of emotions from first to last whistle. Fantastic stuff.
Last week we saw the 1000th point of the season reached in great style, with a well drilled performance that Sheffield just could not live with. Testament to the off-field coaching and the on filed application by the whole team, driven on by the outstanding captaincy of Matt Riley.
Our bonus point haul for the season is the best in all the top levels; So Sedgley Park, entertaining, high and lows, tries galore, National League Two North Champions…… erm, well not quite.
The top of the table as you know is Sale FC, and without sounding negative, jealous, petty even, they have managed to do this by applying a very high standard of defence, organisation of play, and being exceptional in set plays. The mindset is concentration on those small margins of error.
They literally grind you down and regardless of what you do as an opposition, even taking a lead, they will by their sheer strength and fitness see you out off your feet by the 60th minute, and then open you up like a can of beans. Their supporters quite rightly love it and why not. National One here we come, they will say.
That’s the point, does it not matter how you play, all that matters is the end result? Is that it?
A few weeks ago, a few of us went to see Macclesfield Blues play Sale FC at Priory Park. I think anyone who saw my tweets that day would tell you I was bored stiff. Maybe it was the fact I had no empathy or passion for either club, but truthfully, I was bored. It is not the case that I do not understand and like the physical grind of up your jumper rugby, no not at all. I love it. The reality is there is no set way to win a game.
To me and to those who came with me the game on the day was dead. However, standing with the Sale supporters, they thought it was incredible stuff, and one said to me ‘this is classic Sale, what we do best’. I left early…… Sale went to win by 30-odd points all scored in the last 15 minutes.
So, what the hell do I know (don’t answer that)
So, what’s the best policy, style or substance? Well based on the above it has to be substance, as Sale sit on top of league and that really is all that matters!
The last point has to be correct, but thinking about this, style or substance is not a playing choice or ethos you pick up at the beginning of one season, then drop it the next. I think it goes further than this. I think how you play is an expression of your club, it is in your DNA and stays with you over time.
Take our guest today, Sheffield Tigers, a proud club who will take you on at all parts of the game, but to them attack is also the best form of defence, and regardless of the situation this is how they are set up to play.
The same could be said about Sedge when we shot up the leagues. It was not all about a huge big pack grinding out wins, it was about strong competent forwards who were mobile, as we took the game to the opposition, not worrying about what they could do. They had to contend with our 80-minute game.
It worked well until we got up to the Championship, and in those first few seasons at that level we took some beatings, but we also had some fantastic wins, the day we tore London Welsh to pieces at Old Deer Park comes to mind, or when we pushed newly relegated Leeds Tykes at Headingly. That was the same Tykes who the previous season had won the National Cup and played in Europe, full of internationals, only managing to get the narrow win by a late interception as we were battering the Leeds Tykes line. Unbelievable stuff.
Not very successful I might add in that we narrowly hung on to league status in those few seasons, however the Sedge faithful loved it (come on admit it, of course you did), there was an acceptance that we might be getting beat but we are playing it our way. The support stayed strong and like it or not, grew.
Then came changes by the coaching staff, and during the last two to three seasons our mindset was not playing the Sedge way, but we changed to an almost alien game, one of a competent defence, a game plan designed to hang on. To be fair to the coaches it worked in the last few seasons of our time in the Championship as our final league position improved. Remember sedge did not get relegated from the league, we were demoted due to league re-structure. In a bizarre final result, it was our best points haul and position whilst we were in the league.
However, in those final two or three seasons, the playing change might have helped our league position, but off the field people were voting with their feet, as what is the point of just hanging on? This was not the Sedgley Park way.
This is the point. There is no such things as the best way to play, its not about style or substance, it is about both, but more relative is the way your club is, and what the players members and supporters are happy with.
This season has seen Sedge return to their very best with a brand of strong running rugby, based from a platform or exceptional forward play. It has not all been about running tries in, for me it has been about our ability to dig deep when it matters and sticking to a plan that we do naturally, regardless of the result.
Next week we will probably head south to play the Harlem Globetrotters of the south, the star studded Chinnor, in the playoff game. This will be a very good game. Two teams who want to play, and a Chinnor side who have been exceptional this season. Couple this with “no team from the north” in the play-off game has ever won, we will travel there in the belief and hope that the Sedgley Park way is the best way for us, be it in National League One next term should we win, or National League Two North should we lose.
Good luck to the boys next week.
Enjoy your summer