McAvoy confident Blues can avoid being dragged into relegation battle following controversial defeat to Chichester
Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy insists he is not “overly concerned” about the threat of relegation following Saturday’s narrow 26-22 defeat to Chichester at Monks Lane.
A run of seven defeats in succession has seen Blues slip to fourth from bottom in the table, just a point clear of Chichester and six ahead of second bottom Salisbury.
Yet McAvoy is confident his side will have enough to avoid getting dragged into a relegation battle and is taking the positives from Saturday’s second half fightback.
The hosts endured another slow start and shipped 26 first half points to trail at the break but battled back to within four thanks to tries from Jacob Checksfield, Jonny Lees and Duncan Craigen as well as seven points from the boot of skipper Dan Thorne.
And Newbury were controversially denied victory at the death when the referee sent a Chichester player to the sin bin for an infringement right on the Blues’ try line but failed to award a penalty try.
McAvoy admitted his side had been working on motivation in a bid to combat their slow starts, with the Blues boss now considering a change to his side’s warm-up routines.
“We looked to change a few things in terms of motivation pre-game as we know our starts haven’t been good enough,” he said.
“There were a few murmurs in the crowd and we gave Chichester another head start; it’s become a bit of a theme.
“We’re just going to tweak our warm-up routine and have a think about what we’re doing there, particularly in terms of the physical aspect.
“We want to be solution-based. It’s no good just talking about it, we have to work on things that are going to make a difference.
“I think the messaging is right. People were asking me what kind of magic words I’d said at half time, because we looked like a different team. I laid out some slight tactical and technical changes, but we didn’t do anything drastic.
“We just need to be able to increase our intensity levels sooner. It took some poor behaviour from the Chichester players before half time to get us going. If we can get that right earlier, I think we’ll see that second half performance become a full 80 minutes.”
Home fans were left flabbergasted by the referee’s decision not to award Blues a penalty try following a spell of sustained late pressure, which would have all but ensured the hosts snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
And McAvoy admitted he shared in some of the crowd’s anguish after a series of controversial calls in the final five minutes of the contest.
He said: “I struggle to talk about the end of the game. I’ve reviewed it now from all of the different angles we have available and I’m struggling to see the referee’s viewpoint.
“He gave a yellow card but no penalty try and then I felt we did score but he wasn’t there to see it. The next lineout was 100 per cent in from the side, but his viewpoint is that it’s not. That’s his viewpoint and we have to accept it.
“We shouldn’t have been in a position where it needed to come down to that because three of the tries we conceded in the first half were just so poor.
“That said, to put ourselves in a winning position from where we were was a big plus. The set-piece was exceptional. Seb Burgess, who got man-of-the-match, was outstanding and Ben Davies, who was coming back after a long injury absence, was great as well.”
Since springing a surprise when edging out London Irish Wild Geese in October, Newbury have endured a turbulent run of seven games without a win that’s seen them slide towards the bottom three.
In spite of his side’s dramatic downturn in form, McAvoy remains confident that a number of returning players combined with an improved performance on Saturday will ensure Blues aren’t drawn into a scrap for survival towards the end of the campaign.
“We know we’ve got some big games coming up,” he said.
“We’ve got Guildford next week and then Salisbury on January 27 – both sides that are in and around us.
“I thought Guildford were a very good side when we played them earlier in the season but if we can address some things in the first half, then I think we can exploit their weaknesses.
“We know that bonus points are everything. If we score four tries in a game, you’ll either win it or pick up a bonus point.
“I’d like to think we can finish as the best out of the current bottom five. We’ll have some players back and hopefully regain some confidence and we’ll pick up as many points as possible.
“I’m not overly concerned that this is a bottom two situation.”
Blues will be looking to avenge the 57-21 defeat they suffered earlier in the season when they travel to Guildford, who are sixth in the Regional 2 South Central table, this weekend.