McAvoy insists Blues are close to ending winless run as head coach takes positives from much-improved performance in Guildford defeat
Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy feels his side are edging closer to a much-needed victory despite falling to a 21-7 defeat to Guildford on Saturday, extending their winless run to eight matches.
Following last week’s agonising defeat to Chichester, McAvoy has said he was not “overly concerned” about the potential threat of relegation; yet, following Saturday’s defeat, the Blues boss accepted his side do have to accept that the drop is a real possibility.
Even so, McAvoy insists there were enough positives from the weekend’s trip to Surrey to suggest Blues are within touching distance of a win that would relieve some of the pressure on his side.
McAvoy – his typically calm and measured self – felt Newbury had the better of almost all areas other than the scoreline on Saturday, with Blues ultimately undone by three tries from set-pieces.
The visitors got on the board with a well-taken score from Ali Magee – with skipper Dan Thorne adding the conversion – but McAvoy was left to rue his team’s failure to convert from a number of other promising positions.
“It might sound a bit silly because the scoreline dictates who the better team is but, if you simply put it down to performance metrics, we had the edge,” he said.
“We were ahead on line breaks, ahead on offloads, ahead on territory, ahead on possession and ahead on the penalty count. From that perspective, we can be pleased.
“We’d worked on a few things in defence and we were a lot more solid, we didn’t concede from any line break scenario. The three tries came from penalties that led to set-pieces, so we need to look at red zone plays and how we stop those final 10 metres from the set-piece, but we were much more difficult to break down.
“In an attacking sense, we created a lot of chances and I was disappointed we didn’t manage to score more tries. Again, there were positives to take from the amount of opportunities we created. We just need to execute and turn that pressure into points.
“Performance-wise, we were pleased. The huddle at the end felt completely different to the last few weeks. We’d either been deflated, because we felt we hadn’t played well, or just gutted because of how close we’d been. This one had a different air because, although we were still disappointed, we could take a lot of positives from how we played.”
After winning five of their first seven games, a run of eight defeats in a row has seen Blues slump from fighting for a top three spot to contending with the increasingly real threat of relegation.
With his side now fourth-from-bottom, the visit of second bottom Salisbury – who are six points behind Newbury – on January 27 is set to take on an added significance, with McAvoy planning to use Newbury Stags’ game against Henley II this weekend to make sure his players are prepared for a potential relegation grudge match in a fortnight’s time.
He said: “100 per cent, we feel like we’re so close; I think we’ve felt like that for the last few weeks.
“We were good enough to have beaten Wimborne, Chichester and Guildford. We can’t afford to just say that now – it’s no good thinking we’re the better team if we haven’t won.
“I read back what we spoke about last week and I said that I wasn’t overly worried about being in a relegation battle; well, the definition of a relegation battle is what we’re involved in, we’re in it and we can’t hide away from that.
“We’ve got an important Stags game this weekend and there will be a few of the players that played for Blues this weekend as well as some of those that have been on the fringes that will be involved.
“There are a few things I need to see from individuals and I want to see us keep up a sort of flow. If we can get a win, then that’d make a big difference to us psychologically too, we just need that winning feeling again.
“There’s been a lot of frustration but the engagement in the last couple of weeks has been fantastic.
“We’re going to do some video analysis in training and look at some of the real positives while focusing on where we still need to go. We’re just looking at a few things to turn positive performances into that win. We’ll be looking to keep the ball alive as much as possible and hopefully play some exciting rugby.”
Newbury Stags, whose scheduled game against Reading Abbey was cancelled at the weekend, welcome third placed Henley II to Monks Lane on Saturday before Blues host fellow strugglers Salisbury in two weeks time.