McAvoy laments lack of confidence after slow-starting Blues suffer ninth defeat in 10 with loss at London Irish Wild Geese
Newbury Blues head coach James McAvoy admitted his side are struggling with confidence following their ninth defeat in 10 games, a 33-14 loss at London Irish Wild Geese.
Blues have been perennial slow starters of late and took too long to get going again in West London as the hosts raced into a commanding 21-0 lead.
Newbury responded with tries from Alex Du Sautoy and skipper Dan Thorne either side of half time and, with Thorne successfully converting both scores, Blues closed the gap to 21-14.
However London Irish Wild Geese, who have won 10 of their 17 matches this season, extended their lead after a Blues’ lineout was overthrown and the hosts carried the ball almost the entire length of the field to score.
Blues went in search of another try that would have secured a losing bonus point but Irish capitalised on the visitors’ increasingly gung-ho approach to complete the scoring and make it 33-14.
And McAvoy was again left frustrated with a flat opening half an hour and said that some of his squad are finding it difficult to adapt to the most challenging period since he took over.
“For one, I thought they played very differently to when we first played them,” he said.
“They’ve come on a lot, particularly in terms of their attacking structure, and they took us wider than when they previously played us.
“Their shape was not dissimilar to ours and I think we adapted to it pretty well.
“The real learning this week was not tactical or technical, it was all mental and mindset.
“We had a good team out. It was the same players who played earlier in the season, and even last season. Training in the week was fantastic.
“We were simply just flat, and a flat start meant we had to chase the game from a really difficult position.
“It’s frustrating, because over the last few weeks we felt we’d addressed it and solved it.
“We gave them a lead and then we had to ask ourselves, ‘are we going to start, or is this going to be 50-0 and we’re going to go home with our tails between our legs?’”
“As soon as we started upping our defensive line speed and intensity in the tackle, we had more success. It’s just a shame that it happened 25 mins in.”
Blues became the first team to beat Wild Geese back in October at Monks Lane when McAvoy’s side secured an epic 19-17 win; since then, Blues have won just one game.
At the time, McAvoy was full of praise for the defiant attitude his team took into that contest, despite starting as considerable underdogs. Blues have failed to replicate that since and have often found themselves giving up big leads in the first half of games.
McAvoy feels the problem is purely psychological but is determined to address the issue with the help of the leaders in his squad.
He said: “We’ve got to believe we can maintain a level of intensity, and do it from the start of games.
“I’m finding the psychology of this season fascinating. I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve lost nine of the last 10 games, and I don’t think many of the players have either.
“Some of them have lost some of their confidence. They’re the same players that came third last season and beat London Irish earlier in this season.
“We’re not looking to make huge changes, it just comes down to confidence and execution. It’s a really competitive league, it’s often down to who is more on it on the day.
“As a coach, I feel like I can up-skill certain technical areas but getting into a player’s mind is more complicated.
“It has to come from multiple voices – it needs to be player-led, and I will push it to be player-led.”
McAvoy is intending to use the Stags’ Counties 2 Tribute BBO South game against Henley II this weekend as a warm-up for the visit of Winchester on February 17.
The Winchester game will also be Newbury’s annual Pink Day, when Blues swap their traditional strip for a pink kit while the club raises money for Cancer Research UK and other local causes.
Blues haven’t lost a Pink Day fixture in seven years but will have their work cut out against high-flying Winchester, who are second in the league and won the reverse 34-0.
Yet McAvoy is determined to maintain the club’s proud Pink Day record as Newbury continue their testing run of fixtures, taking on all of the league’s top four sides in succession.
“We’re treating the Henley game this weekend as a really big one for us, a win for the squad would give us some momentum,” he said.
“Everybody wants to play Pink Day, it’s a special day.
“We’re playing one of the best teams in the league, who have only lost to Jersey this year.
“It’s a formidable task but, if there was any day we’d want to play them, it would probably be on Pink Day.
“Winchester’s strength is the set-piece and they dominated the lineout at their place.
“We know we need to look at the set-piece and standing up to the physical test we’re expecting.
“It’s a challenge but it’s one we’ll relish, we think there are areas we can exploit them.”