Maidenhead continue to 'drop off tackles' in 45-13 defeat to Westcombe Park

Despite making changes to their defensive structure, Maidenhead RFC’s players continued to drop off tackles and be caught flat-footed in broken play as Westcombe Park eased to a comfortable 45-13 win over them on Saturday.

The defeat, Maidenhead’s sixth of the season, was even more troubling as the club’s coaching staff had been working all week to come up with a solution to their defensive woes.

Once again, Westcombe found it far too easy to run in tries from open play, with visiting players bouncing off their first tackles or being side-stepped as the hosts switched defence to attack in the blink of an eye.

Head coach David Mobbs-Smith didn’t feel the performance was as bad as the scoreline suggests, but admits the players are having to learn some ‘hard lessons’, something he hopes will stand them in better stead for the challenges to come later in the season.

“Again, the performance was actually quite good,” said Mobbs-Smith. “But we just dropped off tackles at the wrong times and every time we managed to get a foothold in the game they managed to score.

“It’s pretty much the pattern we’ve been facing all season and they managed to run in a couple of late tries when we were throwing the ball around trying to get a couple of scores ourselves.

“It was very similar to Hertford. Lots of broken play scores from our opponent and us just making individual defensive errors, people dropping off tackles, things like that, and at the moment we’re just getting punished by some very good sides.”

Like Maidenhead, Westcombe Park haven’t had the best of starts to the season, losing five of their opening six matches, however, they’ve been bedding in a lot of talented players with experience of the leagues above and Maidenhead felt the full force of that on Saturday.

“Even though they’re quite lowly in the league, they’ve brought in a whole lot of new players,” said Mobbs-Smith. “They’ve strengthened their squad a lot and it’s just taken them the start of the season to sort that out.

“But they have a lot of players they’ve brought in from the leagues above so it will be interesting to see how they do now for the rest of the season.

“They looked pretty good on the day but as the season goes on and we adjust to the league, hopefully we’ll find some better solutions to starving teams of the ball and putting them in areas of the pitch we’d like them to be in and keeping them there.

“These are hard lessons, but we had 13 players who came through our club out on the pitch and they had none.”

It's clear Maidenhead are struggling to adapt after their switch from the South West Premier Division, an issue that’s been exacerbated by several changes to personnel during 18 months without competitive rugby during the pandemic. However, they need to start getting to grips with the style of play of sides in this division if they’re going to give themselves a realistic chance of staying up.

Mobbs-Smith expects results to improve as the weather turns colder and wetter through the winter, however, they’ll see this Saturday’s home clash against bottom of the table CS Stags 1863 as a good chance to start.

“We had the same problems with the dropped off tackles, but we did at least have people in the right areas,” added the head coach. “It will be interesting to see this weekend, with another week’s practice to be in those adjustments, if we can be more effective.

“That is an assessment I can only make after four games because it’s such a fundamental change.

“After the Brighton game, we’ll review it to see how it’s functioning rather than reacting to a single game where we’ve missed some tackles. We need to see if the structure is right rather than it just being individual errors within it.”

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