The numbers would suggest that this should be an open and shut win for Macclesfield with their 4 wins in the last 6 form guide and Sheffield not winning since 25th November (8 games), but as we all know the ‘Tiger Dome’ on Hathersage Road, Sheffield is not an easy place to go and get a result.
The Blues had much of the early running, despite playing up the hill, having established dominance at the Scrum, even with both Tight and Loose head understudies, Tom Poole and Brendan Berry respectively, starting the game given their recent positive contributions from the bench. Lewis Winterbottom made a clean break from his own half but the attack broke down outside the Tigers’ ’22 and the Blues’ next attack looked like James Hampson was going to sneak in in the corner before Lee Taylor made a tremendous try saving tackle on 14 mins.
Despite the awful weather the pitch was holding together if not a bit squidgy in parts, and on 19 minutes the home side started to win the territorial battle, showing why playing down the hill is useful, executing their kicking game well. They pegged the Blues back in their own ’22 and a bit of an onslaught began. A few chances were spurned by the Yorkshire side and Nick Allsop was lucky to not be yellowed going in at the side of a ruck on his own 5m. Consequently the corner was taken and a powerful Tigers maul went over with Archer under the pile of bodies on the ball. Fly half Mark Ireland converted (21 mins 7-0).
Much of the remainder of the first half was very scrappy with both sides struggling to keep the ball alive despite some impressive offload, boh sides looking to play in less than desireable conditions and The Blues best chance of the half came from one such scenario when the Tigers back line spilled the ball, only for it to be picked up by Sam Broster who combined with Morton and Hampson to streak away but he was caught short of the line and pinged for holding on. Another attacking entry fell down due to a handling error just short before Sheffield managed to clear the ball down to the Blues’ 22 where Hampson and Reed were penalised for crossing, allowing Ireland to kick another 3 points (10-0 at Half Time).
The way Macc have been rejuvenated under Marshall Gadd meant there was a feeling among the crowd that 10 points might not be enough of a buffer as the teams swapped ends giving the incline advantage to the Blues.
Following the break the visitors managed to engineer a couple of opportunities through defensive pressure but could not convert, no panic at this stage but then found themselves defending in their own half for the next 13 minutes as a determined Tigers’ side forced mistakes, kicked well and racked up the phases count.
When Macclesfield did get out of their half they got field position regularly but struggled to keep the attacks alive submitting to forced errors and allowing too many unforced errors, first being forced into touch off an impressive first phase move on 60 odd minutes, over kicking and then allowing the inspirational Jamie Broadley to take a quick ‘22m drop out and canter up the field and then there was a 7 minute spell of phase play inside the Blues’ half which just ate up too much time from the travelling teams’ perspective as the home side did well to manage the territorial game. With 12 minutes left Sheffield really had not read the script, as they looked more likely to score given the action areas. The Cheshire side managed to repel 2 more attacking red zone entries before working their way back into the Yorkshire team’s ’22 with a couple of penalties but spilled the ball in their first attempt and then the ball was deemed out of the ruck when it was pinched by a defender 8 metres out, by the referee, whose only blemishes in my opinion would be a his interpretation of a couple of Sheffield lineouts’s legitimacy and whether the Blues should have had 2 yellow cards against them in the first half.
The Tigers held on for an overdue win and Macclesfield were left to dwell on missed opportunities but despite the recent up turn in form, this result just reinforces the notion that the hard work must continue and no one can afford to rest on their laurels. The other positive that must be highlighted is how well the young players are performing. Berry and Poole started the game as mentioned and more than justified Gadd’s decision to start them turning over 3 scrums and working hard in the loose; Joe Palmer has come of age this season with increased game time and calling the lineout in some games; Tom Burden continues to work himself into the ground and Winterbottom looked lively until having to leave the pitch through injury early on. Injuries are a concern as the tireless Liam Parfitt has not featured much lately and has a shoulder problem, although Matt thorp has deputised well, and Lewis Barker sat this one out due to a hamstring problem.
Post Match Marshall Gadd appeared disappointed with the missed opportunities and perhaps the mental approach to the game:
“…its frustrating, you can have all the plays in the book but when you come up against a side who want it more than yourselves then that’s what it came down to, they wanted it more than us and they came with a better attitude, I saw it as soon as we got off the bus, we were a burden unto ourselves and those are the teams, the ones in and around us who we need to be picking up points from.”
The boys will have to be on their game next week as league leaders Sale FC come to town for a second local derby in 3 weeks.
Scorers: Tries: Archer (1) Conversions: Ireland (1) Penalties: Ireland (1)
Sheffield Tigers Team: Cone (Simmons) , Archer, Hopkins (Thornton), Symcox Al, Orton, Adcock (Bloor), Wragg, Nesbit (Wallace), Holmes, Ireland, Taylor, Outram, Broadley, Mellor, Swatkins
Replacements: Thornton, McDonald, Simmons, Bloor, Wallace
Macclesfield Blues Team: R. Parkinson ©, Palmer, F. Barker, Marwick (Thorp), Burden, Poole (Robinson), Moss, Berry (Mantell) and Allsop, Morton, Broster, Davenport, Winterbottom (Lomax), Reed, Hampson (Laing).
Replacements: Mantell, Robinson, Laing, Thorp, Lomax.
Man of the match: Lee Orton
Blues’ Starmen: Tom Burden and Brendan Berry