The Blues were made safe in the win over Otley last week at Priory Park while Luctonians suffered defeat away at Tynedale that left them rock bottom of National 2 and for the first half you could definitely tell which team was which based on those premises.
Macclesfield saw plenty of the ball in the middle of the park but a decent kicking game by the home side and inaccuracy with ball in hand pegged the Blues back. Despite their possession Macclesfield were playing quite deep and it was from an aggressive home defence that forced the first chance of the game as James Hampson spilled the ball at the feet of veteran winger Charles Meredith who kicked the ball into the Blues 22, gathered and was all but over the line when Myles Hall recovered to force the rip in the tackle on the line.
The Blues managed to exit their half eventually and put some phases together and with that an entry to the opposition red zone. The Luctonians defence was competing at most breakdowns and making life difficult for the men in blue shirts but a penalty was earn’t and following the maul, Moss looked set to go over but was stripped of the ball on the way.
Moments later though, Macc returned to the Luctonians ’22 and this time took their chance as the frwards laid the platform and when the ball was moved wide Dan Lomax’s kick through deflected into James Hampson’s path who finished well in the 26th minute (5-0).
But Macclesfield couldn’t capitalise on the breakthrough, repeatedly giving up the ball in attack and gifting their hosts territory in defence, who luckily were unable to find that cutting edge. The table-propers looked to be winning more lineout ball than they were used to of late and seemed to be relishing the dry sunny weather, looking to keep the ball in hand. Macc held out, surviving 2 driving mauls from 5m out but finally fielded points on the stroke of half time when the Blues won a defensive pen that was overturned as Sam Brosters’ enthusiasm overcame him as his shove on Henry Monkley incited a brawl and the penalty was reversed despite there being a possible punch visible on the video thrown by a Lucts player on James Hampson but in the melee it would have been hard for the officials to see. Boxhall slotted the penalty to make it 5-3 at half time to the Cheshire side.
The Blues struggled to get going in the second half, possibly disappointed not to make more use of the possession they enjoyed in the first. Macclesfield had to dig deep defending the phases and suffering breaks, and gave away far too many penalties in their own half which, understandably given their league position, Luctonians were keen to take 3 points from. Boxhall kicked another 3 on 49 mins before the Priory Park side squandered another opportunity to maul over in one of only 3 second half visits to the home side’s ’22. The pen count was mounting and Macc appeared to be stuck in their own half for long spells, with 56% of the second half played in their own half. Anther penalty was converted by Boxhall on the hour as the relegation battlers looked more like the mid table outfit leading 5-9. Indeed any time they got within range the home side looked for the drop goal so they clearly knew they had to take points where they could to eek out a win, and unfortunately Macc gave them the chance to do so.
Macc’s lineout had been uncharacteristically unreliable especially in the key areas of the field but when the forwards turned over a Lucts scrum and put the ball into the red zone, the lineout maul held firm long enough to set up the backs, as Morton’s inside ball to Hall on a hard line generated the break and a phase later Lewis Barker went through another gap to score on 62 mins, so 12-9 and the Blues lead. Surely they would pull away now?
Macc had their chances but just gave away multiple turnovers and penalties to let their hosts off the hook and Boxhall slotted another penalty on 70 mins to tie the scores. Marshall Gadd was clearly frustrated as back rower Zach Heath came on and was removed 12 minutes later, showing where he may have felt the blame lay.
The key moment came in the 74th minute as Macclesfield appeared to be building to the big finish but as they looked to play out their own half, the ball was spilled and Ben Barkley picked up, strode into the ’22 and set up Meredith who finished in the corner (17-12).
The Blues had one last shot to go for it but the home side’s defensive breakdown won the ball back, which was an issue all day so was no surprise that it was how the game ended.
Perhaps this was a case of motivation as the Midlanders were fighting for every point given their league table predicament but given that Macc are looking to rebuild over the summer and next season you would think more players would either want to give a good account of themselves or at least have one eye on putting themselves in the shop window so perhaps the earlier inference was not a factor at all. When full back Danny Lomax was asked about the subject after the game he responded:
“I think its always tough, everyone knows we are safe, but we have to come out and perform better than that, and perform better than that next week and in the coming weeks because at the end of the day we have to go on to next season now, it might be done this season but we have to perform for next season….Luctonians are fighting for their lives, they kicked well and put a lot of pressure on the likes of myself, they kicked the points and stayed in the game, and I think that was their game plan the whole way through, we got out our try and then were unlucky to concede from the fumble but they deserved their win because we didn’t turn up.”
Stourbridge at home and Wharfedale away are all that remain this season for the Blues, and if the boys take those sides lightly they may be embarrassed, so lets hope they don’t. But now the weather is finally with us lets enjoy some good quality Rugby and a beer or two as the season winds down.
Starman: Lewis Barker