After weekly postponements since the 1st February due to the biblical weather this second round Cup match was finally played at Priory Park on Saturday. The score would suggest a very entertaining game, and like the proverbial curates egg – in parts it was. Crewe & Nantwich arrived short of a full team and Jacko, one of the Macc replacements and sometime referee, was pressed into service on the Crewe & Nantwich right wing. The weeks of inactivity for both teams showed as play was consistently scrappy with the referees whistle getting plenty of action with both sides not playing to their potential and making simple basic errors that created frequent breakdowns in play and so both sides found it a challenge to be able to create momentum. Macc had put out one of their strongest teams this season, but their usual dominance in the forwards seemed harder to establish, although the backline consistently edged their opponents. Crewe & Nantwich certainly held their own despite being outweighed and outmuscled by the Macc forwards. Although the effective Macc tactics of running the ball from the base of the scrum and rucks into the heart of the opposition worked , it lacked the devastating penetration and support play that so often has been the key success factor for Macc this season.
The first scoring opportunity came for Macc after only two minutes with a penalty in front of the posts, but it inched wide of the post. But after 10 minutes “Man of the Match” Matt Bowden, charged over for the first of his three first half tries following a good threequarter movement. Much of the first half play was in the Crewe & Nantwich half, and several Macc players went close to scoring as the pressure was exerted on Crewe & Nantwich, Jason Walker nearly made it over the line from a strong rolling maul, and Smithy, playing on the Macc right wing came close on two occasions being tackled short of the line. The Macc backs put together a number of powerful runs up the centre and it was here that Macc showed their dominance as Matt Bowden added two more tries to his personal total, with a further touchdown from scrum-half Andy Foster. Two of the first half tries were converted to take the half time score to 24 – 0.
By half time Crewe were reduced to 13 men as first one then another fell victim to injury. As so often is the case, Crewe & Nantwich played some of their best rugby once the chips were down, and one Crewe attack and kick ahead to the Macc tryline brought an excellent piece of skill from Tom Bamburger who fell on the ball, collected it under extreme pressure from the opposition and cleared his line with a fine kick to touch.
At half time Skipper Walker exhorted his men to keep the pressure on but to tighten up the errors and play solid effective rugby getting the basics right. Walker had brought on his replacements at half time and created the largest pack of forwards that the 4ths have fielded this season – a real monster pack! Nevertheless, Crewe & Nantwich were not overwhelmed despite being short in the pack themselves and they managed to retain the majority of their put in ball. Macc were also guilty of losing their usual cohesion and discipline and on two occasions conceded four successive penalties that gave Crewe & Nantwich the momentum to gain significant ground. Macc inevitably scored first in the second half, with an excellent pick up from the base of a set scrum by Tim Peakman that resulted in Fergus Green scoring a fine forwards try, converted by Amos. Crewe & Nantwich had not given up, and from scrappy play their left winger crossed for an unconverted try.
Macc did not play particularly well during much of the second half, and there were periods when it looked as if Macc were trying hard not to score as several opportunities either went begging, or were simply butchered. Bearing in mind that by midway through the second half Crewe & Nantwich were further reduced by injury to 12 men, Macc should have pressed home their numerical and size advantage to run up a high score. Connor Frain, a young, big and powerful second row, made several bullocking runs deep into the Crewe & Nantwich defence, and his efforts were rewarded with two tries, both converted by Amos, but Crewe & Nantwich also managed a further converted try bringing the final score to 47 – 12.
During the last minutes of the match Skipper Walker watched the final plays from the touchline and rightly expressed the view that Macc had played very much better against 15 men than they had against 13 and then 12! Full credit to Crewe & Nantwich for keeping at it despite the challenges presented by injury. Nevertheless, it is Macc whose Cup run continues and will travel away to Liverpool St Helens next Saturday in the 3rd round of the Cup.
Special thanks to Jacko for playing the whole match on the wing for Crewe & Nantwich, although similarly to the eminent David Duckham many years ago – he did not see much ball!