After the disappointing home loss to Blaydon last week, a trip for the Blues’ to second place Ampthill looked daunting, especially after the Midlands’ club were coming off the back off impressive wins against Loughborough and Moseley. But despite defeat, there were signs that Macclesfield are still fighting.
As was the case last week, Macc started the brighter and ultimately drew first blood, having shown strong resilience in defence in the opening minutes, then a line break by lock Francis Barker lead to an early but unsuccessful shot at goal for Lewis Barker who was starting at full back in place of the ill Tom Morton. But the away team managed to peg Ampthill back in their own ‘22, before Aleki Lutui’s lineout throw flew over the flailing jumper straight into the hands of Ryan Parkinson who stormed over for the Blues.
A combination of strong defensive sets, by the Cheshire side, that force mistakes out of their opponents, and the fact that Ampthill generally looked out of sorts, much to the bemusement of the home crowd, meant that if you an onlooker didn’t know any better they might think the team in blue were the second place team in National One. Ampthill were struggling to win their own lineout, not to mention get out of their own half. It wasn’t until the 14th minute when the home side actually broke out through a sniping run by Northampton Saints loanee Alex Mitchell, and from there the hosts managed to turn the territory battle around visiting Macc’s ’22 three times after some soft penalties given away in defence, although it wasn’t until their 4th visit when they managed to take anything away, Mitchell going over in the 27th minute after forwards laid the ground work. This seemed to lift Ampthill temporariliy, as more pressure brought a converted try for Karim Lynch. Macclesfield’s head did not drop though, and enjoyed a strong spell before the referee brought the half to a close (12-5).
Blues Director of Rugby Giles Heagerty must have hoped his side could replicate the momentum they had showed in the first 15 minutes of the game, but would have been disappointed to see impressive flanker Joe Bercis break through the defensive line immediately after the restart, and score. If Giles was disappointed to concede straight after the break, then he must have been fuming, 5 minutes later, to see Bercis again break tackles and provide one of the moments of the match when threw a blind offload in the tackle to put second row Karl Braband over the try line to secure the bonus point.
Macc were struggling to make much happen in attack by this point and Ampthill were powering over the gainline with increasing frequency but at times they really didn’t need to as the increasing penalty allowed the boys in burgundy and yellow to stay in the visitor’s half.
The referee had his work cut out in this game, as at times it was fairly bad tempered, Thomas Davis handing out multiple warnings for back chat from both sides and breaking up numerous scuffles after the whistle. Eventually, the penalty count pegged Macc back in their on ’22 a couple of times too many with lock, and former Tongan international Hehea going over twice from set piece platforms.
So, game over? Done and dusted? Well, maybe as far as Ampthill were concerned but it was at this point something interesting occurred. The Blues had lost scrum half Nick Allsop to a suspected broken wrist in the first half and number 10 Tom Eaton had filled his Allsop’s position and full back Barker, who is returning from long term injury having been highly impressive in last year’s National 2 Title winning season , slotted in at fly half. He hadn’t had much ball to work with since the break but what Macclesfield produced in those last 10 minutes cannot be described as anything other than swashbuckling rugby. The pace, intensity and frequency of ball movement has not been this high at any point this season, since the home win against Fylde in week 2, and Barker was at the centre of everything. Playing from everywhere, the boys in blue, or black and grey as is the Priory Park Club’s away kit, were finishing strong and replacement hooker Paul Millea’s 74th line break lead to Lewis Winterbottom scoring in the corner.
If Macc can replicate the first 5 and last 15 minutes of this game, their may just be light at the end of the tunnel, the sobering thought will be the fact no points were collected again.
Ampthill Tries:– Mitchell (27), Lynch (35), Bercis (41), Braband (47), Hehea (61, 66) Conversions:- Tarrant (36, 42, 48)
Macclesfield Tries:– Parkinson (8), Winterbottom (74)
Half Time:– Ampthill 12 Macclesfield 5 Man of the Match:- Joe Bercis Referee:- Thomas Davis Attendance:- 323