After the controversy of the last minute calling off of this fixture in January due to a frozen pitch, and the fact the two teams are separated by one place in the relegation zone of National One, this had all the hallmarks of a grudge match.
Both teams wasted their first attacking entry in the opening exchanges and Macclesfield had the better of the scoreless opening quarter, using their pack to retain possession and to bludgeon away at the home eight, and they should have made more of several good chances created but handling errors and a resilient home defensive effort kept them at bay. It was Macclesfield who went ahead in the 21st minute after fly-half Tom Eaton saw a gap and made a break through the Ionians defence on half way, and put the supporting Matt King under the posts for the first score. Tom Morton added the goal to open up a seven point lead.
Ionians responded with an improved forward effort to drive the ball into the opposition 22. James Sanderson and Mark Wigham did the donkey work to allow Phil Eggleshaw to barge over from close range, on 25 minutes to level the scores. This was followed swiftly by a fine solo effort from Aquile Smith; ever alert, Smith gathered the ball at the base of a poorly guarded ruck, and sprinted through the middle, rounded the covering Ryan Parkinson and dived over in the corner. The kick was expertly judged by Isaac Green, to put the hosts 14 – 7 in front, which was how it remained to the break.
The Blues came out fighting in the second half, with Ionians weathering an early onslaught from Macclesfield, during which scrum half Green was sent to the bin after the visitors mauled 25 metres deep into the Yorkshire sides’ ‘22. Unfortunately for Macc points win prizes and the lads failed to pick any up in that dominant spell. Ultimately, not taking their chances is what has cost the Cheshire side numerous wins this season and this game was no exception.
Despite a man disadvantage, Ionians pulled away, after the pacey winger Smith had turned defence into attack by racing from one 22 to the other and forced a penalty out of the scrambling defence, the home side drove a line-out over for a try for Ali Thomson, to extend the lead to 19 – 7 after 47 minutes. Even though Macclesfield were dominating scrum time they couldn’t capitalize and conceded the bonus point try came as the game approached the final quarter. The unrelenting Joe Allott broke through the first line of a flagging defence, ran on for 40 yards before unselfishly passing inside to Smith to finish under the posts. Sam Wilson made the game safe with Ionians fifth try on the hour, when he was on hand to finish off a move instigated by some increasingly fluid play from the home back line, Lewis Minikin making a nifty break that put the home side in a good attacking position making it 31-7 with 18 minutes left to play.
Matt King combined with Eaton again five minutes later, the former underneath the latter’s chip over the Ionians defence from 5 metres out and literally falling over the line to finish, to keep the visitors faint hopes alive but these were snuffed out as Ionians were growing in confidence and hit back with two late tries; Smith was denied a third try when he was illegally impeded in a race to the line after a chip and chase kick with only Matt King at home for Macclesfield but Ionians were awarded a penalty try and the former professional, Eggleshaw then bagged a second, like his first, from close range.
Francis Barker scored for Macclesfield, following up on a break by fellow back-rower Nyle Davidson, on 75 minutes but this served as little more than a consolation, though no more than their effort deserved. As has been the case all season the lads gave everything but unfortunately it wasn’t enough.
The reality is that it looks incredibly bleak for Macc in National One now. Yes, there are 35 points available from the remaining 7 games, but The Blues are rooted to the bottom of the league and 18 points from safety, and having failed to pick up wins in the games against the teams around them, it looks as if Macclesfield can expect to be playing in National 2 next season. Many of the teams in this league have had positive praise for the fluid brand of rugby played but the high physicality, the highly competitive budgets of the teams in National One as well as the unforgiving nature of this league have were always going to make it a big ask to stay up and these factors have all played their part in what has been a difficult season to date, for Macclesfield Blues. One thing is for sure, the lads will give everything for the shirt and the fans until the bitter end. #backingmacc