Macc were lifted after their recent run of good performances after a nail biting home victory over Loughborough Students, and then a dominant but valiant loss at Birmingham Moseley last week, while second placed Plymouth were going for 10 wins in a row so no dead rubbers here.
An early maul try from the visitors by Daly and they had also built numerous forward momentum phases only to drop the ball over the line, giving the impression this may be a regulation win for the South Coast outfit, but the home side have been in deeper holes this season and hit back with a nice bit of magic from Elliot Brierley after a massive maul, side stepping 2 defenders and finishing from the edge of the ‘22. Brierley arguably had his best game of the season and was a strong contender for man of the match along with the energetic and spirited scrum half Nick Allsop.
The Blues were starved of possession for long spells by the visitors but showed good defiance and structure in their defence. Attacking opportunities were rare and The Blues were often pegged back if they did get their hands on the pill. Rare ventures into the opposition 22, first by Elliott Millar-Mills supported by 2 latching team mates and then from big carries by Ollie Parkinson and Myles Hall, were both squandered. Despite much ball Macc didn’t look under too much pressure until Plymouth went ahead again through Strong despite their attacking play struggling to break our boys down.
Macc responded not long after though when captain and number 8 Ryan Parkinson got good go forward via a Parkinson peel and moments later a penalty was awarded that Lewis Barker dispatched from 35 metres out to claw 3 points back, 10-14 at half time.
Plymouth looked a bit stronger after the break, targeting the collision in the carry, and spreading their phases from wing to wing, finding some joy in the wider channels at times but it was the Cheshire side who went into the lead after Matt King chased down his own kick, after a nice move by the backs off scrum ball. This appeared to swing the momentum and saw Plymouth’s discipline deteriorate, this being one occasion, in a season where the Priory Park side have received very little help from the officials, they would have admit referee Ben Blain was very much on the ball with the final pen count 19-9* in favour of the Blues. It wasn’t without foundation though, the visitors proved cynical in defence and set piece and breakdown, with tempers flaring when Lewis Barker was clotheslined, Blain preferring to keep his cards in his pocket this time. Macclesfield were enjoying far more possession this second period, with plenty of red zone threat. A series of scrums for the home team on the opposition 5m line, came to nothing except a yellow card for Albion before a strong attack into the Plymouth final third resulted in a further 3 points from Barker’s boot (18-14 with 12 to play).
But as has been the case so many time this year, it came down to one mistake, and as we have learnt in this league mistakes are often punished. Fly half and long time servant to the club, Tom Eaton dropped a pass right at the feet of Winger Wedlake-Milcam who ran it in under the posts (18-21) with 8 minutes to play.
The Blues dug deep and were cheered on tremendously by the home support, and spent the entirety of the remaining time in the Plymouth 22 having multiple set piece opportunities to snatch victory and a 14 phases final push for the line was ended when Billy Robinson was isolated at the bottom of a ruck. They will kick themselves for not converting the 2 major red zone opportunity conversion is such a big part of being successful in this league, and more performances like the last 2 might have meant the current league position at the foot of the table didn’t have to be the current reality, but it was a sterling effort all the same, and visitors to Priory Lane have been treated to some fantastic rugby lately.
The way the travelling side celebrated you would have thought they had just won in the final of the Champions Cup so they clearly knew they had been in a game and despite losing that should be a feather in the cap of Cheshire’s currently top ranked team.
An Ionians win against Cambridge means Macclesfield will be playing National 2 rugby next season, and Giles Heagerty (who was quick to thank the fans for their unwavering support this season) and his lieutenants will turn their attention to structuring a squad to try and bounce back at the first attempt, which wont be easy with the likes of Sedgley Park, Leicester Lions, Stourbridge, potentially the big spending Sale FC not to mention Hull or Blaydon too, but whatever happens, if its anything like today it will be exciting.
*statistical analysis provided by NoFX Sports Analysis & Media
Tries: Brierley, King
Conversions: L. Barker x1
Penalties: L. Barker x2
Tries: Daly, Strong
Conversions: Shepherd x2
Referee: Ben Blain
Star man: R. Parkinson
TEAMS (15-9, then 1-8)
MACCLESFIELD: Lomax, Hall, Brierley, L. Barker, King, Eaton, Allsop and Mantell, Millea, Millar-Mills, O. parkinson, Marwick, F. Barker, Parfitt, R. Parkinson. Replacements: Moss, Robinson, Finnemore, Smith, Broster
PLYMOUTH: Powell, Wedlake-Millcam, Squire, Strong, Crosscombe, Skinner, Shepherd and Norton, Cowan-Dickie, Keast, Collier, Holmes, Cooper, Daly, Williams. Replacements: Nixon, Freestone, George, Hallet, Setter