This was top, already crowned champions, versus bottom, already relegated, so some sense of an end of season dead rubber, and with the sun blazing it was fun in the sun as Hartpury brought the curtain down on their 2016-17 home, even if Hartpury’s estimate of 473 spectators seemed slightly optimistic.
Macclesfield’s recent impreesive form came to a crashing end, having beaten Blackheath and been unlucky not to take the scalps of Moseley and Plymouth, as the home side ran in fourteen tries, including a late 9-minute hat-trick for league-leading scorer Jonas Mikalcius, tells the tale of a game in which the visitors were competitive in the opening exchanges before being blown away by Hartpury power and pace.
With Gloucester on A-League duty this week, there was minimal representation from the Premiership club meaning some new faces in the home line-up. The fact that the Hartpruy side included Maliq Holden, a scorer at Twickenham in the recent BUCS final, at full-back, and Charlie Chapman at scrum half stepping up from the under-18 production line that has produced Dan Robson, and the Glasgow Warriors bound Adam Hastings was playing gives an idea of the magnitude of the task that faced the Blues, not to mention the fact that Hartpruy have won every game this season.
The scoring started in the 8th minute when centre Steve Leonard hit a popped pass midfield and carried straight on to the posts. The lead was short-lived, however, as a break by Lewis barker and then a kick and chase put the home defence under pressure and led to a 5-metre scrum which the Blues pack took 2 penalties from before referee Chivers took them under the posts.
There was no further scoring for ten minutes but Hartpury were starting to build a head of steam and it was no great shock when the break-through came. Holden made some ground wide on the left and his inside ball was well-timed for athletic lock forward Joe Dancer to finish well from 25 metres.
Hartpury started to shift through the gears. When a Macclesfield lineout, deep in their own half, misfired, quick ball into the midfield gave Luke Eves (last season playing in the Premiership with Northampton) the chance to produce a muscular touchdown close to the posts.
10 minutes later, Mikalcius come off his wing to carve a path through the heart of the Blues defence. His well-timed pass found Harry Cochrane on the right wing and there was a run-in for the speedy Channel Islander. Bonus point 15, from 15 home matches played, was duly achieved.
Joe Batley soon made it a scoring double for the second row. He picked a good line through the increasingly stretched visiting rearguard and had the pace to go all the way from long range.
On the stroke of half-time, Holden capped a good first 40 minutes of National League rugby with a well-taken try. After making ground down the left wing, he threaded a grubber through the Blues cover and was first to the bouncing ball. Hastings, maintaining a 100% kicking record in the first half, made it 42-7 at the break and the home crowd were enjoying both the weather and the entertainment. The Blues’ heads must have been dropping but there was stll the 4 try bonus point to fight for and the lads must be disappointed that they didn’t add to their points tally in the second period.
The second half started with more heavy Hartpury pressure but Macclesfield, having re-grouped at half time, were defending well. They appeared to have survived a series of near squeaks in the 55th minute when a penalty, for holding on, allowed them to clear their lines. Once again, though, the Blues’ lineout was untidy and flanker Mat Gilbert was able to pounce on the loose ball and drive to the try-line. That score seemed to knock the stuffing out of the visitors and they had to endure a torrid 25 minutes until the close.
Hartpury ran the ball straight back from the restart and, when Mikalcius popped the ball inside, Leonard was on hand to score his second of the match. Holden was the next player to grab a double. He was now on the wing and when replacement full-back, Jamie Forrester, came into the line at pace, he was the extra man with a simple finish.
The favour was returned shortly after. Holden was able to tap back a well-weighted Hastings cross-field kick and Forrester was on hand to get the touch. Two minutes later, Hastings demonstrated his virtuosity by repeating the trick, this time to the other wing, where Mikalcius gratefully took the ball and went outside the cover without having to check his stride.
By this point the referee had beaten the stuffing , never mind the score line, as he seemed to give some bizarre decisions against Blues’ loose head prop Tom Mantell who was penalised for back chat and then a switch kick to the corner didn’t appear to be caught and put down legally but hey, why not allow it? The Blues’ poor luck with officials, this season, wasn’t about to change in game 29. Tom Eaton was rightly yellow carded for kicking the ball out the hands of the Hartpury 9 when returning from an offside position, the fact that he had been warned for back chat earlier won’t have helped.
The flood gates opened from there on in, with Mikalcius grabbing two more before the end, both times finishing strongly after being well worked-in by his team-mates, and there was also time in a crazy last 10 minutes for him to turn provider and allow Luke Eves to get a second for himself.
It was very evident why Hartpury have been so strong this season and their superior muscle, speed and skills were on full display.
Its Esher at home for the last fixture of a long and difficult season for Macclesfield and it will be ladies day which is raising money for the Macclesfield Breast Cancer Unit, when the lads’ will be sporting a new pink kit that will be auctioned off afterwards. It may have been a tough season but the boys will be better players for it and well-conditioned for National 2 next season.
Hartpury: Holden (Tries 40, 59), Cochrane (Try 34), Leonard (Tries 8, 57), Eves (Tries 23, 74), Mikalcius (Tries 71, 78, 80), Hastings (Cons 9, 20, 24, 35, 38, 40, 58, 65, 70, 79, 80), Chapman; Flook, Tanner, Ibuanokpe, Batley (Try 37), Dancer (Try 20), Polledri, Gilbert (Try 55), Oakley.
Replacements: Stephenson, Barron, Gibson, Chan, Forrester (Try 69)
Macclesfield: (Penalty Try, 10) Lomax, Hall, Brierley, Barker (Con, 11), King, Eaton, Allsop; Mantell, Millea, Millar-Mills, Parkison, Marwick, Barker, Parkitt, Parkinson.
Replacements: Langdon, Robinson, Finnemore, Smith, Broster.
Referee: Mr N Chivers