Macclesfield changed management 2 weeks ago replacing Director of Rugby Giles Heagerty with Forwards and Defence Coach Marshall Gadd, and the side have had to wait until yesterday to get o the pitch. The fact that last weeks’ home encounter against fellow strugglers Luctonians was called off could be viewed one of two ways, either it gave Gadd more time to put his stamp on things on the training paddock or it left them a little rusty going into this encounter with Stour who despite a high league position, have lost their last 4 games.
The visitors started this bruising encounter the better, an early probe into the Stour ’22 following a turnover by Tom Davenport, capitalising on a quality leg tackle chop by Tom Burden, allowed Nick Allsop to kick into the opposition ’22 and the home side fumbled in the panic. 8 phases and one huge carry from Toby Twigg later, Billy Robinson powered over from close range. Good starts have been hard to come by this season for the Blues but this was a welcome foothold in a testing away encounter.
The first 20 minutes certainly belonged to the Blues as they defended multiple phases comfortablyand their intelligent kicking game was backed up by a strong chase, turning the ball over from such scenarios twice. They may have liked a little more ball rentention however as soft turnovers was all that hindered them adding to their 5 point total and extending the lead, as first the ball was spilled upon entering the ’22 and then Lewis Winterbottom was tripped of the ball on a set piece carry deep in the Stour half, allowing them to venture into Macclesfield territory before winning it back through Joe Palmer, today at 7 in place of Liam Parfitt.
The Blues signalled their intentions when twice kickable, although long range, pens were put into the corner, but not profited from.
The home side are not near the top of the table because of their hospitality and struck back with a good move off the back of a maul, George Morgan waltzing through the gap making it 7-5 (with the conversion) in the 23rd minute. This was the only time in structured play that the midlanders had looked dangerous and it was through turnover ball they looked more likely, such as when Charie Reed’s kick return pass went astray and but for Lewis Winterbottom’s chase back it would have yielded a score.
A controversial in at the side call against Twigg on 26 minutes allowed the men in Blue and White to extend their league to 10-7 through the boot of Robert Forbes. This sparked a good spell for the hosts as Macc had to soak up a number of phases from their big and powerful opponents but stuck together and cleared their lines in what was proving to be a cagey affair.
On 34 minutes the Blues had gone to the corner having put together some positive gainline phases themselves and forced a penalty. The initial attack failed but Reed sliced right through the clearance kick chasers to be only 16 metres out, setting up young Dan Lomax in the corner from the following phase. Lomax had some moments in the match he may be disappointed with but certainly looked more confident in himself than in prior performances and will hope to retain the shirt as a result.
Stour attempted a 48m kick at goal from a scrum penalty which failed but from the next attack their power was starting to show as they advanced into the visitors’ 22, and forced penalty which was dispatched by Forbes 13-10 at half time.
Straight after the break the Blues’ direct style yielded a penalty that Charlie Reed stepped up and slotted from 43m to draw the game level.
Unfortunately the Blues’ second half kick chase seemed not as effective as in the first as Daniel Rundle broke from well inside his 40m line and after Robert Connolly was pulleddown 5m out, Nick Murphy powered over 18-13 on 52 mins.
The Blues were not deterred and after winning a penalty at the scrum 40m out, they put into the corner backing their forwards again, but this was a department which was an absolute stalemate all day as the packs cancelled each out, so forced to play the Blues went to the line through Winterbottom and but for a forward pass to Franky Barker it would have been 18 all. The lads spent the next 8-10 minutes camped on the Stour line but were unable to bring any points back with them which was to cost them in terms of the result.
The home side knew they had got off lightly and took full advantage putting 11 phases together to score through Jack Lea putting daylight between them and their guests 13-25 after 65 mins.
Macclesfield heads didn’t dropped as they chased what surely would be bonus points putting 12 phases together from their own half and scoring though substitute Brendan Berry (his first for the club) 18-25. Charlie Reed’s topsy turvy day continued as he missed what he will admit was a kickable conversion, which was 6 points that they had squandered from the tee.
The result was put to bed on 72 minutes when Stour put 23 phases including 2 breaks together and powered through the tiring bodies in Blue, with the impressive Nigel Mukarati the man dotting down, although he had been kept relatively quiet by Macc’s defence until now.
The Blues were chasing bonus points and as we know that can open a game up, and as mentioned the kick chase defence was not as effective as it was in the first half as the home number 8 Stephen leach bust tackles to release an attack down their left wing and score under the posts in the form of Rundle wit Reed, Hall and Morton all unable to catch him (18-39).
The final play of the game saw a treat for the Blues’ travelling support as a fine first phase move saw Reed skin his man down the right and probably could have finished the job himself but unselfishly offloaded to the veteran Christ Townsend who had impressively kept up to score just to the right of the posts, perhaps Reed was saving his energy for the conversion which he kicked with ease. Finale score 25-39.
Talk in the clubhouse was just how improved Macclesfield looked compared with 3 weeks ago against Otley and this was only the 4th time this season they have picked up a try bonus point so there are definitely positives to take. There is is still work to do as the lads looked a little tired late on and their game management and physicality dropped in the second half.
Its Chester at home next week for a festive encounter and a Cheshire Derby, get some crisp fresh air and watch the boys from 3pm at Priory Park.