The Blues had not played for the previous 2 weekends and Otley were heavily beaten at Tynedale last week, so form coming into this one could well be viewed as fairly even but the Blues sit 3 places above the Yorkshire outfit and so this would have been a game they expected to win.
The hosts started the better in terms of territory and possession but the Blues’ defence was defiant, holding off multiple multi phase attacks at the expense of just 3 points kicked by fly half Ben Smith in the 11th minute.
The Blues did enter the Otley half but allowed them easy outs each time giving away soft penalties and turnovers, and then in the 14th minute the Macclesfield kick chase as caught cold by the pacey Karim Nasir broke down the right wing having found the Blues short of numbers. The Blues scrambled giving a penalty away from the lineout in the corner Tom O’Donnell picked his way over after a sacked maul, which along with the conversion stretched the lead to 10-0.
Both teams wasted possession at times with poor handling errors and losing the ball in contact while the scrum was pretty even despite the Blues’ dominance in that area against high fliers Tynedale and Hinckley.
Just when the visitors though they had found some territory on the edge of the Otley ’22 the ball spilled out the side of a Macc ruck and Mark Barlow asset up the break taking advantage of the open ground in front of him breaking down the right again, galloping into the 22 and one phase later Nasir went over meeting little resistance on the way making it 15-0 with 23 minutes played.
5 minutes later Otley had played their way into the Macclesfield red zone again and but for second row Declan Dunn spilling the ball over the line when he looked certain to score the lead would have been greater, the credit must be paid to the back chasing Franky Barker appeared to dislodge the ball from under Dunn’s arm. The onslaught continued further as another penalty given away inside the Macc 40m line gave the home side another opportunity to drive for the try but the men in black couldn’t convert thanks to an excellent scramble defence and an incredible turnover by Lewis Barker on his own try line.
For the remainder of the half the possession was by the Blue shirted side not the Black as the Cheshire side managed to wrestle back the territory and in the 35th minute the ball was moved wide after a couple of gainline carries, with exciting winger Charlie Reed finding the gap, full of beans after his midweek appearance for the Sale Jets at Franklins Gardens, who strode into the red zone beating 3 men along the way and offloaded to the returning from injury Tom Mantell.
Much has been made of the impressive forwards in the current season despite results, If the first try came from good carries from the forwards laying the platform for the backs to break then it was the forwards who did the same again as a huge maul into the opposition 22 and put the defence on the backfoot long enough to allow the backs to move the ball wide, pick of the defenders and to Myles Hall who scored in the corner. Half time and the home side led by 3 points – 15-12.
Straight after the break the Blues looked to pick up where they left off, with Charlie Reed again involved, with a moment of supreme skill chipping over the defensive line and re-gathering the ball from the flailing Max Johnston, offloading to Tom Burden who carried to 12 metres short of the line, and 2 phases Lewis Barker, playing at 13 today, found a hole to exploit and score in the 45th minute (17-15).
It seemed as if the visitors had found themselves again and were looking to take the game away from their hosts but minutes later were trapped on the edge of their own 22 and pinged for holding on, allowing Ben Smith to restore the lead 18-17.
Macclesfield continued to dominate the territory with a strong tactical kicking game through the likes of Nick Allsop but they lacked cutting edge with ball in hand, with the breakdown area not always fully protected and too much ball not going to hand. Reed missed a shot at goal that might have eased the pressure on 65 minutes after Barker went off with a dead leg and ultimately the inability to get that 4th try proved to be costly.
The game turned scrappy as both teams struggled to maintain possession, largely just trading blows in between the two 22’s but it was Macc who blinked first in that game of chicken, when Tom Burden was unlucky enough to be pinned in the ruck after a tackle and even though the Blues managed to diffuse the resulting maul in the corner, a silly handling error from the next scrum gave the men in black the put in under the posts. Left wing Alexander Beaumont went over in the corner after a decent push from the Otley forwards – 23-17 with 6 minutes to play and the last play of the game involved a 12 phase probing advance from the Blues’ own 22 but they couldn’t find a way through.
The Blues appeared to try and mix up the play between using their strong forward pack in a direct manner while also trying to throw it around going to width early in phase play while Otley looked quite most dangerous in broken play and turnover ball but they held firm. The Macclesfield attack still looks like it has legs to grow and although the finger could be cast at the referee at times, the breakdown area was often too messy to generate quick ball to play off making it harder for the wide men when the ball got there. Having said that, the 3 times our beloved Blues got front foot ball they scored and on another day with a bit more accuracy and better decision making this result could have looked very different, but with the weather a major factor in how much the running game can be played over the next couple of months, the Blues certainly have the pack to front up.
Giles Heagerty: “…we didn’t deserve to win the game, that is the reality of it, yes we did some very good things in attack and I thought some of our defence today was excellent but ill discipline in terms of giving penalties away, ill discipline in terms of decision making, handling, missed tackles, all of the above, and Otley have deserved to get the win’.
Look out for the highlights on BluesTV. Next week midlands Luctonians are our guests at Priory Park, we hope to see as many of you down as possible to cheer on our boys.