Blues v Sheffield

Three weeks ago Macclesfield picked up a pretty comprehensive 5 point victory at home against Sheffield, but on the basis of this game it was difficult to see why they are in the relegation places, as they gave an excellent account of themselves that the Blues did well to overcome.

Given the league table positions of the two sides, the Blues must have identified this game as a potential opportunity to pick up a valuable 5 points. However, when number 8 Jonathan France went over from close range after 6 minutes following a break in midfield by the impressive Dan Robson, Macclesfield knew they were in a game. Sheffield grabbed their 5 points and managed the game well in the early exchanges with some decent exit sets.

The Blues did respond though, and wrestled back the territorial advantage, dominating possession in the home sides’ red zone for a good 10 minutes, putting penalty opportunities to the corner that they could not convert as Sheffield managed to sack the maul or forced a handling error from the resulting play.

The Blues were having the better of it at the scrum though, and forced another penalty on the edge of the Yorkshire sides’ ’22 which again was put to the corner and this time a strong maul took club stalwart Dave Marwick over for the score on 21 minutes which Charlie Reed converted.

Anyone who thought that the Cheshire side would just run riot from the platform of their first score was proven wrong as Sheffield did not wilt. They implemented an aggressive compete at the breakdown policy and trapped Ryan Parkinson off the back of a scrum on the edge of Blues’ ’22 and Will Hodgson snaffled 3 points from the tee on 26 minutes to re-take the lead 8-7.

Macclesfield’s cause wasn’t helped by the fact big centre Tom Davenport was knocked out by a loose knee at a ruck meaning the backs were forced to reshuffle, with Lomax coming on at full back and Hampson slotting into the 13 role and Broster stepping in at 12, not that it seemed to affect him as he powered through the home defence to set up Parfitt who took the ball on next phase and offloaded beautifully to Moss but the chance was spurned as the visitors lacked that ‘Je ne Sais quoi’.

Sheffield turned Macc over in midfield again shortly after, as the men in their less familiar Black shirts struggled to get the phases going. The kick to the corner and maul led to a long spell of play in the Blues’ ’22 whose lined was peppered and the submission of another 3 points from Hodgson’s boot didn’t seem like the worst outcome of that passage of play (11-7 on 35 minutes).

Just before the break Broster provided Macc’s best moment in the remainder of the half, with a powerful strike move carry off the scrum, beating two men and powering through to give his side front foot ball but Macc couldn’t convert the opportunity.

Brendan Berry was replaced by the former England Counties prop Tom Mantell, returning from injury, as the scrum that had dominated early on began to wobble towards the end of the half.

After the break the home side continued to make the most of their territory and possession, picking up another 3 points from Hodgson’s boot as they were at the breakdown in the red zone (14-7 after 43 mins) and then the lead was extended on 59 mins when the Blues appeared to be, controversially or not, struggling with the referee’s interpretation at the defensive maul (17-7).

By this point Macclesfield had struggled to get out of their own half, at least with the ball in hand, and the myth that they had never won in their black away kit started to seem less like a joke comment over a pint and more like a curse, not helped by the fact that a number of injuries were constantly changing the balance of the side. Second Row Franky Barker was removed with a back injury before half time, replaced by the energetic Tom Burden, returning from international duty with Israel, and open-side flanker Liam Parfitt left the field with what appeared to be a shoulder injury that has hampered him this season, replaced by Joe Palmer.

However, mid-way through the second half, the momentum of the game appeared to shift as the Cheshire side got to grips with the picture of the breakdown the ref was seeing and started to get the decisions in midfield allowing them to get some territory and possession. Following a maul on half way, the Blues ran a nice move which gave left winger Myles Hall some space to chip ahead and force the recovering defender in to touch less than a metre from his own line. From the resulting maul an subsequent pick and go’s, Marwick grabbed his second try of the game, which Reed again converted (17-14 on 63 mins).

Macc were back in business and boosted by that try, started to find third gear as minutes later a great attack starting at a scrum on the edge of their own 22, culminating in Captain Ryan Parkinson generating a moment of solo magic to break through before teeing up the lightning fast winger Charlie Reed 23 metres out who stepped past 2 defenders to finish and his conversion put the travellers 21-17 in front with 13 minutes to play.

The drama didn’t end there though as Macclesfield went in search of a valuable try bonus point and it seemed like they would get it when fly half Tom Morton broke into the Sheffield ’22 but the chance was lost shortly after. Much of the latter stages were played in this area of the field but a late turnover gave Sheffield the chance to play from their own line and worked their way up field well with some tremendous carrying, from the likes of Jonathan France, Thomas Womack and Dan Robson. A penalty was given in the visitor’s half and was put to the corner giving the home side the chance to maul for the win. Whoever was calling the defensive line out for Macclesfield must carry their cahoona’s  around in a wheel barrow because the men in black stood off the maul ensuring that Sheffield were penalised for transferring the ball to the back when no maul had been formed. The decision did not go down well with the locals nor their captain Dom Parsons who had been in constant conversation with the referee all game. Words were exchanged and a bit of a ruckus ensued with Macc needing to survive the scrum to win. When the ball was fed in it was temporarily lost raising the tempo of visiting fan’s heart rate before it was retrieved and Townsend cleared the ball off the pitch to secure the result.

Blues’ man of the match must be Tom Burden who made a huge impact from the bench just before half time when he replaced Barker.

High drama at the end, and disappointing to not get the try bonus after going so close, but a win away at teams fighting for the survival is more difficult to get in reality than on paper. Plus the hoodoo of the black shirt is finally broken so a good day all round. Macclesfield rise to 9th as a result, a point behind Sheffield Tigers and 3 points off Chester in 7th, with a game in hand.

Next week’s opponents are run away leaders and local rivals Sale FC who will present a huge challenge to the recovering Macclesfield side, who will be looking for revenge for the defeat at Heywood Road earlier this season.


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