This was the last game of the season for Macc and although it had little consequence for the Blues, the stakes were a lot higher for the home side who had to win to keep their battle with relegation alive.
Wharfedale started the better, setting off at an incredible pace and playing like men possessed, spurred on by a boisterous crowd, firstly by soaking up an attack from Macclesfield and then turning defence into attack with the impressive Tom Barrett chipping over the defensive line and recollecting to score after 3 minutes.
The Blues were struggling to get the ball in hand and when ‘Dale Captain Woodhead broke through on halfway, Liam Parfitt held back the offloadee to incur the surrender of another 3 points that Barrett slotted from the tee (10-0 after 8 mins).
The visitors finally managed to get a foot hold in the game after fluffing a few opportunities in the 14th minute as a nice pattern from the lineout culminated in a double miss pass from Morton to Broster who powered past 2 defenders to score, and Lewis Barker added the 2 to trail 10-7.
The game was being played in the Blues half to an unhealthy level, and with a Championship referee who seemed to be very officious at the breakdown, it was inevitable that another 3 points were surrendered on 17 minutes (13-7).
Macc enjoyed a sustained spell of territory for the first time in the match, turning over the men in green multiple times to create red zone opportunities but were unable to take their chances. Ryan Parkinson was caught holding on off the back of a back peel from a 5m lineout, before the pack pushed Wharfedale off their own scrum 20 metres out but a handling error put an end to that attack. Wasted opportunities would come back to haunt our boys and discipline was a major factor, as penalties allowed the home side easy metres and after another shot at goal for Barrett, which this time was missed, ‘Dale scored from the 22 drop out kick return with front rowers Asejevs and Stockdale combining (20-7 after 32mins).
The gap was closed temporarily before the break as the pack initially forced a maul pen in the midfield before mauling over having kicked to the corner, the backs joining in and Lewis Barker emerged at the bottom of the pile, and he added the conversion himself (20-14).
But that word indiscipline reared its ugly head again (Macc had yielded 10 penalties at the interval) moments before the half time whistle when Sam Moss’ high tackle was punished by Barrett (23-14 at the break).
Wharfedale came out just as explosive in the opening stages of the second half as they had the first. Barrett missed another 3 points after a scrum penalty on the edge of the Macc 22, and it was a small victory to not yield any points given the amount of pressure they had absorbed.
The major talking point of the match came in the 58th minute when Lovegreen clotheslined Sam Broster but was only awarded a yellow card, the reason given that the player had hit low and slid up but the video playback clearly shows a straight arm to Broster’s neck in the initial contact.
The Blues looked threatening when they finally got some possession and territory but despite the man advantage, attack after attack was snaffled by Wharfedale who broke from turnover and Barrett went close with another chip and chase. Both teams foiled each others attacks for much of the second half, but the Blues best chance saw them picking under the sticks to the line but the referee stopped play for a clash of heads although both players seemed surprised to see play had stopped and the resulting move off the scrum was poorly executed and then in the next entry the ball was stripped just short of the line and Wharfedale swarmed forward and finished with a nice play off 10, Davidson the scorer surely making the result safe at 30-14 on 68 minutes.
Macc fought back and pressured the Wharfedale red zone, firstly squandering an opportunity to score in the corner with a misplaced pass from Franky Barker before Lewis Barker scored in the corner with their next attempt after great carries from Allsop and Palmer. The restart began with a Blues penalty following a green shirt diving on Barker as he touched down on 74 minutes (30-21). Morton kicked to the corner but again the chance was spurned and Wharfedale broke on the turnover before the Cheshire side wrestled back the ball.
2 minutes later Macc were back within sight of the Wharfedale line but yet another chance was wasted.
When the referee finally called time Macc had scored 3 tries in 13 ’22 entries and conceded 18 penalties which are poor stats for any team looking to win a game of rugby.
It was a disappointing finish to the season with something left to be desired in the way macc rucked in attack, played laterally at times deep behind gainline and showed a lack of patience in attack.
But the second half of the season has been a success, with interim Head Coach Marshall guide guiding the side from 3rd bottom at the end of November with 3 wins in 12 games, to mid table, even if they will feel they left a few result out there.
Macclesfield Rugby Club Chief Exec Peter Harper said said of the recovery:
“Absolutely, I’m not a worrier but I was worried after the Otley game [the last game before the change of management was made in November] and thankfully we changed things, and Marshall [Gadd] stepped up to the plate and he got the respect and the answers from the players that he wanted, and the results speak for themselves. Yes second half of the season fantastic and hats off to Marshall and the boys for what they have done.”