Macclesfield came into this game on the back of a magical performance last week at home to 3rd place (at the time) Hinkley, picking up 5 valuable points in a 33-21 win, but remained second from bottom of the National 2 North table. The Cheshire side appeared to have clicked into gear, and their opponents lost away to Preston last week, but surely the distance between table toppers Hull Ionians and Macc would be more than evident in this encounter? Not really – this game had it all, long spells of possession, turnover scrums, drop goals, controversy, big shots, gruesome injuries…the works.
Hull had the bulk of the territory and possession early on as the Priory park outfit struggled to make an exit set stick and get up the field but seemed more than capable defending the home sides’ phases, suffering no penetration. First blood went to the Yorkshire-men when they settled for 3 points from a Morgan Bunting drop-goal on 6 minutes, after having put to the corner and had a pen pending from the collapsed maul.
Ionians just seem to edge the kicking battle but Macc seemed to have the edge at the scrum although Hull doubled their lead on 12 minutes with a Minkin penalty when the men in blue were deemed to be driving across.
Macc finally were able to get some field position and ball when Thomas Peters was guilty of not rolling away and Tom Morton was able to kickup field, before the forwards put their stamp on the game mauling 20 metres to just short of the line and the backs took care of the rest, Myles Hall the eventual scorer on 17 mins. A real team try, the Cheshire-men were picking upwhere they left off the week before, clearly buoyed by the proficiency they showed in the red zone against Hinckley.
The Macc lads showed their grit and determination at the other end of the field shortly after, and had to with stand heavy pressure as Hull, who were clearly not in the mood to be embarrassed, found their way into the Macclesfield 22 with some powerful carries and half breaks forcing penalties which afforded them 4 maul opportunities from 5 metres out, all of which were repelled by a never say die defence, who got their reward by turning over a 5m scrum. Billy Robinson, Olly Longmore and Tom Mantell in the front row were massive for Macclesfield in that first period and truly led from the front, although everyone was playing so well as a unit it seems wrong to single them out.
Once again, when the pressure was relieved the visitors got hold of the ball and worked their way up field to finish the half the stronger and more likely side. Penalties in phase play allowed Morton to put his team into the Ionians 22, where the initialy maul proved unproductive before a big scrum earned Macc a free play but the lads couldn’t find away through. Morton naturally chose to scrum again and the pack didn’t let him down as they ploughed forward but unfortunately the scrum was going forward at such a rate of knots the ball was irretrievable as the referee called ‘Use it’, and with that the chance was lost. The resulting scrum was torn to pieces by the bluepack and forced back over the Ionians line who somehow got the ball down behind their line to draw the first period to a close. It was a huge effort by the boys who trailed 6-5 at the break and were arguably in the driving seat.
One of the criticisms often levelled against the Priory park outfit has been the lack of an 80 minute performance, particularly in away games, so for those of us at the ground we really didn’t know which Macc side would emerge from the dressing rooms for the second half.
It turned out to be the one from the game at home last week against Hinckley, who seemed to have developed a taste for giant slaying. After weathering a short spell of difficulty after the restart, an offside penalty allowed Morton to relieve the pressure and the pack got to work again, driving back their opponents with another 16 metre push and Macc set up camp in the Ionians red zone. Multiple attacks came to nothing but territory was not yielded and Morton’s troops get their foot on the throat, eventually earning a penalty from the captains’ boot to move ahead on 59 minutes 8-6.
The men of the Silk Town were growing in confidence, their defence again pushing their hosts back into their own half and turning over possession, before a patient pattern of phase play eventually saw full back Dan Lomax break through around 35m out, stride into Ionnians ’22 and offload to Dafydd Rees who combined with Myles Hall. A big carry from the recently introduced Brendan Berry gave further front ball and 2 phases later Morton was over in the corner. He missed the conversion but the Blues led 13-6 after 64 minutes.
More brick wall-like defence kept the home side at bay and Morton’s game management was just sublime, constantly pegging the table toppers back with his kicking and gave a master class in territorial warfare, eventually slotting another shot at goal after Sam Stelmasek’s pacey break off the back of a scrum ended with the stand in 9 (Jordan Simpson) being taken out, on 70 minutes. 16-6 the visitors led.
Tackle after tackle, Ionians didn’t seem to be getting anywhere until a penalty allowed them to put to the corner in their first visit to the Macc 22 since the opening stages of the second half. Phase after phase was resisted by the North-Westerners and it appeared they had sapped enough time out of the game when Rees scored on 79 minutes and a minute later Minikin converted to pull it back to 13-16.
Macc defended a huge set after the kick off which culminated in Parry, Morton and Blackwell tackling Samuel Rees into touch, but he had offloaded and the recipient was as also forced out. The visitors celebrated much to the disgust of the tackled player and a number of his team mates and a short scuffle ensued between the 2 benches. It had been a colossal effort so was understandable emotion from the travelling side.
But the real drama was yet to come as the referee judged the player to have been dragged into touch after the tackle had been completed and so the game was still alive, penalty to the Yorkshire side. A hotly contested decision if you were a Macc spectator and a highly relieving one if you were a home supporter. This was one of those decisions that would be debated in the club house long into the night.
When the melee settled down Ionians kicked to the corner and what followed was pure rugby drama, Hull threw wave after wave at the Macclesfield defensive line, in an encounter now being played in near dark conditions as the game had over run so long. There are no words that would adequately describe the killer blow so I will just state it, Lewis Minikin found a way through to score on the 39th phase in the 95th minute. Players and fans wearing the blue of Macc were left devastated and sickened by the result. Ionians fans could be heard stating ‘they didn’t deserve that’ about the side that had come and given them more than a scare. They must have thought their side had lost when Rees and then Wilson were forced into touch.
Fair play to Hull Ionians who fought to the end on a day when they were not allowed to put their stamp on the game by a monumental effort from our local side.
Its gutting for the lads but Head Coach Marshall Gadd must be massively enthused by what he has seen his side produce in the last 2 games since the narrow defeat away at bottom side Peterborough, against two of the top 3 teams in the league. Hopefully the climax to this match will not break the team spirit because the team really looks like they are clicking now after a slow start, which was understandable with the turnover of players in the summer. This was a win against quality opposition in everything except the history books.
Its highly unusual to say but its difficult to pick out a player to be man of the Match as everyone was so good, the front row that started and ended the game were impressive and the whole pack laid the groundwork, while the backs looked more clinical than they had earlier in the season.The team defence was just incredible and the game management bang on, and so Tom Morton gets singled out for the accolade of star man for the day for his leadership as captain, fly-half and goal kicker.
Onwards and upwards for Priory Park boys now. They have found something within themselves and their top two inches and look a threat to any side. Bring on Stourbridge on Saturday. Get down there and support your local Rugby team…Macclesfield Rugby Club.
By Matt Coleridge