Judging by the assessment of the Hinckley locals and our knowledge of Macclesfield this season, this was a first half team (Hinckley) against a second half team in Macc and so it proved on Saturday as Hinckley were very strong in the first 30 minutes, but in the second half the team in black and gold were lucky not to suffer a humiliating defeat.
Macc weathered an early storm the best they could, despite taking the lead from Captain Tom Morton’s boot on 12 minutes, after having to wait for their first venture into the opposition 22. By that point Hinckley had powered their way in to the Macc Red Zone 3 times, and all three attempts were snuffed out by a resolute Blues defence.
However the pressure told, after a pen was put to the corner and the maul was held up, when former England U18’s Counties scrum half Ben Pointon sniped through from the second phase after the resulting scrum to score, converted by Wilson to take the lead 7-3.
Three minutes later Hornets had doubled their score when it appeared Macc had done well to stop Hinckley’s advances as they seemed to go to width from kick off reception, and were forced into touch setting up a lineout in good position for the Cheshire side. The line-out throw however was just too long for the back pod and couldn’t have dropped more kindly for Pointon to collect and run to the line for the score with electric pace. Wilson again added the extras. Pointon was running riot as he broke down the blindside from halfway almost leading to a third try but this time the final pass went down when practically under the posts.
The home team extended their lead to 21-3 not long after when a great offload in the tackle released Ollie Povoas who ran the ball in from 35m untouched. Hinckley were coasting and at that point it looked like it might be a long old day for the Macclesfield travelling support. To make matters worse, the Priory Park side had brought a 5 forward bench, but lost James Hampson (hamstring) and Harry Blackwell (dislocated shoulder) in the first 20 minutes so back rowers Dafydd Rees and Josh Redfern were playing 12 and 13 for the bulk of the match.
The momentum seemed to swing on the half hour though, when the Midlanders again put a penalty into the Macc 22, secured a line-out and went through the phases but as the ball was fed out right a telegraphed pass allowed Macc wingman Myles Hall to instinctively intercept and evaded full back Wilson to canter over the line (21-8).
It signaled the start of the Macc revival. Half-time came with the scores still at 21-8 but only after Hornets had been forced to defend a couple of line-out and scrum penalties on their 5m line just before the whistle. Morton’s men had the put in at the next scrum only to run out time – a scenario that has come back to haunt his side a number of times this season.
After the restart Macc found themselves gaining favor with the referee (Ben Davis) and again were on the Hinckley 5m. the home side gave away a series of penalties which Macc lineout-drove from and after a series of drives, scrum half Jonny Mason was able to snipe over from close range to snatch the score which Morton converted (21-15). Sam Broster made a break off a first phase lineout move which went unconverted but there was no doubt which side was in the ascendancy.
It was evident that Hinckley were worried as they couldn’t get the tee on quick enough when a pen was won on the edge of the Macc 22 which Wilson kicked to extend the lead 24-15, having had a nervy wait to kick it as the ambulance came on to the pitch to remove the injured Blackwell. This temporarily calmed the now near silent home fans’ anxiety but it wasn’t too long after that Macc flanker, Jordan Simpson, tore through the defensive line when in phase play around half way and ran it home. Morton’s conversion brought Macc to within two (24-22).
The Hornets couldn’t string a set together at this point and their attacking play was littered with handling errors, so when winger Aaron Phillip was yellow carded for slapping the ball out of the 9’s hands at the ruck with 10 minutes to go, Macc truly seemed the more likely to take the points.
Morton put to the corner but as the home side had stood off the last couple of mauls the pack may have thought they had more time to get set and were held up. That turned out to be the best chance they had to get back in front on the score sheet. The men in blue had a number of possessions in and around halfway but couldn’t find a way through and were caught in a quandary as to how to play it with a 1 man defence in the back field. Eventually a midfield scrum was turned over by the home side and the ball hoofed down field before Macc were pinged in their own 22 for holding on, effectively ending the game as a contest. Two 5m line-outs in quick succession were held by the Blues and, rather than risk a Blues break-away try, Pointon put the ball into touch to bring proceedings to an end.
Once again the second half performance by Macclesfield has been admirable and really, when the lads look back at the scenario with 10 minutes to play, this should have been at least 4 points and more pressure on Sheffield who lost away at Tynedale, but as has been the case too often this season, Macc couldn’t quite turn a heart breaking narrow loss into an incredible comeback win. The attack, which hasn’t fired often enough this year, looked very positive at times generating some nice breaks, of note Sam Broster carrying powerfully a number of times. The pack was as strong and reliable as it has been all season, with all 4 props doing a great job of stopping the powerful home side scrum and maul. But picking up the one losing bonus point now means that the Cheshire outfit sit 14 points behind Sheffield, who play Peterborough and South Leicester in their next 2 fixtures, with 15 available and staring down the barrel of relegation now.
Image courtesy Hinkley RFC