Macclesfield came into this game off the back of a valiant defeat to 1st place Billingham and with a fallow week last week, raring to go, while Rossendale have struggled this season so far, with just 3 wins from 11, a wretched run of form, despite a long injury list, that cost Head Coach Mark Nelson (the successful Fylde and Lancashire coach) his job a month ago.
On a dreary cold and damp day at Marl Pits Leisure Centre, Rawtenstall Lancashire, the home side took the lead from the boot of fly half Lewis Allen from 40m in the 12th minute. It was a scrappy opening 20 minutes from both sides, neither team able to press home the advantage of possession. Macc brought the scores level with a Will Davies penalty on 18 minutes.
The travelling Cheshire side enjoyed the bulk of the territory in the first half, pegging back the home side with a disciplined defence, that yielded field position 3 times in the first half hour but none of these opportunities were capitalised upon. The men in blue were getting go forward from the pack at maul and scrum time but errors cost them a score, before finally breaking through on 30 minutes through number 8 Jordan Simpson, who powered over from close range following a scrummaging masterclass from Macclesfield as they won 3 pens in a row 5m out from the white wash. Simpson picked up from the base and dotted down to make it 10-3.
Rossendale hit back 5 minutes later with another Allen penalty, again from distance when Macc were trapped on their own ball, but the away side were rarely troubled in the first period and finished strongly, securing a further 3 points from Will Davies’ boot from under the sticks to lead 13-6 at the break and looking comfortable.
After refreshments, the Priory Park outfit were afforded the honour of playing down the hill, and picked up where they left off, scoring a nice try through centre Sam Broster following some patient build up phase play and a massive maul on the Rossendale 10m that allowed Morton to put to the corner.
20-6 to Macc after 46 minutes; you could be forgiven for thinking ‘Game-Over’ at this point, especially as Macclesfield have romped home from this sort of situation, so far this season, but a series of undisciplined defensive sets allowed the home side to edge back into the game from ex-Preston Grasshopper Lewis Allen’s boot, the first coming on 55 minutes and then the Macc pack lost a bit of momentum losing their own scrum 20 odd metres out from their own line, and Allen slotted another on the hour making it 20-12.
Macc were unable to put a sustained period of possession together, with indiscipline and errors contributing to a shift in the territory balance going against them, but you still felt the result was not under threat, until a strong maul by the Lancashire side led to the sin binning of Vice Captain Sam Moss and Allen again punished the visitors (20-15 after 69’ mins).
It was all hands to the pump to secure the game, and both sides were making nervy mistakes in possession. The local crowd were urging their side on as it was a performance that they had rarely seen this season, according to touchline chit-chat, but the visitors looked like they were going to see out the game.
The men in blue created a great opening with a first phase break off a scrum in their own half through Broster, which resulted in a penalty opportunity on the home 22 left of centre. Up stepped young Will Davies who pulled the kick wide, and walked away clearly disappointed but by no means was it his fault how the game proceeded from there. Merely having the confidence to step up at his tender age showed massive composure and bravery.
Macc held possession on the Rossendale 10m line with time up, when a disjointed attacking set created a massive overlap on the left wing. The last home side defender was outnumbered and took the only option open to him, gambling on blitzing, and the unfortunate Tom Morton’s pass was intercepted and Hill showed great speed to finish despite the efforts of Pete Milne. Allen converted to take the win at the death 22-20.
It was a gutsy performance by Rossendale who hung in there until the end without looking dangerous until the last 20 but in their current predicament a win is a win. Macc have diced with danger in a few away games getting away with it themselves at Wirral in particular, so in some way this result may not be such a surprise.
There was plenty for the Cheshire lads to be pleased about this performance, the scrum dominance and the ability to get into good field position through sturdy defence, but they will be disappointed not to be more clinical when those chances come.
Dafydd Rees was impressive on his return to the side at 7, and Jordan Simpson as ever defended like a lion. Billy Robinson was powerful at scrum time as was Tom King making his first start in 3 months, and Sam Broster made a couple of breaks from 12, but may be frustrated with the way they went unconverted and also Myles Hall returned the ball from kicks well in the back 3.
Fortunately for Macc, they remain third after Harrogate beat Blaydon, leaving Blaydon 2 points ahead and Harrogate on the same points as Macc but with a game in hand, so the second place play off is still within range as we approach the halfway point. Table-toppers Billingham squeaked past Blackburn away 22-20, to maintain their 100% record as runaway leaders.
Next week the lads return home to play local rivals Lymm in the last game of 2019, so get yourselves down to cheer the boys on!
Macc Team: 1. King 2. Moss (VC) 3. Robinson 4. Barker 5. Redfern 6. Laing 7. Rees 8. Simpson 9. Stelmazsek 10. Morton © 11. Hall 12. Broster 13. H. Oliver 14. Lomax 15. Davies 16. Percival 17. Harding 18. Milne.
Tries: Simpson (30), Broster (46)
Conversions: Davies (31, 47)
Penalties: Davies (18, 39)