Macc move closer!
Although results at the top end of the table have fallen kindly for Macclesfield, games against lower down the table opposition still have to be taken seriously and this was no exception. This was a case of 3rd against 8th and although Kirkby were below par when they visited Priory Park back in late September losing 39-3, they have enjoyed a couple of good results in the North East recently and their home record proves they are no mugs with only Harrogate having enjoyed victory at the scenic Raygarth club so far.
On a sunny but chilly afternoon, the opening exchanges were lively, with both sides making breaks without converting them to points, before winger Myles Hall put the Cheshire side ahead, dotting down on 10 minutes, in the corner after the forwards had enjoyed a sustained period of pressure in the home side’s ’22, and Will Davies converted impressively (0-7).
The Cumbrian side were not as impressed as the travelling supporters, and immediately went on the offensive, forcing a couple of handling errors out of their opponents before appearing to score from a first phase move from the resulting scrum, but the linesman noticed Raiston had a foot in touch thanks to Davies at full back who did just enough. Moments later, Kirkby again appeared to be in, with a Fearon presented walk-in from the overthrown lineout, but that was deemed to be not straight.
Just when the home crowd was hitting peak frustration, their side got their just rewards, scoring a fine try from the kick return, starting inside their own 10m line, with Ramwell poking through and offloading to the pacey Huddlestone (5-7 on 15 minutes).
It was as if Macc took offence to this score and were keen to make amends, by starting to utilise possession far more effectively. Jordan Simpson sat-out the game last week as a precaution for a shoulder concern, and the way he played looked like Macclesfield had kept him in a cage feeding him nothing but raw meat, as he played like an angry dog at times. In his first carry after the Kirkby try he was afforded the slightest of room and burst through powerfully, and sprinted 38m up field, but his offload found a home defender rather than Sam Stelmazsek, who was in support; and then from their next passage of play the Priory Park outfit worked the ball wide creating an overlap where fly half Morton could have passed to anyone of the 2 men to his left or 3 to his right, and they would have broken the line, but as it was, he took the gap himself, finding James Oliver, but the ball was lost in the next phase.
Macclesfield defended well despite being on the wrong side of a 5-1 penalty count and also butchered a chance to maul in the corner before claiming the second score that their attacking play suggested might have been coming. Again Simpson powered through carrying first phase off the top of the lineout and offloaded to InsideCentre Broster who sped away from the chasing defenders to finish under the posts (5-14 after 28 minutes).
With this wind in their sails, it was not long before Macc scored again, with number 8 Dafydd Rees, back in the starting line up at number 8 in place of Matt Thorp, pounced on to a weak pass from the scrum half and ran it home from 30-odd metres out, Davies adding the extras (5-21).
Morton’s kicking came pegged the home side back for much of the remainder of the half and the clock was dead when they were awarded a penalty in their own 22, for holding on. But from the resulting Kirkby lineout there was no sign of them putting the ball out to get back in the sheds to re-group, instead flanker Stuart Stoery picked through a slow ruck and broke-out down field, and despite the Cheshire side defending a number of phases on their own line, they yielded a number of penalties in a 5 minute spell that culminated in a score for Fearon who dropped on his scrum half Kaye’s grubber, who had the advantage at the time.
Half time and it was game on 21-10 to the visitors. Would the score on the stroke of half time swing the momentum back Kirkby’s way, or was this merely a speed bump in Macclesfields’ grand day out?
It proved to be the latter as the travelling side put a further 26 points on their hosts before there was any form of reply, and were utterly rampant in the second half.
First, just 3 minutes after the break, Jordan Simpson kept up his high and impressive involvement in the game scoring from close range after his side showed great patience once they had forced the ball from their opponents deep in their own half (10-28 Morton adding the extras in the absence of Davies who had been sin binned in the defensive effort prior to the break). This score securing the try bonus point, before again going close through Dafydd Rees. And then Outside Centre Harry Oliver finished cleverly with Macc dominating territory and possession; going 33-10 ahead on 49 minutes. Oliver took the conversion but missed.
Macc set up camp in the host’s half, and although not all their attacking play was converted into points, it looked far more threatening than that of the team in orange and black.
On the hour Myles Hall scored from a first phase move off a scrum, and Dan Percival finished off some sensational phase play from the resulting restart, after Hall had gathered Morton’s chip, over the top, to turn provider this time; the lead was extended to 47-10 on 65 minutes (Davies converting both tries).
People in double glazed conservatories in the next town could have heard the riot act the Kirkby captain read to his players behind the sticks, it was that loud, and he appeared to get a reaction; all be it now that the visitors were out of sight, they went in search of a try bonus. After a couple of maul attempts indiscipline by Macclesfield let the home side in, to make it 15-47.
The men in Blue had taken their foot-off-the-gas, temporarily, but the changes from the bench freshened their legs, which may have tired on the stodgy pitch, after a long build up spell Davies scored from a first phase move, from a 5m scrum under the posts, fed by Polish International Sam Stelmaszek who had held his man perfectly. Davies converted himself, the 6th from 6 that he had attempted, and claimed 17 points in the match.
There was just time for the home side to claim a well earned try bonus point, from Galbraith at the death, to make it 24-54 but there was no doubt who were the happier side with the final score-line.
When Macclesfield Head Coach Andy Appleyard was asked for his reaction, to his sides’ efforts, he answered: “Oh fantastic, this is what we have been searching for all season, to have come from a team that struggled away from home last year to working hard and developing our game; we are showing now that we are getting better every game and things are clicking for us, especially our defence, we are putting pressure on teams, and we are turning it into attack so I’m proud of the boys and everyone involved to get to this point where we can put this performance in away and put a big score on someone.”
Everyone played their part in this game, with the pack proving massive. Prop Tom King put in a colossal shift in the front row, Sam Moss proved his worth again as a set piece specialist and senior player, the back 5 were highly energetic and powerful, while the backs looked sharp in the second half, after an indifferent first period, showing the kind of clinical finishing that has been lacking at times this year. Morton led his troops well and his classy kicking game again shone, pegging back the opposition at pivotal moments. Star Man goes to Jordan Simpson today but there was no shortage of candidates.
Elsewhere Billingham lost a third game in a row, having been 13 games unbeaten before Christmas. Blaydon and Harrogate kept the pressure on with bonus point wins so it’s the Yorkshire side who now lead the pack with Macc and Billingham both 4 points behind. Harrrogate are the next visitors to Priory park in two weeks time, after the fallow week, and that will be a very decisive point in the season as far as the title is concerned as the Cheshire outfit could in theory go top of the league for the first time this campaign, with a bonus point win, shutting out ‘Gate in the process.
Priory Park will be rocking for what promises to be the biggest game of the season so far.