Sam Stelmazsek passes from a ruck.

GALE-FORCE ALNWICK

Alnwick 18-19 Macclesfield

Macclesfied had a 444 mile round trip, a 3 week layoff, a whooping gale and an awesome second half performance from their hosts, to record a vital win in the pursuit of promotion back to National 2.

Alnwick sat 5th off the bottom going into the game and were looking for revenge after a nail biting finish to the reverse fixture at Priory Park back in November, when Myles Hall made a tremendous last ditch tackle at the death to secure the result for Macc (31-26).

The Cheshire outfit would surely have been the happier side at half time, trailing 8-5 having played into the wind for the first period, although may have felt they left some points out there having enjoyed the bulk of the territory.

The home side had raced into an early lead with a well worked try for winger Hutchinson after 4 minutes, but were pegged back for much of the remainder of the half. The heavy head wind meant that kicking was pointless so Macc, in their white away kit, were keeping the ball in hand and building the phases which was working for them. Ball retention was made difficult by every pass deviating 2-3 metres in the air and there were some errant passes at times.

Alnwick were very quick off the line in defence and provided dogged resistance at the breakdown, slowing the ball down very effectively, much to the frustration of Captain Tom Morton and his men.

However, the referee took a firm stance and a series of penalties allowed Morton to push his side up field and into the corner, and ultimately Vice Captain Sam Moss went over from close range for his 8th of the season. The wind was making for light entertainment as the crowd saw the funny side of Harry Oliver’s conversion attempt which did a U-turn in mid-flight and ended up behind the point from where it had been struck (5-5 after 12 mins). Not long after Sam Broster was lost to the club house with a leg injury meaning number 8 Dafydd Rees played the remainder in the centres, with Matt Thorp introduced to the back row.

3 more 22’ entries were repelled by the home side before the North Easterners took the lead again having enjoyed a strong spell of territory in Macclesfield’s red zone after the wind caught a couple of misplaced passes, and the Priory Park Club must have thought they had held out until being trapped on their own ball in front of the posts, no more than 10 metres out. The penalty was dispatched with ease by fly half Callum Burn.

8-5 at the break but after a strong shift into the gale force wind, Macc would have been confident that they would prevail with the tail-wind in the second half, and for much of the early running after the restart it did look ominous as Alnwick could not escape their own 22’, pegged back by a gutsy defence and handling errors. The home side finally yielded the lead when the ball was lost coming out of the back of a pressurised scrum 10m out and Jordan Simpson pounced on the loose ball to finish, putting Macc ahead 8-12 with Harry Oliver’s conversion.

The travelling supporters could be forgiven for thinking it might be one way traffic from here on in, and the Cheshire lads could fill their boots, however nothing could be further from the truth. Whether it be the long trip catching up with them, tiredness from playing into the wind for so long, sheer complacency having enjoyed so much territory or just that the opposition played better, but Alnwick were reinvigorated after conceding that try. The men in blue and yellow kept the ball in hand and carried up field with incredible ferocity, getting over the gain line with alarming frequency, generating quick ball and throwing some outrageous offloads to generate exciting line breaks from deep in their own territory. Macc did their best to keep their hosts pegged back but were struggling to deal with the physicality all of a sudden, and this was only stemmed by resilience in the defensive line to force mistakes. On 63 minutes the home side’s pressure paid off, with substitute Joe Weddell benefiting from some space down the wing (13-12). In that spell you could be forgiven for thinking the team in blue were the ones fighting for promotion, the brand of rugby they played was so strong and it wasn’t long before the lead was extended by winger Jake Woods on 66 minutes (18-12).

It seemed like the promotion dream was slipping away, but Macc have been here before. Supporters will recall the trip to Wirral when two late tries turned around a 9 point deficit to win, and the visitors clearly drew composure from that experience. In that scenario it would have been easy to start panicking and taking silly options, but Morton appeared to stick to basic rugby principles, kicking his way out of his 22 and backing his teams’ defence to get the ball back and this was exactly what retrieved the result. After clearing their lines Macc defended a number of phases before second row paring Harding and Burden held up an Alnwick carrier to earn a scrum approximately 65 metres out from the home teams line. A powerful scrum allowed the ever influential Sam Stelmazsek to make a clean break from the first phase and stride into the 22’, well supported the pack smashed up a couple of phases before Morton’s out the back pass put Lomax through and his offload found Myles Hall who dotted down. Oliver’s conversion put Macc back in front 18-19 with 2 mins to play.

Alnwick fans must be sick of Hall who has made the decisive intervention in both games; but has been a consistent performer for the Cheshire outfit all season.

There was time for one more attack and buoyed by retaining the lead, the travelling side had got their mojo back, attacking up field, putting a great attack together only to be held up over the line to  be denied a try bonus, but from where they were 15 minutes earlier the narrow win could not be scoffed at.

It was a tremendous recovery after a wobbly 20 minutes in that second period but Head Coach Andy Appleyard may curse his side’s lack of red zone conversions.  Hats off to the home side who made sure that it was no procession.

After Blaydon’s heavy defeat at Sandal last week it was important that Appleyard’s team responded with a win and they achieved that goal. Billingham appear to be back in the groove with a 20-18 last gasp win over Harrogate, so both these teams sit on 75 points along with Macc who have a game in hand 5 points behind Blaydon, whom they face on the currently scheduled last game of the season at home. It’s wide open. One word….’believe’.


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