By David Wilkinson
The phrase ‘Back to Square One’ couldn’t be more apt, both in terms of being back where we started, as of March/April 2020 and rugby per se. The phrase was coined by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam, known as Teddy Wakelam. Teddy was an English sports broadcaster and rugby player who captained Harlequins.
On 15 January 1927 Wakelam gave the first-ever running sports commentary on BBC Radio. It covered the Rugby International match between England and Wales at Twickenham, England won 11-9. While Wakelam described the run of play, a background voice would call out a number, referring to a specific area on the pitch. To assist listeners, a picture showing a rugby field divided into numbered squares was published in the Radio Times. As play moved back to the bottom right-hand square, Teddy Wakeham uttered the immortal words and now an everyday catchphrase: “Back to Square One”. The following week The Radio Times grid was used again in the soccer fixture of Arsenal against Sheffield United.
And so, we start again. All rugby, except for the Premiership is ‘Back to Square One’. With Priory Park under lock and key over the weekend, everyone turned to the Telly for a bit of rugby. Sadly Covid had put-paid to two of the scheduled matches; Harlequin’s visit to Worcester and the London Irish trip to Northampton Saints. Quins game was cancelled after a positive test by one of the players, however, this meant that six others were required to self-isolate and the Club was unable to select a full front row for the New Year’s Day fixture. London Irish were in a similar predicament, as such Northampton was awarded four points and Irish two; the same with Worcester being awarded four and Quins two. If this level of cancellations continues, the splitting of points could have a serious effect at either end of the table, by the end of the season.
Of the games that did take place, there were some excellent contests. On Friday night Bristol Bears put on a good show at Ashton Gate beating the un-beaten new-comers Newcastle 29-17; on Saturday Wasps out Exetered Exeter, comfortably out-powering them 34-5 and Sale stuttered past the post against Gloucester 19-22, although the try of the weekend was scored out wide by the Wales speedster Rees-Zammit after some sublime passing in the middle of the park. Sunday saw Leicester Tigers out-muscle the classy Bath backs 36-31. There were a few ex Macclesfield players on the show over the weekend, the last to make an appearance was Will Cliff coming on to help cement a first win for Paul Deacon since he took over from Steve Diamond. Will Cliff played for Macclesfield but apparently only for the 2nd XV as the DOR at the time preferred someone else in the nine shirt – who was he? Here’s a clue, he scored probably the most important ‘at-the-death’ try for MRUFC – but I could be wrong!
The rugby TV pundits had much to say over the weekend with regard to the adverse effect of Covid on the game, and the likely scenarios re the Premiership, the Six Nations Championship and the Lions’ tour to South Africa. The general opinion was that the Premiership should be ring-fenced for up to two seasons, bringing Saracens back up and no relegation; this was certainly the view of Steve Diamond, who feared that if this didn’t happen several clubs could go bust. There is a view that given the current situation the Six Nations should be delayed, but this could then affect those players hoping to go on the Lions’ Tour to SA. Having said that South Africa has its own problems, and there was a view that the Lions’ Tour could still go ahead but not to South Africa – all will be revealed in the weeks to come.
As for MRUFC, 2020 is now dead and buried with everyone hoping for much more rugby to be played this year, once we are eventually up and running again. But there was a bit of decent rugby played by Macclesfield before it all came to a grinding halt; I asked around for people’s highlights of what was played in 2020 and there was one away trip that was top of the list for many. The journey up to Kirkby Lonsdale would be an eventful day, two coaches set off from Priory Park for the picturesque town in Cumbria; one containing the Ladies team and the Alikadoos, with Chairman Stephen Branch, on hand to offer his usual Veteran advice; the other containing the first team, eager for another away scalp. Ladies Captain, Kirsty Wallis picks up the story: “The highlight of 2020 for me was having an opening game before the men’s first team fixture at Kirkby Lonsdale, we only had 13 on the bus but we played with passion and determination. They were 2 leagues above us and we learnt a lot as a team from that game. Unfortunately, Hayley Marshall was unable to finish the game due to breaking her arm”.
At the time the Ladies’ team were classed as a ‘Development’ team and this was a tough day for them; they went down 34 – 0 but learned a lot – and got to watch the men. President Peter Harper was also on the bus, this is what he had to say: “For me, the best all-round team performance was the 1st team away wins at Kirkby Lonsdale. The hosts have a proud home record and vary rarely lose at their picturesque Underley Park ground. However, Macclesfield played some of the best rugby from 1 to 15 seen for a while and handed the hosts their heaviest home defeat for many seasons. The day was made even better as our Ladies team played a curtain-raiser against Kirkby Ladies – complete with a good old fashioned coach trip!
It was also the Chairman’s choice, well certainly for January! He had a lot of other highlights, but I will save those for another day! This is what he had to say about the trip: “It was a fantastic day out and such a pleasure to witness the Ladies play before the Men. The atmosphere in their clubhouse afterwards was electric and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Regrettably, that was the only time we were able to travel away, on a joint fixture, before the first lockdown but we look forward to doing it again as soon as we can.
Clubman, at the time, wrote that after a first-half stutter the week before one of the travelling Alikadoos was in fear of a Cumbrian ‘Banana-Skin’. His worries were ill-founded as the Macc Lads romped away with it, winning with a 30 point margin, and moving up a spot to third.
It was a defining performance for Macclesfield, they didn’t have it all their own way, and why should they; but by half time they were 21 – 10 ahead after an initial try by Myles Hall, some barn-storming runs by Jordon Simpson and a 30-yard dash by Dafydd Rees being the highlights. The second half was more of the same with tries for Dan Percival, Simpson, Harry Oliver and Will Davies. The final score was 24 – 54 in the favour of Macclesfield, it had been a very successful day, with a satisfied Head Coach, Andy Appleyard having this to say: “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 the attack so I’m proud of the boys and everyone involved to get to this point where we can put this performance in a way; and put a big score on someone.”
There was an even better performance waiting in the wings, but this one would be a great day to remember, with a good old-fashioned coach trip to boot.