By David Wilkinson
Teams from all over England and Wales converged on Macclesfield, to participate in the first Macclesfield 7s competition for 35 years. For many of the participating players, it was their first opportunity to play competitive rugby since March 2019, as a consequence, there was no shortage of teams wishing to travel from far-and-wide to participate in the summer version of the sport that they all love.
Rascals7s playmaker breaks the line to score against Burton in the Semi Final
Macclesfield Rugby Club had been keen to host their own major 7s tournament for some time, after all, the Priory Park facilities are perfect for staging large sporting events with, 6 playing surfaces, big car parking areas, and outdoor food and drink facilities. When Andy Appleyard became General Manager and Lead Coach, he immediately identified it as being an excellent opportunity for the Club: “Having had a reasonable amount of experience in organising 7s competitions, both at club level and with the RFU, I felt that it was something well within our capabilities to put on”.
Putting on any kind of event during the Covid restrictions has been a challenge for many rugby clubs, but the team at Priory Park had gained a lot of experience during the past 12 months with a series of events within the community. That, coupled with a large team of enthused volunteers, gave the Executive Committee, and Andy Appleyard, the confidence that they could make a success of the event. In all, over the two days, 30 teams competed in the four competitions that made up the tournament.
The first competition started on Friday evening, with four teams from Macclesfield competing for the inaugural ‘Macc 7s Walking Rugby Shield’. There were three teams entered from the Thursday night Walking Rugby sessions, as well as a team organised by Rob Davies that featured several of the 1992/96 team that had beaten Sale twice in the Cheshire Cup; David Cummings admitting that he had not picked up a rugby ball since 1996. The final was played between ‘The Macc Rugby Legends’ VII and Wilkey’s Warriors VII, some very tired bodies tried to turn back the clock, in front of a boisterous crowd, that featured some other Macc Rugby legends, including Matt Harding, Rick Usher and Simon Bernard. The highlight of the game was reserved for the captain of Wilkey’s Warriors, who intercepted a pass from the Legends’ captain to score a vital try (both have asked to remain nameless for different reasons). Although, the try would prove to be insufficient, as the class from 1996 proved to be too much for the Warriors, with the Legends going on to win by 2 tries to one.
Saturday’s tournament was heralded across Priory Park with 3 blasts from an Eddie Stobart 18-wheeler, as games kicked-off simultaneously across the four pitches. Pitches 1, 2 and 3 were reserved for the Men’s Competition, with pitch 4 being split-in-two to accommodate the Women’s and Vets’ Competitions.
A race to the line, Lymm in full flight – ‘Flying feet!’
Plate winners, Rascals from Altrincham Kersal against Burton
The Men’s competition would be played out across four pools of games on three pitches. As there was no seeding of teams, it would be luck of the draw; and two of the pools proved to be very competitive. Pool C featured: Burton; North Wales Exiles, a very physical side of North Walians, Polynesians and ex Macc winger Josh Fowles; Sons of Lazarus, another eclectic 7s team from the North West featuring Macclesfield’s Myles Hall; and Philippines Volcanos a team of young players from London that are part of the development squad for the Philippines, who had played no competitive rugby since the first lockdown. North Wales Exiles and Burton would go through to the Quarter Finals. Pool D was also very competitive made up of: Macc 3; Reuben’s Rebels from Wirral; Lymm, that looked to be a very well drilled VII and the 99’s an eclectic VII from East Midland clubs. It would be Lymm and the 99’s that progressed to the Quarters; they would be joined by Macc Whites, Rascals from Altrincham Kersal, MP7s from Darlington Mowden Park and MMU. Speaking to Macclesfield Captain Tom Morton after their first round of games: “We won all of our games, but we’ve lost Harry Blackwell in the process, to a tip tackle, and we’ve no more backs to call on”. Tom was already without the likes of Harry Oliver, Will Davies and Sam Stelmaszek, all out with injuries; they did however progress to the Semi Finals to meet North Wales Exiles, along with MP7s and Lymm.
One of the powerful Polynesians scoring against Lymm in the Final
Lymm break through for one of their tries in the final
In the Bowl competition Sons of Lazarus won through to the Final along with Ashbarians from Ashbourne and in the Plate competition the Rascals7 from Altrincham Kersal beat the 99’s to face Burton in the Final who had beaten MMU quite convincingly. The Semi-Final of the main competition saw Macc Whites take on North Wales Exiles in the first of the matches. The North Walians had shown power and pace on their route to the semis, previously putting 38 unanswered points on the Rascals7; and they were almost as clinical against the depleted Macc VII winning 24 – 0. The other Semi-Final saw MP7 from Darlington take on Lymm, that had looked the most organised team in the competition; Lymm won, at a canter, 29 – 5.
The winning Women’s team from Sandal
All that was left to play on the main pitch would be the three finals; elsewhere Sandal had won the Women’s Rugby 7s competition and Macclesfield had won the Veterans 7s. The first of the finals would see Ashbarians take on Sons of Lazarus, which turned into a one-sided affair with the eclectic regular 7s team from the North West beating the Ashbourne VII 29 – 0. The Plate Final was to be a more nip and tuck encounter with the Altrincham Kersal team outscoring Burton 22 – 10.
The remaining teams gathered to see the best two teams go head-to-head in the Cup Final. The North Wales Exiles had been consistently too powerful for their previous opponents, with an array of talented players that had demonstrated that they could win the head-to-head exchanges. In contrast Lymm were organised and patient, creating extra space by backing each other up, but with plenty of pace to exploit the gaps when they were created. The Exiles were fast-out-of-the-blocks, quickly going two scores up using their pace and power to break half-tackles. Lymm stayed in the fight, scoring some nicely worked tries, but they were no match for the North Walians who ran out winners, 34 – 19.
Chairman Stephen Branch presents the Macc7s trophy to the Captain of North Wales Exiles
It had been a great tournament of rugby, that had run smoothly and was expertly officiated. The Chairman of Macclesfield Rugby Club, Stephen Branch, presented the winners with their medals and trophies and had this to say: “What an incredible day it has been at the Rugby Club. To host our first 7’s tournament, in a very long time; and for it to have been so successful is a credit to Andy Appleyard and everyone involved. It was great to have the Walking Rugby, the Vets and the Women all participating in their own competitions, and the standard of rugby displayed by the senior men’s teams was impressive. The weather has been perfect and Priory Park has been buzzing all day. To the organisers, officials, volunteers and sponsors a huge thank you, and to the teams, players, supporters and spectators thank you for making it a memorable occasion, that we already have in the calendar for next year”. The sponsors for the event, that helped make it happen were: Hun (wines in a can), Director’s Choice, Money Guru and O’Neill’s, the Club’s kit provider.
The winning North Wales Exiles squad and Coach
As a postscript, this message was received on Saturday night from the Darlington Mowden Park team: “What a great club! Had a fantastic day. Will definitely be back next year!! It was one of the best ran tournaments I have been to. Amazed that was just its first year. It has real potential to be a great tournament”.
Photography courtesy of Rob Hockney