By David Wilkinson
Northwich had had a torrid first half of the season, gaining just a single bonus point; the jump up to the Northern Premier had coincided with several players retiring. Covid had also taken its toll, as in previous seasons, overseas players had been a source for recruitment. Macclesfield were without four of their forward starters through injury, but as it turned out their pack was just as powerful in the set pieces. The game kicked off and within a minute Harry Oliver had bagged three points with the boot, he wouldn’t miss a kick for the rest of the afternoon. From the restart, Elliot Alston, starting for the first time for Macclesfield, took a whack to the nose, which as it turns out will not be improving his looks. He lasted a little while, but was required to leave the field to get cleaned up, allowing a first look at Seb Pemberton, on loan for the rest of the season.
The game was being played deep into the visitor’s half, but Macclesfield were penalised several times, returning possession to the Northwich team, who failed to gain any headway. After 10 minutes Macclesfield fashioned their first try, Northwich lost possession after kicking the ball out on the full, and from the ensuing lineout Macclesfield only needed two phases for James Hampson to create some space for Harry Blackwell to get the first of his hat-trick of tries, Harry Oliver converted, which was the first of eight successful conversions.
Harry Blackwell receiving a neat pass to score the first
Macclesfield knocked-on from the restart, resulting in what would be the first of some very difficult scrums for the visitors; they rocketed backwards and one of the second rows stepped out of the action. The penalty pinned Northwich in their 22, and even though they won possession back, they could not relieve the pressure. Elliot Alston won the maul back for Macc, enabling the hosts to set up camp in the visitors 22 until they bothered the scoreboard again. First Macclesfield drove for the line from a set scrum, only for the referee, not for the first time this season, shout: “Use it”, as Macclesfield were still driving forward, Josh Redfern knocked the ball on, in trying to use it, and momentarily the pressure was off, until Alex Davies took a tapped penalty. Three quick phases saw Hampson deliver a perfect pass for Brendan Berry to get inside his man and canter to the line.
Brendan Berry going through for the second try
Macclesfield were immediately back on attack, going through the phases, the ball reaching Miles Hall in support on the left wing, he was forced into touch, but cleverly had flipped the ball back inside; the flag went up, the whistle was blown, and the large turkey fed crowd voiced their disapproval. It was clearly a case of watching the player and not the ball; the large crowd and the guests from the Christmas lunch, made their disapproval known. Macc won a free-kick from the line-out, and Hampson deftly chipped the ball out to Sam Broster to canter in for the third.
Sam Broster catches the delightful chip to score the third
The Macclesfield pack was now in total control winning two scrums against the head; from one of their own they controlled their push before releasing the backs, where Phil Laing turned up in the middle of the park to crash through a gap and sprint to the try-line; Macclesfield were 31 points up when the whistle blew for half-time.
Northwich were first to score in the second half; from a penalty they had a 5m lineout, Macclesfield chose not to contest the maul and the no.7 literally walked over from the front of the maul. Northwich regained possession from the restart, but with each phase went backwards until they spilled the ball; in contrast Macclesfield put 3 phases together gaining ground as they pushed for their fifth. Once again Hampson created the opportunity with a grubber through the defence for the speedy James Oliver to dot down.
Macc caught the restart and went straight back on the attack, clever handling put Harry Blackwell free, and there was no catching him as he raced through for his second. From the restart Macc were back deep in the Northwich half, going through their phases. The pressure told and the visitors were reduced to 14. With their 10 off the field they couldn’t cope with the home side’s clever backs and Blackwell went in for his hat-trick.
Northwich did have another chance, but with their 10 off the field they fluffed the opportunity putting their penalty kick dead. From the scrum deep in their half Macclesfield picked their moment, fast hands gave a small gap for MOTM Harry Blackwell, who weaved his way past 4 defenders, taking the ball to the try line and feeding Miles Hall, backing up for the final try of the afternoon.
Miles Hall going over for the last
The Head Coach’s Summary
Head Coach, Andy Appleyard, was quick to applaud Northwich for the way that they have stuck at it this season: “You have to take your hat off, it’s been tough for Northwich, but their heads never go down, and they have become a much improved team since the start of the season”.
Andy was pleased with how Macclesfield kept the pace of the game as high as possible, when they could: “We always want to play at a high tempo, and they boys managed to do that every time it was possible, and it worked, we stretched their defence, and the backs were clinical in their attacking play, I was very pleased with the 8 tries that we scored. That said I was disappointed with the one that we gave away; not defending a lineout mauls is not something in our plans”.
Club Chairman, Stephen Branch, spoke to the Northwich Coach, after the game, praising his players for their grit and determination, and for their ‘never-say-die’ attitude on the pitch. Impressed with his words, the Coach took Stephen into the Player’s huddle, to repeat his praise.
The next game is away against table-toppers Otley; their historic ground has been a mixed hunting ground for Macclesfield over the years; but Otley are a very strong team this season and will not want to give Macclesfield a late Christmas present! Injuries in the forwards will be compounded by the unavailability of Captain Sam Moss. It will be a test for the boys to play to the level that they have now attained, but to a man they are full of confidence.
On the positive side, Josh DeGroot may be available, added to which the signing of Seb Pemberton, who came off the bench on Saturday, is now complete; Seb joins the squad for the rest of the season, on loan from Sale FC.
Jennings Joy with last minute winner
Sedgley Park 2nd XV 22 – Macclesfield 2nd XV 24
Going to Sedgley Park and getting a result is never an easy task and it appeared to have been made more difficult with the inclusion of several First XV players after the cancellation of their league fixture. The seconds also had to deal with a loud and supportive home crowd who were enjoying the club’s Christmas festivities.
The Second XV in numerous matches this season have started poorly, and this was to continue on Saturday as errors and silly penalties allowed Sedgley attacking platforms which they capitalised on to score two relatively simple tries, of which they converted one. Slowly Macclesfield got themselves back into the game the forwards were able to match the big Sedgley pack at the breakdown and gain parity at scrum time. Midway through the half a turnover at the ruck allowed the ball to be spun out quickly for Pete Milne to go under the posts with Tom Jennings to convert to make the score 12 -7. This was followed by a penalty at the breakdown being kicked by Jennings to close the gap to 12-10. Sedgley came back quickly, martialed by a very useful half back combination. Macclesfield were penalised for a high tackle and the ensuing lineout led to a couple of quick rucks leading to a third unconverted try being scored. Macclesfield continued to give penalties away the last of which led a fourth try being scored to make it 22 – 10 to the home-side who had only really capitalised on the errors made by Macclesfield.
Macclesfield started to dominate from the start of the second half, line-breaks were made by Pete Milne and the back three of Alex Jakubowski, James Nicholas, David Kirk; they all started to look dangerous with ball in hand however at key moments the ball was either knocked on or ripped away in contact to prevent a score. The forwards were now starting to break tackles, gain yards and dominate at the ruck, Eve Wynne and No 8 Jonny Thompson in particular started to cause Sedgley problems in defence. James Nicholas was held up over the line before the telepathic understanding between Tom Jennings and Alex Jakubowski led to a second Macclesfield try; a delightful kick to the corner caught by the winger to score. A difficult kick was converted by the fly-half to make it 22-17.
Macclesfield continued to dominate, exploiting the week centre pairing of Sedgley, twice Carl Droy was held up over the line. Line breaks continued to be made by the Macclesfield centres and forwards but again balls were lost when it looked like the team would score. In the final minute Macclesfield knocked on in the Sedgley 22 and it looked like the game was done. However, pressure at the scrum led it to being reset. The ball was won against the head, quickly moved out to Pete Milne to go over to make it all square at 22 – 22. The conversion wasn’t easy but Tom Jennings chipped it over for a famous win 22-24 and celebrations back in the Club house at Priory Lane.