Sandal 14 – Macclesfield 23

By David Wilkinson

The buffeted coach-ride over the Pennines was a prelude to storm Malik’s ferocious 60 mph winds that tore down the pitch at Sandal Rugby Club. Prior to kick-off, Macclesfield’s first ever Walking Rugby fixture took place, against Wath Warriors (Wath upon Dearne) from South Yorkshire – report to follow.

Sandal’s front row can’t take the pressure at the first scrum and lose a prop

The team-sheet was bolstered by the heavyweight return of: Harry Harding and Josh DeGroot to the Second Row and Seb Pemberton to the bench; all of whom would be needed against an aggressive Sandal pack. Macclesfield started with the gale on their backs and quickly put together a series of attacking phases that took them deep into the home side’s half. Two of the Sandal forwards, in their eagerness to stem-the-tide went over the top at a ruck, presenting an opportunity for Harry Oliver to kick for goal; it would be an early 21st birthday present as he judged the gale to perfection.

Tom Brand climbs highest to secure good ball to attack from

The following 25 minutes saw Sandal pegged back in their half, but Macclesfield’s indiscipline resulted in the home side having most of the possession, although their poor kicking against the wind provided no gain-line territory. Not for the last time, Sandal’s colossal number 5 made a charge into the Macclesfield half which, which ultimately would set up an unsuccessful kick at goal, after Macclesfield had given away another penalty.

A penetrative run from Harry Oliver and Sam Stelmaszek then put Macclesfield deep back into Sandal’s half, where they played some excellent rugby, stretching Sandal from side-to-side. It looked as if Macclesfield were about to score but a deliberate knock-on saw the Sandal defender sent to the bin of 10 minutes. It must have been an easy decision for Sam Moss to call for the scrum, as the previous one had been won against the head. With the scrum in the left hand corner of the field, they had the whole of the width of the pitch to use, and they used it well. Left Wing, Sam Brown, on debut, joined the line outside the centres to score; it heralded half-time, but would the lead be enough facing the second-half gale?

Sam Stelmaszek dots down for the 2nd try

Sam Stelmaszek put the ball out on the full from the restart, but it mattered not, as the Macc scrum was now well on top. The first was won against the head, the second, saw Sandal going backwards again, with Stelmaszec stealing the ball and feeding Harry Oliver, who took the ball close to the line. Sandal infringed and received their second yellow card. The scrum was almost academic with Josh Redfern feeding Macc’s Polish international Scrum Half to dot-down in the corner.

Sandal returned to the fray with a steely determination, and what looked like a plan; they kept giving it to the colossal number 5, who made yards, ever time, with the ball in his hands. Macclesfield’s defence was holding firm, until the home-side Scrum Half spotted a gap in between a melee of forwards, the last line of defence was drawn and he slipped the ball to the Inside Centre to score a well executed try.

Harry Oliver finishes for Macclesfield’s third

It seemed that Macclesfield were having far less of a problem playing against the wind, fashioning a good attack into the 22. Sandal’s number 5 came to the rescue again stealing the ball at the maul; the pressure was briefly relieved as the ball was cleared deep into Macc’s 22. But against the wind Macclesfield had far more invention; from a kick over the top Harry Oliver won the ball and fed Tom Brand who galloped to the opposing 22 passing back to Oliver to score; Macc led 7 – 18.

Sam Stelmaszek was yellow carded for coming into the ruck from an offside position, which brought Myles Hall in from Full Back to cover for 10 minutes. Sandal attacked though their backs, creating space out wide, with no one in the full back spot. Their Forwards then put together a series of muscular phases and Macclesfield could count themselves lucky not to lose another player, when they infringed close to the line. From the ensuing close-quarter play Sandal squeezed over; there was only four points in it with 15 minutes to play.

Harry Harding barges over for the bonus-point try

Once again Macclesfield showed that they could play against the wind, forwards and backs combing to take the ball from one 22 to the other, a forward pass would halt play but the resulting scrum saw Sandal going backwards at a-rate-of-knots. From the penalty Macc srummaged again and Stelmaszek darted for the line, the ball was somehow dislodged from his grasp and Sandal touched down behind their line for a goal-line drop-out. The drop-kick that followed was a bizarre miss-kick, it barely got off the ground, flying into the welcoming hands of Seb Pemberton, who ran it straight back. Several close-quarter pick-and-goes followed, with Harry Harding finally getting over for the bonus-point try. The attempted conversion demonstrated that the wind had not abated in the second half, as the ball stopped dead in the wind, well short of its target.

Harry Oliver taking on storm Malik

Sandal had one last series of attacks, but they were running out of steam and time. The Macclesfield tackling had been solid all day and one last charge by the outstanding Sandal 5 came to a juddering halt, as he was double-tackled around the legs by Pemberton and smashed at chest height by MOTM James Oliver; the ball was cleared and it was game over.

The boys in blue had put an excellent performance together, playing the conditions with more skill and confidence than their opponents. The return of the engine room and powerful finishers coming off the bench meant that they dominated scrum-time, a source of much of the good play. Macclesfield did give away a few more penalties than the norm, but that was probably indicative of how much close-quarter defending they had to do. To a man, the team had played well, Sam Stelmaszek was back to his confident best, and part of many of the good plays in the game. But the Oliver twins were definitely up for the game, they were determined to start their 21st birthday celebrations a day early; Harry, besides being quick and elusive, punches well above his weight, as does his brother James in the Back Row. James’s energy levels are always high, but in Yorkshire on Saturday he was at times like a ‘whirling dervish’, at one point I counted four tackles in about 10 seconds, well worthy of his Man of the Match.

The Head Coach’s Summary

Head Coach Andy Appleyard had this to say: “I was really pleased with how we had converted what we had worked on during the week, into game-time on Saturday. We were concerned that we weren’t being penetrative enough in our attack play, so we looked at a few things that might get us across the gain-line better: making plays closer to the defensive line and being more dynamic when tackled, and you have to say it worked. We looked very sharp in attack scoring four tries is what we wanted. The boys now have a Saturday off, to rest-up and let some of those injuries heal before we face Billingham at home, which will be another big match.”

Andy is also hoping that some of the other injured players might be able to prove their fitness by then. It would make a huge difference if Andy could finish the season with a fully fit squad and push the team several places up the league.

Macclesfield Walking Rugby in action as they take on Wath Warriors

Macclesfield Walking Rugby 10 – Wath Warriors 6

This was Macclesfield’s first competitive fixture with another club, played at Sandal’s ground before the first team game. Tristan Wood had organised the contest, after being contacted by Wath on social media. Nine of us gathered in our named and numbered sponsored kit to take-on a larger contingency from South Yorkshire. There could have been nigh-on thirty of us (the game is so popular at Macc) but the other Alikadoos chose a free lunch (Mike Keeling and Wilkey); and I assume that the rest have yet to learn how to negotiate an away day.

What of the contest? To start with Macclesfield play by a long list of sophisticated rules, whereas Wath played by few; and as they provided the referee, it made for a somewhat chaotic contest. That said we were the more skilful, creating gaps and finishing well. Everyone did their bit but Pip Gregory, Dan Slack and Ant were a little more sprightly, than the rest of us.

The Walking Rugby winning team

Walking Rugby takes place every Thursday between 7 and 8 on the floodlit all-weather pitch.

Bowden 2nd XV 24 – Macclesfield 3rd XV 5

It was a day when everything seemed to conspire against this tenacious 3rd team, including 6 yellows cards. Macclesfield played with the wind in the first half but were quickly put under pressure by the large forwards from Bowden! Bowden only having won two games this term, looked anything like a side that was second bottom of the league and the early pressure resulted in an early yellow card for James Meredith, quickly followed by another to Macc Prop Chris Effingham.

The spirit of this young side then stood out as the 13 men of Macclesfield stood steadfast and resolute in defense whilst Bowden continued to batter the Macclesfield line but without scoring; truly outstanding. As Bowden continued to dominate possession, Ben Heginbotham took a nasty knee to the head and left the field to be replaced by Alex Burke, starting his first game in 3 years. Five minutes later Harry Wheelton also left the field with a stinger to his shoulder after a thunderous hit on the Bowden No 8. It was only a matter of time before Bowden scored, and their pacy right winger touched down in the corner sprinting from very nearly the half way line. Shortly afterwards Macclesfield received yet another yellow card, given to George Hodgkinson; and baffling because neither player nor Captain Nick Smith was given a reason!

Macclesfield bounced back as Jonny Thomson and the back row of Sam Bancroft and Matt Price started to make holes in the Bowden defense but a turnover in midfield resulted in a breakaway try to Bowden, somewhat against the run of play after some fantastic attacking play by full back Dave Kirk; half Time 12-0 to Bowden,

As the second half started Macclesfied took control of the game, with Dale Crompton taking a number of runs up the short side, breaking the gain line and sucking in defending players. The front row of Aaron Liston, Elliot Jones and Chris Effingham were now in the ascendency and driving back the Bowden 8. Five minutes of possession resulted in Ben Hadfield breaking free from a mall and scoring a well deserved try which went unconverted. Shortly afterwards  Macclesfield succumbed to yet another yellow card, frustrating the many Macclesfield supporters as much as the players, again very difficult to fathom out the reason why but apparently a high tackle?

Bowden took control of the game as injuries took their toll within the Macclesfield ranks and Bowden made 3 changes, unloading their Bench of first team players. Two further scores for Bowden the last one being very dubious with the Bowden winger both in touch and dropping the ball over the line, was enough to see them edge the game.

One has to consider that with the Bowden first team game called off, as their coach to Cumbria broke down, Macc were up against it, as a number of these players returned just in time for kick off.

You can argue whether this is part of the ethos of the game, first team players against 3rd team players, but we all know these things happen. This Macclesfield side, that continues to grow in strength and resolve every week were not fazed by the challenges at hand and should be very proud of themselves.

James Meredith, Ollie Luckman and Oscar Johnson, all Macclesfield Colts only a couple of years ago  and relatively inexperienced at this level, compared with their opposite numbers, looked anything like out of place and have very bright futures ahead of them on recent performances.

So, it was another consecutive loss; but so much to look forward to, with this bunch of guys, as we head into the last 3 months of the season.

Right, I am off to brush-up on the laws of the game after a number of baffling decisions over the last couple of weeks!


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