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Burnage 27 – Macclesfield 44

By David Wilkinson

The last game of the season saw Macclesfield travel to Heaton Mersey to take on relative near neighbours Burnage. The coach was packed, with virtually the whole squad, including all of the walking wounded, to see off the season in boisterous style; equally a good crowd from the Macclesfield faithful supporters gathered to cheer on the team.

The walking wounded on the back of the bus, with next season’s left winger

Burnage and Northwich were both promoted last season into the North Premier, and both, by their own admission, did not want promotion, as they didn’t have the squads to compete at this level. Macclesfield had taken-on Burnage in the first game of the season, in what turned out to be a tetchy affair with both yellow and red cards being shown. This game would be little different, if the match-day programme notes were anything to go by, the Burnage players would be well stoked-up  for revenge after the September loss.

Burnage were one of the first Clubs to get an Astroturf style pitch and as a consequence, it had seen a lot of rugby, and now due to be replaced in the close-season at a considerable cost. The pitch and the very strong wind blowing down the pitch would play its part in the game.

Seb Pemberton takes cleanly to set up the attack for the first try

Macclesfield kicked off playing against the wind, and were immediately in the ascendancy. It was attritional for Burnage, as phase after phase came at them, and when they finally got their hands on the ball, it was kicked 80 metres dead. Macclesfield secured the ball at the scrum and would not relinquish it again until Seb Pemberton dived over a morass of bodies to score after well over twenty phases of play; it was 0 – 5 after 14 minutes.

Seb Pemberton is driven over for Macclesfield’s 1st try

The second try would take less rugby to create; the referee had warned Burnage for high tackles and within a few minutes of the restart the Burnage 12 charged in high and was sent to the bin. The ball was cleanly won from the penalty lineout to create a driving maul, James Oliver broke from the back, catching the defence napping and his pace speeding him to the line; it would be 0 – 12 after his brother’s successful conversion.

James Oliver darts through for Macclesfield’s 2nd try

Burnage were quick to respond, they got into Macclesfield’s 22 after the restart, and then from a lineout, their 12 crashed through several tackles before slipping it to number 6, who had the simplest of tasks to finish off the move. After the restart Macclesfield knocked on, and an offside player allowed Burnage to reduce the arrears to 10 – 12.

Macc were back on the attack, going through several phases in the Burnage 22, but the home-side’s defence was solid and eventually turned over Macclesfield when the ball-carry became isolated. Burnage quickly turned the tables getting into Macc’s 22 where they won a penalty to make it 13 – 12. Burnage took their narrow lead into half-time. The wind had proved difficult for both teams, particularly at the lineout, and while Macclesfield had had the lion’s-share of possession, Burnage had bagged the points on their three visits into the visitor’s territory.

Macclesfield’s pack drives for the line

Burnage started the second half as Macclesfield had started the first, going through numerous phases until they reached the 5 metre line. The ball was quickly recycled from the ruck with a short pass to the number 6 at full-speed who burst the tackle to swallow dive between the posts to take Burnage further ahead.

Macclesfield used the wind to put pressure back on Burnage who ran it out of defence to halfway, Phil Laing got his head on the wrong side of the tackle, taking a blow that would finish his rugby for the day. There was also a tactical change for Macclesfield, bringing on Matt Harrison into the back-row and moving Josh Redfern into the second-row, replacing Elliot Alston. Harry Blackwell seemed to find an acre of space to run into, which resulted in a Burnage lineout in their 22. An untidy tap down combined with the Burnage playing surface, presented a gift for Matt Thorp to score, Harry Oliver turned it into 7 to make it 20 – 19, Ben Holden came on for James Cross.

The game was halted after the restart for some hand bag pushing and shoving, but the aggression got considerably worse two phases later as the Burnage 7 blatantly rucked a Macclesfield player’s head with his boot. The referee had no hesitation in showing red. A well worked lineout found the safe-hands of Seb Pemberton again, two phases made another twenty metres before Burnage’s reluctance to listen to the referee gave Harry Oliver the chance to put Macclesfield in front 20 – 22.

Macclesfield’s lineout in action

Straight from the restart Macc were back on the attack, Josh Redfern surged through a gap and as it closed upon him, he timed his slip-pass perfectly to Harry Oliver. Harry’s pace took him to the 22 where he drew the last man to the tackle before releasing Dan Martin to score the bonus-point try 20 – 29.

The penny seemed to have dropped, in the minds of Macclesfield, as directly after the restart, James Hampson used the wind to force Burnage to defend from deep. The lineout throw went sailing over the out-stretched hands of Seb Pemberton but into the basket of James Oliver standing at the back. The sole Burnage defender had little chance against the pace of the Macc Captain as he sprinted diagonally to the corner-flag for Macclesfield’s fifth try, 20 – 34.

Burnage wasted little time in trying to address the now two-score arrears; winning the ball at the restart, they made good ground before a well-timed pass to number 13, playing his last game for Burnage weaved past two defenders to score, 27 – 34.

Some unusual scrappy play led to a penalty on the halfway line for Macclesfield; the wind was probably worth 20 metres, so harry Oliver could concentrate purely on accuracy; the ball sailed between the posts with ten metres to spare, 27 – 37.

Macclesfield continued to use the wind to play in the home side’s 22, going through several phases until Tom Brand, muscled his way out of a tackle to find free space and the line at his beckoning. Harry Oliver rounded it off for a 27 – 44 final score.

James and Harry Oliver joint MOTM

It had been a strange game at times, the wind, the pitch and one wonders if the players may have been over-psyched for the game. Burnage had been excellent hosts, but those words in their match-day programme seemed to suggest somewhat of a grudge; hopefully this will not continue next season. Head Coach, Andy Appleyard, thought it had been a good contest: “Burnage defended very well and they used a clever ploy of clearing the ruck north to south, which at times slowed our ball; that said the boys recycled very well and took their chances when they created the opportunities. You could see that the Burnage lads were running out of steam towards the end of the game; as we pinned them back, after eventually using the wind to our advantage”.

I asked Andy about the season per se: “It’s been a tough season, trying to keep any kind of consistency. Besides missing some key players for most of the season, with serious injuries, you have all the other rugby knocks that might take a player out for a couple of weeks. The impact is then doubled as consistency is not just impacting on team selection, but at training as well; sometimes we have had to resort to video sessions to get over the problem. It was at its worse during the Jan, Feb period when we were making 6 or 7 changes each week; in contrast the last 4 or 5 weeks has seen some real consistency. I think given the problems we’ve faced, we’ve done as well as we could have, bar a handful of results that could have gone the other way”.

Happy last bus of the season

It has been the worst season ever for the Club, in respect of injuries, which has created opportunities for other players. I asked Andy what his thoughts were on this: “On the positive side it has created some really good opportunities for players that would have been otherwise on the fringe. This has up-skilled their game which bodes really well for next season. I would like to give a big thank you to the players and leaders from all the other teams who have supported us and indeed felt the impact of all these injuries during the season”.

The Executive will undertake its review of the season this week; and as Andy says: “If I’m still in a job, we will want to undertake some significant recruitment this close season, given the likely retirements and our desire to succeed”. Sam Moss has definitely hung his boots up after a quite remarkable playing career with the Club, and his sole-mate Billy Robinson is at the moment erring! We will wait and see the outcome, in the meantime look out for a tribute to Mossy in this column.

BASQUE DURANGO 1ST XV 67 –  MACCLESFIELD 4TH XV 10

The entire tour party of 22 players and 15 supporters were involved in this long distance away fixture which the tourists had been eagerly anticipating since the previous fixture to the Iberian Peninsula three years previously.

Before starting, team coach Jeremy Bostock announced the starting 15, some of those on the substitutes bench looked disappointed, they were all so keen to take the field and get into the fray.  Actually six of the seven subs had celebrated their 50th birthdays, with a few within reach of their 60th. Only Louis Smith of the bench-warmers was in his 40s.

Following the well known adage that what goes-on-on-tour-stays-on-tour, therefore the highlights of the encounter, only! Macclesfield had plenty of opportunity to brighten up their supporters. The notable happenings were an early try after a brilliant interception  and dash to the try line from halfway by Richard Hopkin, to tie the score 5-5  at that stage.

In the second half a charging surge by Louis and quickly taken penalty by scrum half Nick Smith led to Nick Richardson, our USA based international guest, diving over for our second try.  He claimed to have dived 15 metres, crashing into the corner flag before touching down.

The venue had an AstroTurf pitch, never a favourite with us; rugby balls quite obviously have an awkward bounce but on artificial surfaces they become even more unpredictable.  Due to this unevenness the 4ths did concede three late tries, this 21 points left the score-line looking like an unrealistic defeat.  Afterwards full back Oliver Wilson felt obliged to completely immerse himself into the freezing river to the hilarity of the party.

Not straight in the Basque country (or was that Pete Hardwick?)

The post match celebrations showed that the visiting contingent could out-sing and out-dance all the Basques. Choirmaster Dr Teale organising the baritones tunefully whilst ballet master Peter Hardwick was magnificent in his self nominated stool standing twirling.

The home side nominated Jonny Thompson Man of the Match, he was brilliant behind a sometimes retreating scrummage to retain possession  and gain so many metres,  even when being tackled, he was able to carry two tacklers a further 10 metres  before being pulled to ground.

The touring team and the Basque Bandits

The success of the tour is being judged as so many members have already forwarded their deposits to reserve a place on the 2023 foreign excursion, which for the first time ever will include an octogenarian in their ranks. Great thanks go Jason Walker, Louis Smith and Jeremy Bostock for financial sponsorship and all the tour committee for their hard work ensuring the smooth running of our annual tours.

#maccrugby

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