Macclesfield 31 – Alnwick 30

By David Wilkinson

Back in December Macclesfield took the 204 mile journey to a much strengthened Alnwick. At the time they had not lost at home, and the previous week had thumped Preston, but Macclesfield played one of their better games winning 12 – 21. The return fixture at Priory Park would certainly present an opportunity for revenge for Alnwick, Macclesfield’s injury woes had continued, losing Josh DeGroot to a compound fracture of the finger, the previous week.

Macclesfield kicked-off with a strong wind on their backs, which would cause problems for both sides at the lineout. The first 15 minutes would be played out in the middle of the pitch until Macclesfield were penalised twice for high tackles, the second one would send Phil Laing to the sin-bin for 10 minutes. Alnwick opted for the scrum and drove Macclesfield back into their red-zone, a series of pick and goes from their big forwards eventually got number 8 Ben Golthorp over the line, converted by Fly Half Evan Moir.

Evan Moir spotted a rare gap in the home side’s defensive line and cruised through it, before beating several players on his way to the 22. The attack continued into the left corner before switching back right, Macclesfield’s defensive line was holding firm until Moir slipped an inside pass to 7 Charlie Farmer, taking a crash ball, who wrong footed two defenders to score by the posts; Macclesfield were 14 points in arrears after 20 minutes.

Macclesfield briefly put together a few phases of play, but their game did not look anything like the previous week’s slick performance. Again Alnwick broke out of their 22 with their right winger making good yards up the touchline, before chipping ahead. As he and Phil Laing, who had just returned onto the field, raced for the ball, Laing appeared to impede his run; it looked as if the referee was about to go for his card again, but it would be a get-out-of-jail card for Laing instead of an early shower. Alnwick called for a scrum where the ball had finished, and again they did the damage pushing Macclesfield back, two phases took them to the line and Scrum Half Hugh Todd darted over, 21 points for the Northumbrians after 30 minutes, it was looking like a long day at the office for the Macc lads. There was much grumbling on the Stand, with David Mair requiring counselling.

Eventually Macclesfield put together an extended period of phases, before a lineout in the visitor’s 22. Seb Pemberton took the ball cleanly at two, before an exact repeat, of a set move from the previous week, involving James Hampson, Harry Blackwell and Phil Laing; put Laing between the posts for Macclesfield to get on the score-sheet.

Josh Redfern takes on the second half challenge

A minute after the restart and Macclesfield were under-the-pump again, but twice they repulsed Alnwick on their line, after an extended injury stoppage to James Oliver, there was a tactical change bringing on James Cross at Tight-head to add, some much-needed, extra bulk to the scrum. After three penalties in the red-zone, Macclesfield were lucky not to get carded again. Another extended injury stoppage saw Dan Percival leave the field, with Tom King coming back on. Macclesfield had survived two scrums under their posts and when penalised again Moir chose to take the three points on offer, it was 7 – 24 at half-time, with a mountain to climb in the second half.

Harry Blackwell flat-out before releasing Myles Hall

Injured Captain, James Oliver, didn’t come out for the second half, being replaced by the very capable Matt Harrison. It was nip-and-tuck for a while until Myles Hall fielded a kick on his 22 and set off on scything run, through half of the Alnwick team, taking the ball to their ten-metre line. Two phases, the width of the pitch, would see Myles Hall again joining the line and beating the last defender to score. It was an excellent try scored by a player at the prime of his rugby prowess; 14 – 24, camp two of Everest was reached, and Harry Oliver’s conversion took him over 200 points for the season.

Macclesfield were now looking like a changed team from the first half, their speed of recycling the ball, combined with pace and accuracy, was putting good yards on every phase. Alnwick, in their eagerness to defend, were making mistakes, first a short-arm tackle by number 5, Jonathon Bird, reduced them to 14 for 10 minutes then they were caught offside, giving Harry Oliver the chance to reduce the arrears further, 17 – 24.

Danny Martin 100% focused on the try line ahead

Alnwick came back at Macclesfield with a vengeance, quickly getting to the Macc 5 metre line, a quick ball put Farmer over again, but the pass was forward. It would be the first scrum since the front row changes, Macclesfield were rock-solid, but the clearance against the wind did not go far and once again Alnwick surged forward, but knocked on at the line. Macc were solid at the scrum again but Alnwick’s speedy Jake Woods beat several would-be tacklers for what looked like a certain try, but Phil Laing was villain turned hero again, making a text book try-saving tackle on the line; three chances had gone begging. Once again Myles Hall would show his vision strength and speed, darting around a ruck and making 40 metres before being hauled down, Alnwick were penalised and from the lineout Dan Martin dummied and darted over, 24 a piece after Oliver’s conversion, and it was game on.

Danny Martin’s determination is there to be seen as he darts over for the game-changing try

Evan Moir’s boot would quickly put Alnwick back into the boss-seat, first a penalty from 35 metres wide out sailed over, and from the restart a 50 – 22 gave Alnwick an attacking lineout; Macclesfield infringed and Moir slotted again for a 6 point lead.

With the clock in the red Josh Redfern fights his way over for the winning score

There were 10 tense minutes left on the clock for Macclesfield to pull off the great escape and attain their summit. Twice they had 5 metre lineouts, but twice they were unsuccessful, the wind had made it a lottery for both teams on the day. Macclesfield may have been 6 points behind, but they were now the team on top. The Priory Park faithful in the Stand upped their game too; there had been 180 ex players lunching and they had all been in this kind of situation during their playing careers, and new too well what a loud partisan crowd can bring to a team. There were only 2 minutes left on the clock, and twice Macclesfield ran quick penalties, at the third Alnwick were warned. Macclesfield revitalised and full of adrenalin opted for the scrum, they were rock-solid again, attacking through the backs, Laing took it to within a few metres, 3 quick pick and goes and Josh Redfern, so often coming up trumps when it matters, was over for the bonus-point try. All that was left, was for Harry Oliver to hold his nerve and seal the deal, calm as a cucumber he slotted it through the posts to put Macclesfield on the top of Everest for their game-of-the season.

It had certainly been a game of two halves, the Macclesfield players were well aware that they had made far too many mistakes in the first half, but in the second their accuracy and composure got better and better, in the last ten minutes having 90% of the possession. The teams were very well matched but Alnwick’s desperation to regain control of the game led to too many infringements, which ultimately led to Macclesfield’s ‘Coup de Gras’ with the clock in the red. It had been an excellent team performance to fight back and take the win, with some great individual displays of skill and determination, particularly the try scorers. MOTM Dan Martin, never put a foot wrong, great kicking, distribution and a game-changing individual try. Equally Myles Hall’s performance was full of class, strength and determination; I hope that he puts his doubts to one side, and finishes with a few more seasons with Macclesfield in National Two.

Winning smiles, isn’t rugby brilliant

Head Coach, Andy Appleyard, was full of smiles when asked about the half-time team-talk after the game: “We talked about the changes that we needed to make, keeping possession, being the main one, then Rick sent them out after a massive rollicking”. Andy talked about the momentum shift in the game and how Macclesfield’s better composure with the ball was opposite to what was happening to Alnwick. This was most evident when Alnwick put immense pressure on Macclesfield’s line early in the second half, three times fluffing their lines instead of getting over the line; their momentum would not return, because the Macc lads wouldn’t leave the door open again. Andy spoke of the impact of making the changes in the front row: “It worked well for us, Alnwick were a heavy pack, but the changes again shifted the momentum”. Macclesfield calling for the 5 metre scrum when the clock was in-the-red, drew a line under which pack was now in control – it was game over.

There’s no fixture over the Easter weekend, the last game of the season being against Burnage away on April 23rd. Their ground is located at Heaton Mersey, Stockport.

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