Birkenhead Park 14 – Macclesfield 33

By David Wilkinson

The evening kick-off was preceded by a friendly, and generous, reception from the Birkenhead Park Alikadoos. They proudly presented their rugby heritage dating back to 1871, all housed in their original pavilion built in 1892. Park’s excellent Upper Ground pitch has been in continuous use, even longer than that of their pavilion, presenting the perfect surface for this first round of the Cheshire Cup.

It was evident at kick-off that the Park pack was as traditional looking as the club. We had heard from their committee that the club had boosted the squad including an 8 from Australia, which demonstrated their determination to return to level-5 rugby. If weight advantage was going to be a deciding factor, then Park had it in spades; thankfully Macclesfield’s scrummaging technique would give them parity.

A well matched scrummage

After a few exchanges Macclesfield got back to where they started with a lineout on the halfway, which they won cleanly. For reasons unknown, the referee called for the lineout to be retaken, which seemed to bemuse all concerned. Retaking lineouts is always frustrating, as the original call needs to be replaced, which in this case went to the back and was over-thrown; the outcome ultimately being a lineout for Park on Macclesfield’s 22.


Macc switch the play from the scrum to set up a first half attack

The visitor’s defence held firm, pushing Park back, and twice the home side gave away free-kicks at the scrum, but twice Macclesfield messed up the lineout which gave welcome relief to Park. After some scrappy play from both sides, Park forced their way into the Macclesfield 22 putting together a series of phases that looked likely to result in a score, but the visitor’s defence was again resolute.

Danny Martin is a blur as he races for the line

After winning a penalty in their 22 Charlie Attis cleared to the 10 metre line, a catch-and-drive, with a break of the back, set up a charge for Harry Harding, who drove another 15 metres. With numbers stretched Danny Martin sniffed an opportunity from the base of the ruck; beating the guard he only had one man to beat before the try-line, who he stood up in similar fashion to what he did to Hull the previous week; after soaking up 27 minutes of pressure Macc were in front.

Park execute well at the front of the lineout keeping the pressure on Macclesfield

After the restart, Macclesfield again repulsed a series of attacks before piercing the Merseysider’s defence again, resulting in a penalty. Quick-thinking Martin spotted the opportunity with a quick tap, Junior Gelsthorpe fed the ball on to Sam Broster, who’s eyes opened with delight, after beating his man, he could see an open field in front of him to the try-line. On limited possession Macclesfield were 12 points to the good.

James Oliver secures good ball at the lineout

It was now all Macclesfield; they put together four quick phases to get into the Park half, and from a catch and drive the ball was grubber kicked by Attis into the goal area, it looked for sure to be going dead but on the last turn of the ball it popped up into Harry Blackwell’s hands, for a 19 point lead at half-time.

After Park’s first half efforts, one might have been forgiven for thinking that they had already given all they had got, but far from it. They started the second half putting together three creative attacks from their backs, ultimately getting a penalty in the Macc 22. They executed the catch and drive to perfection, finally getting on to the score-sheet, it was now 7 – 19.

Harry Blackwell races up to intercept

The game stuttered around the middle of the pitch for 10 minutes, with both sides making mistakes, until Macclesfield got an attack together spinning the ball out left from the centre line. Broster cut inside from the wing, spinning through two tackles and making good ground. The ball was rapidly recycled and smashed up the middle before being fed to Hooker Berry, Brendan used first his power, getting down low and brushing-off two would-be tacklers, before using his pace to speed to the line for a 7 – 26 score-line.

Macclesfield apply the pressure on Park’s scrum

After the restart Park were back on the attack, and from a quick penalty their big Inside Centre made good ground, with the ball being recycled right, but a big loopy pass was easily telegraphed by Broster. Sam pinned his ears back and was off for the line with a mere 80 metres to go. Whilst three Park Backs took up the chase Sam’s upright, Michael Johnston-esque, style was un-catchable, as was Macc’s now lead at 7 – 33.

The Birkenhead Park team were determined to get another score, pinning-down the visitors in their 22 for 10 minutes until, from close-range, they flipped the ball out to the right wing, to the roars of the partisan Park supporters in the Clubhouse corner. The winger was tackled, as he dived for the line, with his foot clearly going into touch, which was signalled by the Touch Judge, however the referee overruled his decision, awarding the try; the game finished with the final score 14 – 33.

Macclesfield’s skill on the ball had been a cut above that of Birkenhead Park, which was evident in the game-plays executed and individual skills by all of the players. Macclesfield had withstood the pressure from the big Birkenhead pack for sustained periods, and created opportunities with the pace that they applied to the game when in possession. Head Coach Andy Appleyard, was pleased with the evening’s work: “The boys performed well, travelling to Birkenhead, after a day’s work, and standing up to a big side. I thought our defence was excellent, and our scrum was solid; what we do need to work on is our lineout, making the right decisions at key times”. Macclesfield travel to Manchester to renew the local challenge after a gap of 26 years, whilst we beat Manchester in the penultimate game of the season, at Priory Park, we didn’t get the win at Tynedale the following week, Manchester were promoted, and as they say, the rest is history! Andy had this to say about Saturday’s contest: “We don’t know too much about Manchester’s game, but what we do know is that Marshall Gadd will have their pack well drilled, it will be a challenge for sure”.

Saturday’s game will be back to 3 replacements, so there will be changes to the squad. James Cross will be available for selection but the squad could be without Harry Blackwell after a knock to the head. There are still several players to come back into the squad after injuries and unavailability, which will be much needed in what, is likely to be a, very competitive season ahead. Kick-off is 3.00 pm at Grove Lane, for the first of a series of local bragging-rites derbies.


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