Stockport 29 – Macclesfield 35

By David Wilkinson

There are days of rugby that reaffirm just why we love the egg-shaped ball game, and this was one of those. It had everything, fantastic hospitality from the hosts, with Stockport’s President Martin (Tommy) Taylor being very generous with his guests, climaxing with a nail-biting game of rugby.

The contest had been long-awaited, the teams going in different directions back in 1992, but in the past few years the teams had changed directions again, with Stockport being unbeaten for 15 months until the previous week against Lymm; and in contrast, Macclesfield were without a win this season, although the performance the previous week against Sandbach had shown reason to be more optimistic.

Lloyd Smith-Coates joins the ruck to help Macc get over for their first try.

The Macclesfield Faithful, were well aware of the significance of this match, and turned up in good numbers to Headlands Road, making themselves heard as the players ran onto the pitch. Macclesfield kicked off against the elements but were immediately in the ascendancy, winning a kick at goal from 40 metres, and whilst Charlie Attis didn’t convert the pressure remained for the next 10 minutes. Macclesfield won several penalties the last taking them into the red-zone, the lineout was firing well and a catch-and-drive took them over the line for the first score after 11 minutes, with Brendan Berry going over and Attis converting.

From the restart Macc were back on the attack, and after several phases Sam Broster broke the line and it looked like a score might be on, but Stockport recovered and won a penalty to gain some relief. From the halfway they switched their attack to the right to find that Macclesfield’s defence had been caught napping with an overlap of three, the home side were clinical in their finish to make it 5 – 7.

Harry Oliver going for the line

Stockport put up a big spiral bomb that fooled the Macc defence and it turned into a 50/22, but the lineout was over-thrown and Macc were back in possession. The visitors looked very comfortable with the ball, going through a high number of phases until finally Stockport got their hands on it again. From an attack on the right flank Macc were penalised at the ruck and the penalty put the home-side into the red-zone. The lineout was overthrown but Stockport retained possession and rumbled over for their second try 12 – 7 after 27 minutes.

Macclesfield really applied the pressure, they worked their way up to the 22, and then went through phase after phase probing for a mistake, but Stockport held firm, until Macclesfield were offside after a knock-on. When Macclesfield got their hands on the ball again, Attis went through a period of pulling the strings in the middle of the park with a series of probing passes until eventually one was put down. From a penalty again Stockport got deep into the visitor’s territory but the attack was repulsed and the referee blew for half-time. Given the elements, the score at half-time was reasonable; the kicking out of hand by Charlie Attis had meant that a good proportion of the first 40 was played in Stockport’s half of the field.

The Macc lads were now playing down the slope with the wind on their backs, and they quickly applied the pressure, a fumble on the Stockport 5 would provide brief relief for the home side. The attempted clearance did not find touch and was quickly run back by Lloyd Smith-Coates; a quick recycle from the ruck, set up time for Attis’s dummy pass, which was sufficient to create a little space for Sam Broster, who made no mistake with the finish.  Macclesfield were back in front 12 – 14; but not for long as Stockport regained the lead with a penalty 15 – 14.

Stockport made two changes at half-time bringing on the massive presence of Tom Mantell at loose-head and their big Fijian Inside Centre. Immediately Mantell made an impression at the scrum, but Macclesfield managed to get the ball away at the first two, at the third, the referee came around to the right to take a look. This time Mantell stayed up, but drove straight through the Macclesfield pack to win a penalty. Another penalty put Stockport on the 5 metre line where they went through numerous phases, but were stopped in front of the sticks; the referee awarded a scrum to the home side and their dominance led to any easy pick-up for the number 8 to make it 22 – 14.

The Macclesfield pack stays solid in the scrum in the build up to their third try

Macclesfield had made two changes, Ben Holden came on for James Cross and the versatile Louis Singelton came on for Danny Martin at Scrum Half. At the first scrum Ben was under as much pressure as James had previously been, but they got the ball away and switched right and back left, a quick ruck and Singelton shipped the ball to Phil Laing on the charge who side-stepped the first defender before passing to Dan Percival in support, and Macc were back in front 22 – 21. With twenty minutes to play it was still anyone’s game.

From the kick-off Stockport found touch on Macclesfield’s 5 metre line, but in their eagerness to press, they strayed offside; Attis made full use of the wind taking play to halfway. Macc were back in possession and a deft kick from Attis put play in the right corner. At the lineout the backs had set up stacked on the right, a quick ball found Sam Broster on a crash ball, one recycle and Harry Harding dotted down to retake the lead, 22  – 28.

Stockport won a scrum from the restart and the pressure was back on. Another penalty at the scrum put the red and green hopes into the red-zone; they made no mistake with the catch and drive, and a good conversion would now make it very close with 8 minutes left, 29 – 28.

Head Coach Ben Wade looks on as Macclesfield pull the trigger for the final score

What remained was frenetic; the game was being played between the 10 metre lines, Stockport desperate not to make any mistakes and Macclesfield equally desperate to keep the ball alive in fear that the clock was in the red. It seemed like a stale-mate, until Macclesfield put a series of phases together, developing an attack on the right, Sam Brown then came over from the left wing to add pace taking play into the right corner. The ball was kept alive and after a few phases play came back right to left, Stockport were looking out on their feet, but Brown had plenty left in the tank, he sprinted back across the field, from right to left, to get outside Harry Oliver for the scoring pass and the match 29 – 35; the contest deserved an extra-special try to seal it, and this was it. Many of the Stockport players fell to their knees; they had given it their all but it wasn’t quite enough. Macclesfield had scored 21 points in the second half to secure the victory, and whilst they had been bullied in the scrum in the second half, they were resilient enough to take all but one of their scrums and all but one of line-outs, enough possession to give them a platform.

And that’s it Macclesfield steal the local bragging-rites at the death

Head Coach, Ben Wade, was rightly pleased with the performance: “The lads did very well, they’re a young bunch and they are very receptive to change, we tweaked a few things in the week and they worked. The lineout was very good, which meant that Charlie Attis could make good ground from penalties, and we were confident that we would retain possession. There were so many very good individual performances; everyone stepped up to the challenge. Blackburn are going to be a very tough team in a few weeks time, but the lads now have a lot of confidence in what they can achieve”. Chairman, Stephen Branch, was delighted with how the players have turned their game around: “They supported each other to a man; there was always someone there on the shoulder to take a pass or clear-out at a ruck, they’ve turned the corner and provided great entertainment”.

The boys now get a week off, then, it’s the big one against the unbeaten table-toppers at Priory Park. There will be a Club lunch before the game, so why not get a table together and make a day of it: https://macclesfieldrufc.co.uk/wordpress/event/macc-v-blackburn-match-day-lunch/

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