Wirral 21 – Macclesfield 23

By David Wilkinson

Saturday saw Macclesfield back in action at Wirral Rugby Club in Birkenhead, the last game in the first half of the season. Last season Macclesfield managed to win both contests, but the game at Wirral was very close and for the return fixture, at Priory Park, Wirral were under-strength. Last time out, Wirral was piped at the post, away at Stockport 24 – 22; and they would be carrying that performance forward to Saturday’s challenge. Although Macclesfield lost at home to Lymm, it was a decent performance against a team that, by their own admission, had played the best game of their season, thus far. It promised to be another competitive contest.

The team welcomed back Captain James Oliver, recovered from injury, and Jordon Simpson, from his one match suspension. There was also a change from the team-sheet with Tom Burden moving to Tighthead Prop from the bench, as James Cross had strain a muscle during the warm-up. It was a windy wet Wirral that greeted the players, with the strength of the wind foxing the home side’s 10 from the kick-off, as it went straight into touch. It would be Tom Burden’s first test at Tighthead, and he looked more than comfortable. Macc put several phases together until a forward pass put an end to the attack.

Wirral won a couple of penalties, missing the posts with the first and Macc stealing their lineout on the 5 metre line on the second. Macc attacked from another solid scrum with both Terence Babarinsa and Sam Brown making good yards, the move only being stopped by a Wirral infringement which Charlie Attis punished, judging the wind well for the first three points.

The referee raises his arm as Harry Oliver dives in for the first score

Some excellent forward play drove the Wirral players off the ball at a ruck, with Attis putting the penalty deep into the home side’s territory. Brown was again involved, coming into the line, with play getting into the 22 until Wirral infringed again. Macclesfield were awarded a scrum on the 5 metre line after a successful lineout maul, and when driven back the home team’s 8 was yellow carded. With total dominance now in the scrum the Macc pack went for a pushover try, the Wirral pack wheeled round violently forcing James Oliver to knock-on. The referee could easily have given a penalty try, but it made little difference, Wirral were under immense pressure at the scrum and when the ball squirted out Harry Oliver dashed in to dab it down; Attis judged the wind well again for a 10 – 0 lead after 22 minutes.

Again Wirral kicked out on-the-full from the restart, but at the scrum on the halfway line the referee penalised Brendan Berry for foot-up – an infringement that is rarely seen these days! After a ping-pong session, Wirral seemed to be getting a foothold back into the game, and once back to 15 they piled on the pressure, winning a penalty that got them into Macc’s red-zone. From the lineout maul the Macc defence was sucked in, and a long cut-out pass found the Wirral Fullback with space to run into, and claim all 7 points. Wirral had one more attack before half-time but it ended with a knock-on and some handbags.

Macclesfield were always dominant in the scrum

The second half started well for the visitors, a solid scrum set up a direct attack for the backs that resulted in a simple penalty for Attis and a 7 – 13 lead.

Lloyd Smith-Coates barges through the Full Back for try number two

Macclesfield’s forwards continued to get the upper-hand and twice Attis put in long kicks to pin Wirral down in their 22. From a scrum just 10 metres out Macclesfield drove Wirral back again, the referee signalled a penalty, but it wasn’t need; the ball was slipped out to Lloyd Smith-Coates on the right wing and he used his power to drive over the line. The flags stayed down and it was a comfortable 7 -18 lead after 52 minutes.

Harry Oliver leaves a mangled defender in his wake after scoring his second

Macclesfield piled on the pressure, twice getting into good scoring positions. From one a Wirral player rolled over the top of a ruck to prevent the ball coming out; the referee reducing them to 14 again. Macclesfield opted for the scrum but the ball was loosely passed into touch. Wirral couldn’t relieve the pressure, giving Attis time to place his attacking kick to perfection, firing it deep into space on the right; the second bounce was collected by Harry Oliver at full pace, his hand-off spectacularly flooring the last defender, who was required to leave the field. It was 7 – 23 with 25 minutes to play and looking comfortable.

What followed was a bizarre period of rugby that would even the contest for at least 11 minutes. Wirral put together some good phases and won themselves an attacking penalty, they took it quickly and Jordon Simpson was judged by the referee to be not ten metres back and yellow carded. Another tapped penalty was taken and when play was stopped the referee yellow carded Hooker Brendan Berry, even though he was not involved in the previous play. It was now 15 against 13 and Wirral opted for the scrum; Harry Oliver would prevent a score on the try-line but was penalised for holding-on, which in reality was worth another yellow card. Wirral went for a scrum again, but this time, with 7 in the scrum, Macclesfield pushed the Wirral pack back; only for the referee to penalise Macclesfield again. Before anyone could react a Wirral player tapped and was over for the score, 14 – 23.

From the restart Macclesfield were quickly back on attack, the ball reaching Sam Brown on the right wing, he beat the first man and at full pace chipped ahead, only to be taken out with a late tackle, but this time the yellow card stayed in the referee’s pocket. The bizarreness then continued. The referee signalled the penalty at where the tackle had been made, rather than where the ball had landed, after one-sided conversations with both of the Oliver brothers, and much pondering, the referee marched up-field to where the ball had landed. Macclesfield tapped going for the bonus-point try but were immediately penalised for sealing off at the ruck, for the third time. Play quickly shifted back into Macc’s 22, where the visitor’s were outnumbered in defence, it looked for sure like the third try for Wirral would be scored but they were held up over the line.

From the drop-out Wirral worked their way back into Macclesfield’s half for a period of sustained pressure; and with the clock in the red they produced their best move of the match to score a converted try and a losing bonus-point.

Olivers, Berry and Simpson, muddied but happy

It was probably a game where the stats didn’t tell the full story, although Macclesfield had scrum dominance, for all but 10 minutes of the game, it wasn’t reflected in the contest per se; Macclesfield were penalised 18 times to Wirral’s 14. Sealing off at the ruck was a particular frustration, as Macclesfield’s speed and physicality was consistently penalised, as they lost their feet in contact. Head Coach, Ben Wade, was pleased to get the win after losing at home last time out: “I thought that we performed well in the set pieces, particularly in the scrum, where Tom Burden really stepped up to the challenge, against both of their props, for the full 80 minutes. We also defended well throughout the team. The conditions were difficult and whilst everything didn’t always go our way, the boys kept their heads and came away with the win. Terence got a knock to the head towards the end of the game, so will be out for two weeks, it was good to finish the first half of the season with the points, but we start again next week against at Northwich.”


By Phil Mason

In the first week of the Conference League (following the reseeding), Macclesfield hosted Widnes at Priory Park. Conditions were dry, calm and ideal for rugby, for once!  Widnes were on winning form with 5 from 5 of their last encounters, however Macclesfield were looking to recover after their League Plate defeat at Manchester last week.

The Colts and Coaches applaud Doddy Weir after his long fight with MND

Both teams held a minute’s applause in memory of Doddie Weir who sadly passed away on Saturday following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease. His foundation (My Name’5 Doddie) will live on.

From the fist kick of the game, it was clear this would be a highly physical contest, with both teams swapping possession for the first 15 minutes, competing hard to try and get the upper hand, albeit with Macclesfield holding the majority of possession, playing through the phases and Widnes holding their lines well.

Widnes gave away a number of penalties, particularly at the breakdown, finally resulting in Macc winning a lineout on the 5m line, passing out and scoring the first try 5 – 0.

Macclesfield kept control of possession but struggled to break through Widnes’ lines.  Widnes turned the ball over, winning possession in their own half and were determined not to relinquish the ball.  Playing the phases, they took the ball over the goal line, converted to take the lead 5 – 7.

Macclesfield won the restart convincingly, playing some creative rugby managing to move the ball out of the contact area and gain territory.  A kick into space saw Tom Brierley chase the ball over the line, and diving on it, however it was judged as a knock-on resulting in a 5m scrum.  Macclesfield’s scrum was dominating, leading to try number two, and converted, for 12 – 7 at Half Time.

A clean catch for the Colts

The second half saw Widnes emerge with a different mindset.  Determined from the start they took the ball to Macc, pushing hard into the Macc 22.  A knock-on from Macc led to a Widnes Scrum and after changes to their front row they gained ground.  With a pick-and-go Widnes went over, with a good conversion making it 12 – 14.

Following the restart Widnes spared no time driving the ball into the Macc 22.  A pick-and-go from a ruck saw them go over in the corner making it 12 – 19.

It was Macclesfield’s turn to be on the receiving end of the penalty whistle in the second half, with two in quick succession in front of the sticks and Widnes slotted both, 12 – 25.

With 3 minutes left on the clock, Macclesfield regained some of their first half energy and were determined to get something from the second half.  Some hard carries from Pack Leader Sam Wisdom gained territory, and rewarded with a try.  The final kick from Roan Elliot secured the needed points for a losing bonus point, and a final score of Macclesfield 19 – 25 Widnes.

Colts is all about development of the players, building towards them entering senior rugby in future years.  It was a good performance from Macclesfield at times, however there’s much to review and build on.

The next game is 11th December in the League Shield with Macc v West Park (St. Helen’s) at Priory Park,  KO 2:00 PM.


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