Macc Rugby review of the year

By David Wilkinson

The New Year started with a close encounter against Otley, it was a tight affair, Macclesfield’s defence was immense, as well as bottling up the mercurial Ben Magee. Otley piped it 11 – 9, but if the referee had been on the other side, at the last ruck, it would have been Macclesfield that came away with the spoils; their 2nd Row coming into the wrong side of the ruck to steal the ball. Preston Grasshoppers followed at Priory Park, which as is the way, turned into the Matt Lamprey show, scoring twice, the second securing a 13 – 26 win. Macclesfield lost both Billy Robinson to a rib injury and Brendan Berry with a broken arm; injuries had been Macclesfield’s nemesis all season. The following week it got even worse, 9 would-be starters were injured, and during the loss at York Tom Burden would break his arm.

Billy Robinson on the charge 

The tide would turn the following week as storm Malik blew us over the Pennines to Sandal. The return of a couple of Macclesfield heavyweights helped the team to a bonus point win 14 – 23. All eyes then turned to the arrival of high flying Billingham. Head Coach, Andy Appleyard had done his homework, on their influential player coach, Peter Evans, who failed to have an influence on the game. Macclesfield scoring 16 points to their 6, it was a good scalp. The following week would be a wasted trip to a snow covered pitch at Blackburn. The rearranged fixture the following week would find Macclesfield depleted, so much so that Andy Appleyard was fearful that Macclesfield would be unable to field a front row. The game went ahead and the Blackburn team were able to play a controlled game through their forwards winning 40 – 22; Macclesfield’s injury woes continued losing Seb Pemberton to concussion.

Lymm at Priory Park followed with Macc losing two players to injury and sickness during the week. We thought it couldn’t get any worse, but it did as Macclesfield lost their Captain Sam Moss, with a broken leg early in the game; it would be Mossy’s last act for Macc after nearly 400 performances. Lymm sneaked it 21 – 26.  There was a MOTM performance for Pete Milne, keeping Fijian international Jonny Leota in check. Macclesfield had now lost three of their frontline front row forwards; all would be career ending injuries.

It was a long trip up to Cumbria, next time out, to take on Kirkby Lonsdale, rewarded with nine tries and a fun-filled bus on the return. This was followed by revenge at Priory Park with eight tries against Rossendale. Wirral was next without both Tight Head props, an injured Harry Harding and Josh Degroot leaving the field with a compound dislocation of the finger. Ben Holden had a stormer and Macc were runaway winners 53 – 3.

Harry Harding breaking out of defence 

Alnwick, seeking revenge, made the long trip to Priory Park, and revenge was on the cards at half-time with a lead of 7 – 24. Macc fought back, bringing it to 24 all-square, bur Alnwick won two penalties to take what looked like a match-winning lead. But Josh Redfern rose to the challenge going over close to the posts, leaving a Harry Oliver kick to finish it off for a 31 -30 win, it had been the game of the season.

Harry Oliver on his way to the line

The last game of the season was an untidy affair on the new Burnage 4G pitch. Burnage took the lead and kept it, until in the second half their number 7 lost his head, whilst trying to remove Phil Laing’s with his boot. Burnage would have to play the rest of the game with 14, succumbing to Macclesfield’s relentless pressure and better fitness 27 – 44.

Josh Redfern crashes through for Macc’s third try.

It had been a strong finish to a very frustrating season; the injury list was always in double figures, which at times was untenable for Macc’s small squad. The lack of front row forwards would continue to be a problem for Macc during the close season, combined with a small exodus of defectors to other clubs elsewhere.

The close-season saw the arrival of Forwards’ Coach Ben Wade along with Darren Lamond as a Skills Coach from the Sale Sharks Academy, as well as a full commitment from the very experienced Clive Griffiths, with Andy at the helm it was a dream-team of coaches. Close season recruitment though, did not turn out as expected, and Tom Brand and Josh Degroot would not return to the fold; on the plus side Charlie Attis, an experienced Fly Half and Louis Singelton, an ex rugby league utility back, joined the squad.

The season kicked off at Birkenhead Park for the Cheshire Cup, it was a good competitive match that tested Macc’s defence in the first half, but they defended well, and were comfortable winners in the end. It seemed like a good warm-up for the first league fixture against Manchester. The two teams had not contested since the 90s and Manchester had had Macclesfield in their sights since their promotion. It was evident from the start that ex Macc Coach Marshall Gadd had done his homework, indeed he had been at the Birkenhead Park game, with a particular eye on Macc’s lineout. Whilst it was far from the side that Andy Appleyard would have wanted to start the season with, two debutants and four from the 2nd XV, the players individually did not perform to their expectations. It was Manchester’s Cup Final, they were always in control, winning 31 – 17; the malaise would roll-on into week 2.

Northwich came to Priory Park with 9 changes from their previous week’s game and what looked like a completely different 15 to the previous season. After winning promotion in 2019, Covid struck, cutting-off Northwich’s traditional supply of foreign players, but with restrictions over they were now able to revert to their previous successful recruitment policy. Their team was littered with southern hemisphere players and it would be a South African prop that would start the try scoring. Whilst Macc responded with a score, Northwich were full of confidence and prepared to run the ball from anywhere. Macclesfield were the opposite, falling off tackles and unable to get any momentum. It was a humbling performance, 26 – 50; and there were loud mutterings from the Stand.

Part Two to follow.

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