By David Wilkinson
The home loss against Stockport was not the planned preparation to take on league leaders Blackburn, compounded by Head Coach, Ben Wade, being floored by flu during the week, along with three other players, although two of the lads made the Saturday squad.
Blackburn were seeking revenge for their loss at Priory Park in October, it broke their unbeaten run, Lymm being the only other side to beat them, last week on their 3G surface. At home, Blackburn are very difficult to beat, they play a controlled, uncompromising game, able to go through many phases using their big forwards to probe for a weaknesses. When the teams ran out it was evident that if weight was to be a determining factor, then the Blackburn pack had plenty to spare.
Blackburn won the toss of the coin and chose to play into the gale; it would be a situation that they were well used to, at their exposed hillside ground. One assumes that the strategy was that their experience into the wind would be the deciding factor; and so it proved. It was evident from the start what Blackburn’s tactics would be. Against the gale, in the first half, positional kicking would be out of the question; instead their tactic was to keep hold of the ball at all costs and inch their way up the field. It was attritional rugby, double-up tackling against Blackburn’s big pack. Their ability to off-load in the tackle may have made it a risky business to also use a jackaler in the tackle area, as such the long white line of Blackburn players, stretched across the pitch, were able to retain possession for extended periods. Macclesfield did occasionally get their hands on the ball in the first quarter, but they were brief incursions into Blackburn’s stronghold.
From the kick-off they put together 23 phases, roared on by the large partisan crowd, they found a gap, an overlap on the cards, Macclesfield bolted in the line and the trap was sprung, Josh Jarrold was put through the gap and had an easy run to the line, for a seven point lead.
Penalty against Macc when the try was on the plate
Macclesfield did better after the score, getting their hands on the ball and using the wind to good effect. Twice they got into a good position with line-outs in the 22, but the strength of the wind was making it almost impossible to hit the jumper and possession and opportunity were lost. If anything Macclesfield’s back-play was looking a little rushed; well aware that they would need several scores in the first half to have a good chance of holding out against the elements. Although the Blackburn pack would have a considerable weight advantage, Macclesfield were solid in the scrum, and it was from a scrum that an attack was launched deep into Blackburn territory. Charlie Attis put a neat grubber into space for Sam Brown and Sam Broster to chase. They had a defender in between them as they arrived at the ball, all three tumbling, Broster was on his feet first to dot down, but the referee, from Durham, saw it differently, giving a penalty, for impeding the player.
Harry Oliver gets over for the first try for Macclesfield
Against the elements Blackburn struggled to clear their lines, and with ball in hand Macclesfield now looked more likely to score, but time with the elements was ebbing away. Attis fired a long ball out to Broster on the right and when the ball came back left Harry Oliver forced his way over beating two players to make it 7 – 7. With their tales-up Macclesfield attacked again down the left but were penalised at the ruck. A Blackburn player theatrically tried to rip the ball from under James Oliver, and the Captain was penalised 10 metres for not releasing, words were said and Macclesfield were marched back another 10. A quick penalty and the colossal Connor Scrivens trundled over for a trademark score and a lead of 12 – 7.
Harry Oliver almost gets through the Blackburn defensive line
After the restart, Elliot Alston broke through a tackle and charged down the middle of the pitch, the break was so good that there was no immediate support, but when the cavalry did arrive a loose pass finished the attack. Blackburn went through the same keep-ball process until Macclesfield won a penalty, but the ball was lost at the lineout and James Oliver had to leave the field. The same process would continue until Macclesfield set up an attack on their 10 metre line. Attis played a well timed dummy crash ball with Harry Oliver who burst 40 metres. The recycled ball looped through the air catching the wind and falling at the feet of Sam Adu, the chance had gone. Macc had one more attacking lineout before half time, but the ball was lost.
Sam Broster shows his strength on the wing beating two players
Blackburn knew that they had done their job; the gale was worth three scores according to the home-side support, and their boys were already in credit.
The second half saw Macclesfield trying to use the same tactics as Blackburn did, but they didn’t have the same patience, giving the ball too easily away on three occasions. The game was being played out in the middle of the pitch until the Blackburn 8 broke from a scrum making good ground, a quick ruck was about to create an overlap, and as with the first try Macclesfield bolted, leaving Leon Fifield with an easy run-in to score, 19 – 7.
Macclesfield put a good attack together down the left, but Blackburn won it back and attacked from deep on the left. They worked it back right at halfway to find a ragged Macclesfield defence, Macc were penalised at the tackle, which was taken quickly for an easy score with no cover left, Tom Doherty would get the bonus point try.
The referee awards Macc a penalty try after strong running and a high tackle
Both Rhys Davies and Sam Brown were also forced to leave the field, which forced a major reshuffle in the forwards and backs with several players out of position. Blackburn forced Macclesfield into their 22 and kept them there for an extended period, they attacked from a scrum, but Lloyd Smith-Coates, who had entered the fray intercepted on the 5m line and crashed through a melee of players taking the ball to halfway. The home team regained possession and kicked superbly into the 5m corner, somehow Macclesfield escaped under tremendous pressure and worked the ball back into the Blackburn half. Attis threw a long pass out to Sam Adu on the left wing, he beat the first man before slipping it back inside to Attis who fed Terence Babarinsa. The Inside Centre was high tackled from behind, and the referee had no hesitation in awarding the Penalty Try, it was 26 – 14.
Macclesfield do their best to run it out against the gale, deep into the second half
The conditions had not relented and the last 15 minutes was very scrappy, mostly played out deep in Macclesfield’s half. Blackburn got a penalty when the clock was in the red, and a simple lineout and drive gave the final score to Lewis Kincart.
Harry Oliver leads off the battered boys
After the game, Assistant Head Coach, Darren Lamond was critical of a few of the boy’s plays when chances were on, but couldn’t criticise their effort, which at times was immense, Matt Coleridge will need his calculator for the tackle count stats. Ben Wade will be back in camp this week getting the boys ready for the arrival of Burnage, there will be some shuffling of players needed, as we are likely to be at least two down from the attrition on Saturday.
Senior Colts drop out of the Cheshire Cup
By Phil Mason
Sunday afternoon saw Macclesfield Senior Colts travel to Winnington Park to compete in the rearranged Cheshire Cup Quarter Final. This was set to be a big game for Macclesfield, as Winnington play two divisions higher in the league.
Winnington kicked-off and soon turned the ball over deep in Macclesfield’s half. The physicality in the opening minute set the tone for the next 70 minutes. Winnington won a lineout 7m from the try line, and their pack dominated the ensuing maul, scoring the first try after just two minutes, 5 – 0.
Macclesfield Colts steady in the scrum against Winnington Park
It looked likely to be a long afternoon for Macclesfield, which was not helped by the restart going out-on-the-full, for the first scrum of the match. The packs looked reasonably even, although Winnington probably had an edge, however, on this occasion Macclesfield pushed the scrum back, forcing a rushed pass and a knock-on, with a scrum to Macclesfield.
The next 15 minutes were some of the most physical rugby seen at Colts level, all season, with several scrums, line-outs and huge hits. Possession swapped many times, at one point Macclesfield reached 15 phases, making their first visit to Winnington’s 22, only to knock on, with scrum on the 5m line to Winnington.
The scrum wheeled and a free kick was awarded to Winnington. They kicked to the half way line, but Macclesfield neatly gathered; fast ball and a great play saw Hugo Duckworth go over for Macclesfield, making it 5 – 7, and Macclesfield taking a hard-fought lead.
The restart, looking into the sun, was gathered well by Macclesfield, but a kick back to the half way line returned possession to Winnington. The hosts played through the phases, kicking over the top to space, catching Macclesfield on the back foot. An error in judgement saw Macclesfield try to run the ball out from behind their goal line. Winnington’s pressure forced the ball to be dropped, and not believing their luck, Winnington spotted it down for the try.
Macclesfield Colts trying to break the Winnington Park line
Following the restart, there were some huge tackles from both sides; however Fin McNicholas came off worse, suffering a knock to his eye, and having to be replaced. Winnington won a penalty, 40m out, choosing to go for the posts, but the kick fell short, and the half time whistle saw the score 12 – 7.
The second half started with fresh legs on the field for Macclesfield, hoping to overturn the deficit; the game was definitely far from settled. It was a strong restart from Macclesfield, forcing a knock on, and winning possession; but Winnington responded forcing a penalty, and a lineout on the 22. Winnington piled on the pressure for the next 10 minutes with Macclesfield defending hard 7m out. The pressure was relentless, but Macclesfield held them back time after time, Winnington having to fight for every inch of ground, then finding themselves back where they started failing to push over the game line. Eventual there was a penalty in-front of the sticks, and Winnington chose to go for the kick rather than keep going for the try, it was a testament to the Macclesfield defence, Winnington now had a 15 – 7 lead.
The final third approached, with Winnington taking the ball well, and electing to kick to space. Macclesfield gathered, making a break down the wing, kicking from the hand but finding touch rather than space. Winnington played the phases, forcing their way into the Macclesfield 22; again attacking wave after wave with Macclesfield defending hard, finally they broke the Macclesfield defence in the corner, to make it 20 – 7.
Macclesfield continued to push hard for the final few minutes, however Winnington kept their defence lines, to see out the clock for a victory.
It had been a fantastic game, and despite the eventual score line, it was close contest for both teams. There was no player-of-the-week, this week, as the whole team are to be congratulated on a massive performance, and taking the game to a team who, are two divisions above them!
Good luck to Winnington Park in the next round of the Cheshire Cup, and Macclesfield will now compete in the Cheshire Plate.