THE CHESHIRE CUP BACK AT MACC

Macclesfield 45 – Sandbach 31

By David Wilkinson

The Cheshire Cup Final is an event that Macclesfield rugby supporters had not enjoyed for seven years; but those that made the short journey would appreciate the wait. The teams were very well matched each finishing with the same points in the league, with Sandbach taking fourth position on a much greater points difference. Both teams were missing players, but Macclesfield may have had a slight advantage in the quality of players coming back into the squad; they were also on a long winning-streak of six-out-of-six, all with bonus points.

The Boys in blue are on their way to make Macc proud

Sandbach kicked-off with a strong cross-wind taking the ball directly into touch; it would be the first test for the packs, Sandbach were without two of their heavyweights, while Macclesfield were, on paper, not short of power. The scrum was steady and Macclesfield attacked, Harry Oliver beat the first defender, but his pass on the 22 was knocked-on. Sandbach responded spinning the ball out to the right wing where they won a penalty, taking play into Macclesfield’s 22. From the lineout they first attacked left through their backs, and when they came back to the right found a gap to get over for the first score, taking a 5-point lead after 4 minutes.

Harry Oliver at pace going over for the 1st try

At the next scrum, Macc had the ascendency winning a penalty, with Charlie Attis kicking from halfway to within 15 metres; a catch and drive then set up Terence Babarinsa to bash it up; when it was recycled Attis drew the first defender, timing his pass to Harry Oliver who crashed through to score under the posts, 7 – 5 after 11 minutes.

Macclesfield are over, but is it a try?

After the restart James Cross won a turnover inside the Macc half, which gave Attis the opportunity to create another attack 15 metres out. This time the ball flew out to the left wing, where Macclesfield were awarded a penalty, from the resulting lineout Macclesfield drove over for the try, but the touch judge had spotted an infringement and play was brought back to the original penalty. The lineout did not go straight, and Sandbach gained brief relief, until Macc attacked again. Playing a penalty-advantage, Attis chipped the ball deep towards the corner flag, but before the ball had reached the ground the Referee blew his whistle to bring play back. It was a massive misjudgement by the official as the ball bounced up into Harry Oliver’s hands over the try-line for a certain try. Once again Macclesfield kicked to within 15 metres but spilled the ball after the lineout, letting Sandbach escape.

Sam Adu takes two with him to score the 2nd

When Macclesfield defended deep in their half, Babarinsa was yellow-carded for what appeared to be for making an illegal tackle, although it was difficult to see why. Sandbach failed to capitalise and Macclesfield escaped with another huge kick from Attis to 15 metres from the try-line on the right. Four attacks would follow in the red-zone, punctuated by penalties, but with no yellow-card shown; at the fourth Macclesfield chose to scrummage, the ball was whipped out to the left, and when the defence were engaged the ball was slipped to Sam Adu to score Macclesfield’s second try.

Sustained pressure would follow for Macclesfield, Sandbach attacked deep, eventually breaking through the defensive line on the 22, the ball was slipped in the tackle at the last defender and Sandbach were under the posts 14 – 12 to Macclesfield, at half-time.

Charlie Attis nails the 3 points

Macclesfield were first to strike in the second half; from a very good driving maul, a Sandbach forward came around offside, and Attis took the three points on offer. Sandbach’s response was instant, they put together their best phases of play, with rapid passes left and right seeking out an opportunity, eventually one was found, breaking through the line, and getting within the strike range. They went through the same process again, their right wing stood out-wide, unmarked, and when play came back out to the right, a long pass gave him just enough time and space to get in at the corner, scores were level at 17 each.

A brilliant Babarinsa bashes and spins his way over

Sandbach had their tails-up putting another good series of plays together, until two consecutive penalties took Macclesfield down the left side into the Sandbach 22. From the lineout the Macc pack was patient, a driving maul, followed by seven phases until Babarinsa spotted an opportunity, he called for a short ball of Danny Martin, receiving it at pace, he burst between two defenders, spun out of the third defender’s tackle and brushed the fourth one aside. It was a very well executed try that showed off Terence’s powerful running; Macc were back in front 24 – 17.

Again Sandbach rallied, passing from side to side probing for a gap. A penalty got them into the 22 and from there they cranked up the pressure, twice Macclesfield were penalised, the second time Sam Moss being sent to the sin-bin. Fast-hands again got the ball quickly out to the right wing who was stopped just short, with Macclesfield turning over the ball and relieving the pressure, but it wouldn’t be for long. Sandbach were soon back on the attack, time was ticking away, but they stuck to their plan, keeping the ball alive, switching it from side to side; they reformed quicker than Macclesfield on the right with their Outside Centre getting a sufficient edge to fend-off the tackler, his speed and strength took him all the way to the try-line. The scorer was left with a difficult kick, miss it, and it was game-over; but the fat lady had not begun to sing, 24 – 24 after 79 minutes.

A few phases after the restart and Sandbach hoofed the ball out, thinking that they had won, based upon more tries scored, but there was more to come. So far it had been a game of two-halves; Macclesfield had played more of the rugby in the first half, but Sandbach’s tactic of keeping the ball alive and away from Macc’s pack had worked for them in the second. With another twenty minutes to play it would be difficult to call, which team would get the momentum and finish it off.

Harry Blackwell gets the first in his brace of tries

Macclesfield could not have had a better start, Attis kicked-off, Lloyd Smith-Coates got up and challenged for the ball, with Macc winning a penalty. Rhys Davies won the lineout, and the driving maul was on, under extreme pressure it skirted in field until the ball came out, after one charge Harry Blackwell joined the line from the right and took the ball at pace, beating two defenders to get over, 31 – 24.

The ball was secured by Macclesfield at the restart, and when it came out Attis found a gap, but the ball was spilled and Sandbach pounced, running it in from halfway. The conversion from the touchline was successful and it was all-square again.

Charlie Attis finishes under the sticks with the penultimate try

Macclesfield now hit Sandbach very hard with a series of dynamic phases that were all making good yards over the gain-line. They pressed to the 22, and kept up the high-tempo, the ball came out to Attis, as Blackwell timed his run from deep, taking the ball at full-tilt, he burst through the first defender and at the second slipped it back to Attis now on his outside, who went in under the sticks, back in front 38 – 31.

It’s the icing on the cake for Harry Blackwell as he scores the last

Once again from the kick-off Rhys Davies was rock-solid and Macc fired into gear, first attacking to the right, and when Smith-Coates was stopped on the touchline it was whipped back inside. Attis wound-up his big miss-pass and there was nothing that Sandbach could do about it, the ball was into the hands of Harry Oliver, who drew the last defender before feeding Blackwell for his brace of tries, 45 – 31, and the fat lady was clearing her throat.

The 2023 Cheshire Cup winners

For the first time Macclesfield were two scores ahead, they could now employ a completely different strategy of keeping the ball and playing deep in Sandbach’s half of the pitch. Will Davies came back on for Attis to see out the rest of the game, and he did just that; he had been off for most of the contest after suffering from a migraine attack a few minutes into the game. The last ten minutes was spent mostly camped in the Cheshire Cup holder’s half, as the silverware slipped out of their grasp, but not without giving it their all.

The Winner’s Lounge

The Macc lads would be taking the Cup back to Priory Park, it was testament to the team that they have become, 7 consecutive 5-point wins. It had been a full 20-man squad performance, there were stand-outs performances, and stand out moments, but it had been a real team performance. The team now gears itself up again, and into Yorkshire to take-on Sandal in the first round of the Pappa John’s Cup.

A big 50/22 for Danny Martin, photography by Danny’s Dad, Rob

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