Macclesfield 37 – Manchester 17

By David Wilkinson

There was a palpable expectation in the Stand before kick-off; it had been 27 years since crossing swords, at Priory Park, with our near neighbours; in September at Grove Lane, Manchester had well and truly beaten Macclesfield, but a lot of water had gone under the bridge since then. With 5 consecutive wins under their belt, Macclesfield had built up a head of steam, and were relishing the rematch. Although six of the squad were out through injury and unavailability, Head Coach, Ben Wade was able to introduce Lewis Stanhope from the second team and Haydn Keogh from the Colts along with Sam Moss playing his 349th game, Will Davies and Harry Blackwell, also returning from long-term injuries.

Seb Pemberton excels in the lineout

The first encounters were mostly Macclesfield’s, winning the exchanges and twice taking play into the visitors 22. On the second occasion Manchester’s backs were too eager to defend fast ball from the ruck, and Charlie Attis bagged the first three points. At the next scrum Macclefield showed their power, with the Manchester Loosehead buckling under the weight coming through Sam Moss. The visitors had a brief sortie into the Macc 22, after spurning the opportunity of 3 points, but threw over the jumper in the lineout and the chance was gone. Macclesfield were winning the collisions and combined with Attis’s boot forced Manchester back into their 22. The pressure of Macclesfield’s rush defence forced an error from the visitors, with an attacking scrum awarded to the home side on the 22. Phil Laing picked up from the base and got the back-line going, fast hands sped the ball out to Lloyd Smith-Coates, who took it to within a metre before slipping it back inside for Harry Oliver to score, and an 8 – 0 lead after 19 minutes.

Lloyd Smith-Coates flips the ball back inside for Harry Oliver to get the first try

Manchester had a prolonged period of pressure in Macc’s half, winning another penalty; and again going for the corner. After botching the last one thrown long, they went short, but Macclesfield guessed right and it was stolen by Seb Pemberton and cleared. Manchester was still on Macclesfield’s 22, but they made a mess of the lineout again, throwing crookedly to Macc who used the space and went quickly. A penalty from 40 metres out got Macclesfield into the right-hand corner, Manchester infringed again, giving the boys in blue a fresh chance from 5 metres. The Macc pack, in confident mood, went for the scrum, and had little problem driving the visitors back, enabling Phil Laing to dot-it-down from the back, and a 15 – 0 score after 30 minutes.

Phil Laing breaks from the scrum for the second Macc try

What followed rubber-stamped where Macclesfield are right now, in their skills and confidence to play from anywhere. Just one phase following the restart, the backline pulled the trigger; the ball was spun out to Sam Adu on the left, he beat the first defender and engaged the second before passing inside to Harry Oliver. Harry immediately passed back to Will Davies backing up on the left wing; Will then jinked inside, wrong-footing 3 players before beating the last two to finish between the posts, it was super-slick rugby from 70 metres out, 22 – 0 after 32 minutes.

Will Davies beats the last of the cover for the third Macc try

Manchester kicked deep at the restart, Louis Singleton, standing in for Danny Martin on an HIA protocol, had his kick charged down trying to clear; Lloyd Smith Coates was isolated, and received a yellow for nudging his opposite number off the ball. Not risking a lineout again, Manchester tapped, 5 metres out, a couple of phases and number 6 Charlie Greene picked and dived over for the goal, 22 – 7 after 34 minutes. From the restart Macclesfield forced Manchester back to the 22, where their pressure resulted in a scrum for Macclesfield, what was remaining of the first-half was played out in the visitor’s 22.

Attis kicked deep from the restart, and when Manchester were forced into a hurried up-and-under, Seb Pemberton was first to the ball, which was fired out to the right, catching the Manchester backline offside, Captain Harry Oliver had no hesitation in pointing to the posts; Attis converting for a lead of 25 – 7.

After Macclesfield were penalised for holding-on, Manchester had a good attacking lineout with a new man throwing in, he hit his mark. After a couple of trundles the ball was spun out to the right, and although it looked like Macclesfield had done enough to stop the score, the ball eventually reached replacement Joe Davidson to score wide out; 25 – 12.

Terence Babarinsa wriggles free in the tackle

Attis kicked deep at the restart, with Macc winning a lineout just outside the 22. For once Macclesfield’s lineout wasn’t taken cleanly, with the ball bobbling around in the midfield, where Manchester had some bad luck when the ball was knocked forward hitting another player on the leg. The result was another attacking lineout for Macc, who drove to the line, Phil Laing went over but the referee couldn’t see the grounding and it went to a goal-line drop out. It was a poor effort resulting in another attacking lineout to Macc; this time the ball was spun out to Sam Adu on the left wing, and when it came back Laing was waiting for a second bite at the cherry. He took a crash-ball blasting through the tackle to score under the posts, 32 -12.

Phil Laing goes over for the fourth try

Manchester kicked deep at the restart, but when the ball came to Attis he fired a huge spiral-bomb back at Manchester; their Full Back couldn’t field it cleanly putting Macc back in the driving-seat, just outside the 22. Manchester were under-the-pump again as phase after phase took the Macc pack to the line, Sam Moss dived over but again the referee deemed it as not being grounded, the look on Mossy’s face said it all. Eventually Manchester relieved some of the pressure getting the ball to halfway; but another clean lineout got Macc on the attack again.

Harry Blackwell shows his class after a long injury lay-off

Harry Blackwell, now off the bench, took a short ball from Attis and made good ground, when the ball was recycled, Attis kicked from one side of the pitch to the other to Sam Adu, which nearly came off. Once Macclesfield got their hands on the ball again they set up camp in the visitor’s territory, Manchester did get the ball back twice, but couldn’t escape. Macc were solid again at a scrum in the middle of the field, breaking to the right, Sam Adu joined the attack from the left wing, receiving the ball quickly from Harry Oliver, his swerving angle getting him in between the Centre and Wing to score Macclesfield’s fifth try, 37 – 12 with nine minutes left to play.

Sam Adu stretches for the last of the Macc tries

Manchester managed to turn the tables, with a determined effort to finish on a high. A five minute period of pressure finally resulted in a score; from the edge of the 22, Outside Centre, Ben Lewis, feinted to pass before making a diagonal run to the line, it would be the final score.

Manchester had made too many errors, early in the game with Macclesfield capitalising on their extra bonus of possession, it was a lead that this much improved side would not let slip. Surprisingly, it would be, Head Coach, Ben Wade’s last game with Macclesfield. He has steered the team from 10th to 5th; three of the games were lost by just a couple of points, if had gone the other way, it could have easily been a third place finish. In my opinion the team is now playing some of the best rugby I’ve seen for several seasons. He is naturally disappointed not to be staying, but was delighted with the boys’ performance again: “We had talked about putting a couple of little things right before the game, which worked out well. The boys were determined to put the record straight after the first game of the season, and they did that from the off. I thought that the set piece worked really well, Sam Moss put in a great shift at Tight-head and fully deserved Man of the Match, although there was a big list of other contenders. Our finishing was very good, which it needed to be, we knew Manchester would come back at us, which they did, but we defended very well, and kept our discipline high. I’m very happy for the boys, they played very well, and really happy for Lewis Stanhope and young Haydn Keogh getting on. It will be a tough headache selection, picking the 18 for next week’s match against Burnage. I would have liked to have been involved for the last games, but that’s the way it is. I’ve enjoyed my time at Macclesfield, a great bunch of lads and a great club; I wish everyone every success going forward”.

Photography by Martin Pickles


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