Macclesfield 27 – Manchester 33
By David Wilkinson
In the first round Manchester had narrowly lost out to Derby in what would seem to have been a close run game 31 – 38; whilst Macclesfield turned-over Sandal, in Yorkshire, playing most of the game with 14 men, 15 – 32.
The previous encounter with Manchester in March was won by Macclesfield 37 – 17. That day Manchester made too many unforced errors, this time out it would be Macclesfield fluffing their lines! Macclesfield should have started full of confidence, with 8, 5-point bonus wins on the trot; they welcomed the return of James Oliver, with Sam Broster starting at 6. Tom Jennings and Sam Adu came back into the starting 15 to provide pace out wide, with Terence Babarinsa returning as a replacement.
Sam Adu finishes off the try to open the scoring
The first ten minutes was all action in the middle of the pitch, with possession regularly changing hands. At one point it did look like there was a chance for a score, as an Attis chip was put in the exact spot for Sam Adu to run onto, but the bounce sent the ball in the wrong direction. It wouldn’t be long before Adu had another opportunity; Harry Oliver charged from 60 metres beating two men before feeding to Harry Blackwell, who took it to 10 metres out. Three phases and the ball came back left to Oliver, who passed to Adu looping back around for a simple run-in, and a five point lead.
It didn’t take long for Manchester to hit back, they turned Macclesfield over at a ruck after the restart, and two penalties took them to 5 metres. The catch and drive from the lineout was well executed, and when two split off with the ball, they were easily driven over, with Charlie Ding scoring, Joe Davidson kicked the first of his bag-full of points for the visitors to take the lead, 5 – 7 after 18 minutes.
Harry Blackwell made good yards every time he took on the opposition
Macclesfield came back strongly putting together multiple attacking phases, but twice when they were in line-breaking situations the ball was knocked on. Manchester attacked from the scrum 70 metres out, they loaded the right and attacked on the left, a long pass stretched the Macclesfield defence, with the last Manchester attacker in the line running back on the angle into free, open space. The attack was repulsed 15 metres from the Macc line with a scrum to Macclesfield, followed by a penalty, it then went all wrong. For the second time the home team were dispossessed of the ball at the back of the ruck, the referee deeming the ball to be out and waving play-on. At the next Macclesfield were penalised; Head Coach Marshall Gadd had no hesitation in screaming 3 points, and Manchester increased their lead.
Macclesfield attacked from a lineout after the restart, but again fumbled the ball; Manchester pounced, the ball was whipped out to the left, Ben Lewis drew his tackler before releasing his brother, Harry, to run it in from 60 metres. Joe Davidson bagged the two points to make it 5 – 17 after 31 minutes.
Rhys Davies at full-stretch
The home-side were playing second-fiddle, but they went quickly from a lineout, Charlie Attis got between two players and passed back inside for Brendan Berry to go over, but the pass had been forward. Manchester almost escaped, but gave away a penalty and were then marched back ten for their disagreement. Macc now had a 5 metre lineout, a perfect catch-and-drive saw the whitewash beckoning, but the referee called it to a-halt awarding a scrum to Manchester, for reasons unknown. When the kick was not cleared into touch Macc attacked again, but yet another school-boy error would give possession back to Manchester. Danny Martin managed to intercept a ball back to Macclesfield and from the ruck, then punted a 50/22 to see Macc on the attack again. The ball flashed out from the lineout, Harry Oliver crashed onto the ball, on a great angle for the line, but the ball was knocked on in the process. Relief for Manchester was short-lived, the home team were determined to score before halftime. From a scrum 15 metres out Macclesfield drove forward for the line, as Scrum Half Danny Martin broke away to receive the ball, his opposite number appeared to take the ball from James Oliver’s feet, which in the circumstances could have resulted in a yellow card. Macclesfield scrummaged again, this time attacking to the right, when the ball came back inside it looked like a try was on, but Berry was adjudged to be blocking a defender. Numerous opportunities had been squandered; Manchester escaped back into the changing room for some back-slapping from Marshall Gadd.
Sam Broster gets it down for the second after a catch-and-drive
When Manchester tried to clear after the kick-off, James Oliver ran it back with interest, Charlie Attis disguised his pass to Harry Blackwell, who took it to the 22 where Manchester infringed. Once again Macclesfield were in a scoring position, this time they made no mistake; the referees whistle remained silent as the catch and drive went over with Sam Broster grounding the ball. Macclesfield had pulled a score back with less than 2 minutes played of the 2nd half.
Harry Oliver still has hold of the ball as he comes down heavy from his incredible catch
What happened next was a fantastic piece of skill, Martin launched a big box kick that Harry Oliver chased at full speed, eyes on the ball all of the way; he checked his run before leaping high above the defenders to take the ball in his finger-tips. His descent to the ground somehow resulted in a head-stand, but still, somehow, retaining the ball. From the ruck, Will Davies attacked through the middle, beating two, before Attis threw a long ball out to the right, when the ball came back infield, Harry Harding charged through several would-be tacklers; it was a slow recycle, but Attis threw a huge pass out to the left where both Harry Oliver and Adu were waiting, Harry made no mistake, finishing what he had started, 15 – 17.
Harry Harding makes 20 metres leading up to the third try
Harry Oliver gets in at the corner off a Charlie Attis 30 metre pass
Whist the tide had quickly turned, it wasn’t for long, Macclesfield were penalised at the restart for holding-on and Manchester were able to stretch their lead by another three points through zero effort. It now couldn’t get any easier for Manchester, a handling error on halfway gave the ball back to the visitors, a quick grubber kick down the left was well chased and Joe Williams got his hands on it first, but as he stumbled over the line it appeared as if the ball had been knocked forward, indeed there was now celebration, however the referees hand went up taking Manchester to 27 points.
Harry Oliver’s strength and pace secures the bonus-point try
Macclesfield pushed Manchester back from the restart and eventually won possession back, they attacked deep getting into the red-zone, where Broster made good yards for the second time, but Macclesfield were slow to support, and were penalised again for holding-on. Attis had gone off for Terence Babarinsa with Will Davies moving to Fly Half. Will had a penalty on halfway, but it didn’t make touch; however Macclesfield attacked again from the drop-out, but were again penalised for blocking. Manchester cleared to halfway where Macclesfield won a scrum. Babarinsa charged from the scrum, slipping the ball to Harry Oliver at pace, he handed-off the first defender and gassed the second to secure seven points for Macclesfield 22 – 27.
What followed, should have been another 3 points to Manchester for zero effort; first was another penalty at the ruck, for reasons unseen, followed by a penalty at the lineout for the backline encroaching ten metres. However, the referee’s positioning meant that he could not view the backline and the lineout at the same time; as the ball was thrown quickly and tapped, the lineout was over at the point that he penalised the encroaching Macc defence, but justice was served and for once Davidson’s kick went wide.
The ruck penalty misery continued, first another mystery decision, followed by a penalty against Babarinsa for not rolling away, watching the replay he could not have gotten away any quicker, 22 – 30. And so it went on, one could tell that the Macc players were now on tenterhooks, at the next ruck Harry Blackwell was trapped, and desperately tried to free himself, thankfully the referee’s hand rightly stayed down; but another ruck followed and as Tom Burden returned to get onside he brushed against a Manchester player and the referee’s arm went up again. Two and a half minutes of advantage were played before the ball came back, for the simple 3 points.
James Oliver picks-up from the scrum to get over for the 5th try
The situation was now nigh impossible for Macclesfield, but they played their way back up the pitch into the red-zone. Given their lead, Manchester could be cynical in their defence, firstly by hacking the ball out of a ruck, which should have been a yellow-card, followed by their Captain taking-one-for-the-team, and sitting out the last 2 minutes. Macclesfield opted for the scrum, with James Oliver picking from the base and going over to cut the deficit to six points. Although Macclesfield had out-scored Manchester 5 tries to three, Manchester would go home with the bragging-rites; that said the two bonus-points means that Macclesfield are still in exactly the same position: beat Derby away next week, by any score and progress into the Semi-Final.
Acting Head Coach, Darren Lamon, was as nonplussed, as everyone else, as to the number of mistakes made: “The boys are feeling tired, they’ve had a series of big games, with another on Saturday on Derby’s 4G, Crossy (James Cross) won’t be available for it so we will be in need of a Tight-Head. There will be plenty to work-on at training on Tuesday”. Whilst their winning run has been broken, it doesn’t affect their potential progress, and may turn out to be a benefit in disguise.
Behind the scenes work continues to appoint a new Head Coach, as well as assembling the playing squad for next season. Director of Rugby, George Edwards, confirmed that Tommy Taylor would be joining the coaching team in the summer: “Tommy will have specific involvement in defence, set piece and Colts development, but fair to say his experience across the whole game will be invaluable”.
Next Saturday now becomes, in effect, the quarter final, as only Derby or Macclesfield can win the group. The second team won their cup game, in a one-sided curtain raiser against Kendal 121 – 5.