Manchester 13 – Macclesfield 29

By David Wilkinson


The setting at Grove Lane was perfect for an afternoon of great rugby, dry weather and a big crowd from both clubs, ready to cheer and jeer; and there would be both. If the game needed any more spice, it was there in bucket loads, in the shape of Marshall Gadd, once of this parish but now doing an excellent job from the side-lines for Manchester. The home team started well, but it was noticeable at the first scrum that Macclesfield might have an edge. Manchester patiently went through the phases, and got play to the 22, where Macclesfield were caught offside, it was the simplest of kicks for a 3-point lead after 3 minutes.

Macclesfield dominate in the scrum

From the restart Macclesfield were awarded a scrum, and the dominance was now obvious, pushing their hosts back at a rate-of-knots, so much so that James Oliver lost control of the ball for a fraction of a second; it was enough for the Scrum Half to pounce; a seat-belt tackle would follow giving relief to Manchester. At the next scrum Macclesfield again applied the pressure, winning a penalty, with Charlie Attis pushing play deep into Manchester’s half. Macc attacked from the lineout, but the Referee seemed to be very quick penalising Harry Harding for holding on. Manchester again put a few phases together, and as Matt Harrison got up from a tackle, no. 8 Charlie Green theatrically threw the ball in the direction of his head to win a ‘professional penalty’. Macclesfield were 6 points down after 12 minutes.

Harry Oliver beats the defence for a run to the line

Manchester fudged their clearance from the restart, but Macclesfield’s lineout throw on the 22 was adjudged to be not straight and the home side were off the hook. Play changed hands several times around the middle of the field, but Macclesfield looked to be the more inventive. When Manchester cleared to touch, Attis took a quick throw to keep the pressure on, one ruck in the middle and he was there to continue the attack with a deft chip over the defence. It was completely fluffed by the home-team defenders, with the ball bouncing into the hands of an on-rushing Harry Oliver, his pace took him on an arcing run to the line for the full 7 point goal.

Harry Oliver crosses the line after great pressure from the pack

Manchester attacked from the restart, but when they spilled the ball Matt Harrison hacked down-field, with Tom Burden turning the ball over at the ruck, keeping the attack going. From a penalty, that would have been a simple 3 points, Attis kicked to the corner that resulted in a dynamic rolling-maul, and when Manchester infringed on the line they were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes. Macc chose to scrum, and when the Captain broke from the base it took 3 to stop him, a quick ruck and Attis looked to be tackled as he went over the line, but he slipped it to Harry Oliver at the last second, who filled his boots again with another 7-pointer.

James Oliver breaks from a dominant scrum to set up the third try

It was now all Macclesfield, at a ruck from the restart, Danny Martin darted to the blindside, where he executed a pin-point chip-kick up the touchline for a 50-22 lineout to Macc. The attack to the line resulted in 3 played-on penalties; the last one sending the Manchester Right Wing also to the bin. Macclesfield chose to scrum again, and as is their way to do the unexpected, when the ball came out to Attis in the open he threw it back to Left Wing Tom Jennings, on the narrow side. Jennings stepped inside his man and was strong enough to muscle his way past the last defender on the line to score out wide. Harry Oliver converted well to make it 6 – 21 after 35 minutes.

The half would finish with Manchester in the ascendency, 12 minutes of possession with too many phases to count. Their ability to keep the ball alive was exceptional, but their play was a lot of determination with not enough invention. The blue defensive line held firm, even when Manchester twice got over the try-line, they were held up, resulting in try-line drop-outs; it was only after the second one that the Referee would eventually blow his whistle to end a 47-minute half, when Manchester had knocked the ball on.

Bonus-point try for Tom Burden off a strong rolling maul.

The second half started with the ball exchanging hands several times, until a penalty took Macclesfield deep into Manchester territory. From the lineout Macclesfield were quick to form a solid driving maul that cantered towards the try-line, Manchester just managed to pull it around, and when the ball came out it took some solid defence to stop Macclesfield. Manchester were then very fortunate when Macc pushed them off their own ball at the scrum, the Referee giving a reset, saying that the ball had come out of the scrum. The pressure was now relentless from Macclesfield and it required some dogged and illegal defence, which was stretching the Referee’s patience. Macclesfield were choosing to scrummage given their dominance, and from a quick pick up James Oliver was over, but again Manchester were let off the hook as the Referee judged that he had been in the way of a tackler. Interesting what his Assessor might say about that, as the player seemed to have run into him. The pressure was still on, and when Manchester infringed again, for the sixth time in their red-zone, the perpetrator was sent to the bin. There was a change of tactic; Macclesfield chose to take the lineout, executing a training ground move with a pod of three breaking off from the maul. Tom Burden touched down for the bonus point score as a gentleman in a red-striped blazer bellowed “truck and trailer Ref”, but it wasn’t; the same person, for some reason, applauding Harry Oliver’s missed conversion.

Manchester were making a determined effort after the restart, and although they were going backwards on some of their sorties, they kept possession; an attack on the right flank looked like a score might me on, but there was a foot in touch 10 metres out. After the Referee had told-off both teams, for their behaviour, Manchester would mount another serious attack through their backs, almost getting over in the left-hand corner.  Manchester were now playing their best rugby of the afternoon; their influential 8, Charlie Greene went on a charge before his deft grubber kick forced Danny Martin to use all of his skills to get out of trouble, although it was not for long, his clearing kick was fielded by his opposite number who fed no. 13 Harry Lewis on the burst, his pace and angle took him into the 22, where he fed full back Robson Jones, who had enough gas to get around Macclesfield’s defence; the conversion made it 13 -26.

Harry Oliver slots the final 3 points

The visitors managed to get their hands back on the ball after the restart, winning a penalty on 39 metres; with 5 points already in the bag, there was no hesitation in going for the points. Even though the ball would fall off the tee with a few seconds left for Harry Oliver to make his kick, he kept his cool to replace the ball and convert the penalty. Following the restart, James Oliver chased down a clearance kick, and although the timing on his committed tackle was good, the catcher had compressed as he came down to earth, James’s impact making head-on-head contact. The Referee seemed to take this into account showing James yellow, it could have been different. Macclesfield would steal the ball from the following lineout that would put an end to the game, 13 – 29.

Manchester had given their all, and although Marshall Gadd had been his usual vocal-self, he couldn’t fault their determination. Statistically Manchester probably had the lion’s share of the possession, but rarely broke the line. In contrast when Macc attacked, one didn’t know quite, what was going to happen next! It is a tactic that they employ with precision; and that is part-and-parcel of their away game strategy. Manchester struggled at times with the intensity of the contest, which three times became costly with yellow cards.

A brace of happy brothers

Macc’s Coaches must have been very pleased with the scrum dominance; it became their go-to platform to launch penalty attacks from, of which there were several. Head Coach Darren Lamond was very pleased with the win: “It was messy at times but we executed well. I thought that our player rotation worked well for us, it kept the players fresh, and it’s something that they have now bought into”. Darren was full of praise for Danny Martin’s performance, as were his team-mates awarding him MOTM; he side-stepped the honour of the beer boat-race, with James Oliver standing in for him. It was a no contest; the hapless two Manchester players were still glugging at their pints as James made his way back to his seat.

Next week sees Northwich at Priory Park, one can only assume that this week saw the benefit of a contingency of overseas players joining their team, as their fortunes took a U-turn for the better, with a resounding 69 – 19 win over Penrith; we will wait and see.


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