By David Wilkinson
It was a cold breezy afternoon, with intermittent squalls, that met the players when they ran on to the pitch at Bradwell Road, surrounded by a big crowd. Macclesfield were sharp from the kick-off, Harry Blackwell ran the ball back well, and some good attacking play took play to the 22 where they won a straightforward penalty for Harry Oliver to take the lead.
Following the restart Macclesfield won a scrum where their dominance was rewarded with a penalty. From the lineout Macclesfield attacked with a rehearsed move that saw Sam Brown joining the line on the open-side, he made good ground and it looked like a try was one, Brendan Berry was tackled, but when he was pulled to the ground it was Macclesfield that were penalised. The following mutterings cost the visitors 20 metres, and from the lineout Sandbach attacked; Second Row Arundale was slipped the ball from the back of the lineout, and he sprinted 30 metres before feeding Scrum Half Essenhigh for a 5-point score.
Harry Oliver cuts through to get Macclesfield off the mark
Sandbach fluffed the restart giving Macclesfield an attacking scrum; when Charlie Attis got the ball at 10 there were players running in all directions, his pass went 90 degrees from where he was looking, into the path of Harry Oliver who wrong-footed two defenders to go in under the sticks for the full 7-point goal after 9 minutes.
The next period of play was all Sandbach, they slowly worked their way up the Bradwell Road slope, but when they got into the red-zone they messed-up the lineout. From the scrum Macclesfield tried to go through the phases, but were penalised at the ruck when they appeared to be in complete control. Before they could blink an eye Essenhigh had taken a quick tap and was over for his brace and a 12 – 10 lead after 19 minutes.
Harry Blackwell rounds the defence for Macclesfield’s second
A squall had come in at the restart which slowed up the game somewhat. Macclesfield gained the territory and possession and when they won a penalty the Sandbach Captain made is disapproval obvious. The Referee, who had already had a series of exchanges with the teams, brought the Captains together for a good talking to. Macclesfield attacked from the lineout, with Tom Jennings joining the line on the angle at pace, the gap was created for Harry Blackwell to retake the lead 12 – 15 after 25 minutes.
The Referee played most of the rugby for the following 15 minutes, but it was then Macclesfield back on the attack, Sandbach defended well but when Macc attacked on the right through Sam Brown it looked like a try was on. When he was half-tackled he quickly tried to play the ball again but was impeded by a player on the ground, which many may have thought was a yellow-card offence. Macc peppered the line but were stripped of the ball, only to see Sandbach almost run the length of a field. They won a penalty but the attempted conversion was poor and the half came to a timely end. It had been a scrappy first half, Macclesfield had looked good in attack, but there wasn’t enough of it.
Clean ball off the top of the lineout for Macclesfield
The second half started as frustratingly as the first with ping-pong-penalties and the Referee having words again, for reasons unknown. The game was three quarters done before a likely score, when Macclesfield put a series of phases together, but the ball was spilled when the line was in sight. When Sandbach broke from the scrum, they were thwarted by the back-row, Sam Broster darted in to rip the ball out, Harry Oliver took it to the line, and when it was recycled it was Broster now on the left wing who was over for the third try, 12 – 20.
Brendan Berry squeezes in for the bonus-point try
With the wind now on their backs, Attis made good use of it with a monster kick that made their Full Back turn, the Macclesfield chasers were all over him, winning a scrum inside the 22. A solid platform set up the play, Broster took it in and a quick recycle saw fast hands, another rapid recycle and the looping back row were there to finish off with Brendan Berry going over, and Oliver superbly slotting the ball over to make it 12 – 27.
Terence Babarinsa punishes Sandbach after a speculative chip
Macclesfield kicked the ball back from the restart, and when it reached the Sandbach 10 he opted to chip; but Terence Babarinsa was already scuttling back, he caught it on the bounce and the defence were wrong-footed as he run in from halfway, 12 – 34.
Charlie Attis darts through for Macc’s 6th try
A catalogue of errors from both sides followed, with play consistently changing hands. Macclesfield started to gain a little momentum winning a scrum on 40 metres. When it wheeled to the open James Oliver set off into open space, he made excellent ground and the support was there for the ball to be cleanly recycled. When it came to Attis the Sandbach defence looked to be well set, but the Macclesfield 10 had spotted an angle. He has deceptive acceleration, which fooled his opposite number completely; he then brushed past the 12 and sprinted through the gap on an angle to the line. It was a classy bit of Fly Half play with Oliver bagging the extras for a 12 – 41 lead with 6 minutes left to play.
A MOTM performance from James Oliver
From the restart Sandbach put in a deep high kick that Tom Burden went up for, but the jump/lift was about four feet out, resulting in Burden at the horizontal with no support, he came down heavily, colliding on the way with a Sandbach forward. There was a minor scuffle, but after another chat from the Referee ‘Bach were given the scrum. Macclesfield responded with a massive scrum, driving their hosts backwards, with both front rows popping up the Sandbach Tight-head being first to show; amazingly Sandbach were awarded the penalty; it typified the day. A succession of penalties in the red-zone would follow, but try as they may a try was not forthcoming for the home team, with Macclesfield turning-them-over to finish the contest.
It had been a stop-start tedious affair at times, but the second half performance and tries just about made up for it, in the game’s enjoyment. The breeze was certainly more of an advantage than the Bradwell Road slope, which put Macclesfield more on the front foot in the second half; they also pressed Sandbach better in the second half, forcing mistakes. When Macclesfield constructed their attacks, they were clinical, and whilst they crossed 6 times, one felt that there could have been more.
Laing and Longmore with winning smiles
These were some of Head Coach Darren Lamon’s thoughts: “I thought it was our best second half performance since I’ve been coaching at the Club; they (Sandbach) were competitive, we made a few errors at the lineout and knock-ons, but we took all of their momentum. Our bench changes worked very well for us and we took advantage of all 8 interchanges. Focus now turns to Rossendale, they will be without Lamprey for another week and lost a Prop to a red-card, but we are also without a few, so we’ll be looking at all the options during the week”.
Rossendale’s visit to Priory Park will be the biggest game for some time, it will be the first real test this season, and whilst the Lancashire club sits 4 points below Macclesfield, they are a try machine scoring 16 on Saturday against struggling Penrith. That said it won’t bother the Macc lads one iota, they will be up for the challenge.