THE BLUDGEON VERSUS THE RAPIER

Macclesfield 34 – Blackburn 26

By David Wilkinson

 

The anticipation was palpable, as the Stand filled for this massive game for both Clubs. Even though, the race for the title was only 8 games old it was looking like a 3-horse race. Macclesfield needed the win to stay in the race, and Blackburn likewise to maintain their unbeaten record, whilst also seeking a bit of revenge for their league-losing-loss at Priory Park last season. Macclesfield were without 3 likely starters, but still with a strong looking 18, with the luxury of having both Tom Morton and Charlie Attis in the match day squad.

After a minute’s silence to remember the fallen, Blackburn kicked-off, and when Macclesfield cleared out of defence the visitors set up their first attack. The Macclesfield defensive line was too compressed and not alive to Blackburn getting extra bodies in the line out wide. The result was an overlap of several players, which presented an unopposed run-in for Tom Mayoh and a 7-point lead after 2 minutes. It won’t go unnoticed, by the coaching team, that Macclesfield are shipping points in the early exchanges on too much of a regular basis.

Macclesfield had their first chance to attack from a scrum on the right, there was a loop move in the centre followed by the blind-side wing joining the line, but the last pass to Sam Adu went behind him. Blackburn would create a similar attack but their last pass was knocked-on. From the scrum Macclesfield attacked to the right but were stopped just short; they created another opportunity a few minutes later from 50 metres out attacking right to left, Tom Jennings joined the line from the right wing, and cruised through a gap wide out to score a well executed try, converted by Harry Oliver to bring them level after 10 minutes.

Elliot Alston and James Oliver double-up on the tackle

Blackburn  have a simple strategy of attack, they rarely kick, their preference is to keep hold of the ball and to go through as many phases that it takes to create an opportunity, even if that means going backwards. After a typical attack of 10 phases into the home-side’s half, proceedings were halted after the Referee collided with tacklers. It would take a few minutes and a little treatment but the game restarted with a scrum. Macclesfield turned the ball over and briefly relieved pressure; but Blackburn went through another 15 bludgeoning phases before a penalty was awarded on 30 metres; but the kick at goal was missed. From the 22 drop-out it was more of the same; although the visitors were pushed back, they kept the ball in hand, and eventually found a gap taking it into the red zone, on the 18th phase the ball was shipped to Second Row Connor Scrivens who powered over from close range, 7 – 14 after 23 minutes.

Sam Adu is stopped just short

After the restart, Macclesfield tried to work a hi-tempo move but the ball was knocked-on. It was more of the same from Blackburn, but the home team’s defensive structure and tackling was solid, and on the 18th phase the visitors spilled the ball, after making no ground whatsoever. There were some battered and bruised bodies already; at the scrummage Macclesfield got a shove on winning a penalty, it was a significant moment. From the lineout the ball was spun left and then right, and then left again, with rapid recycling which took Macclesfield close, Sam Adu wrestled his way to the line but the ball was ripped into touch. Could the visitors withstand Macclesfield’s catch-and-drive, it didn’t look so, as they drove them over the line, but the Referee’s arm didn’t go up, he darted from one side of the pile-up to the other before signalling it was held-up. Macclesfield were then penalised when they attacked from the drop-out and it was more of the same from the visitors, another 12 phases until they won a penalty in front of the Stand. The Macclesfield faithful protested vociferously, thinking it should have gone the other way, a scuffle ensued, and when calm was resumed the Referee reversed his decision due to a Blackburn player charging in and creating the fracas. The ball was over-thrown at the lineout and it was another 10 phases from the visitors until Macclesfield turned the ball over at the ruck. A series of attacks and a penalty got Macclesfield close, but they were stripped of the ball.

Terence Babarinsa foxes his opposite number and blasts through the gap for Macclesfield’s second try

At the next phase the visitor’s were penalised and Tom Morton tapped and went quickly, the ball was recycled right and then left, Terence Babarinsa timed his run perfectly, joining the line at pace, and then dummying a pass to the left before crossing and making an easy conversion for Harry Oliver, all square again. There were a few minutes left, but when Blackburn got their hands on the ball at halfway they kicked to touch, for a much needed breather.

Blackburn stayed out on the pitch for ‘oranges’ bringing on all of their replacements. Another double-figure series of phases was punctuated by a scrum, followed by another double-figure series of phases resulting in a penalty and a lineout; but in all of this it demonstrated Macclesfield’s defence as the visitors had lost 5 metres in territory. They attacked again but after a few phases their 7 broke a tackle and took the ball to within 10 metres. Blackburn battered the line, and on a couple of occasions it looked like they would cross it, but Macclesfield’s resolve was solid and on the 10th tackle they won a penalty. Blackburn’s frustration was obvious, Macclesfield had won a mini- battle but the war was far from over. Macclesfield cleared to 40 metres, but again threw long at the lineout straight into the hands of a charging Scrivens, Macc were under the pump again. This time the visitors put more width on the ball, and when the ball came out to the left they created just enough space for Jake Foster to dive in at the corner and take the lead, 14 – 19.

Harry Oliver scorches past the cover for the third try

The response was instant, when Blackburn cleared from the restart Macclesfield’s attack from the lineout took them to within 10 metres, two phases and the ball was whipped back to the left. It took a huge pass from Adu to find Harry Oliver lurking on the wing, but it got there, and Harry finished it off in style, also slotting the kick from wide out to take the lead 21 – 19. It had taken so much effort from Blackburn to take the lead, only to see it whipped away from them in an instant; would this be the turning point?

The prolific Harry Oliver squeezes in for the bonus-point try

Harry Oliver converts from the touchline for a 28 -19 lead

Macclesfield won a scrum from the restart and put it through the hands at pace again, Adu joined the line from the left taking the ball into the visitor’s half before being tackled into touch. James Oliver stole the tap-down from the lineout, and Macclesfield’s attack went first to the left and then back to the right, stretching Blackburn’s defensive resources. The ball was rapidly recycled again, Harry Blackwell went for a gap which tied in tacklers and created just enough space for Oliver to cross for his brace, which he duly converted from the touchline for a significant 9-point lead, 28 – 19. Blackwell went off with cramp, with Charlie Attis joining the fray and Tom Morton moving to Full Back.

Charlie Attis commits the tacklers

Blackburn were penalised at the restart, and now had to contend with Attis pulling the strings at 10, they were slightly different chords, but the tune was the same, creating distance with every attacking phase. The visitors briefly got their hands on the ball but knocked-on; the game had been attritional; some players were out on their feet and mistakes were creeping in. Again Macclesfield put three quick phases together getting into the 22. Blackburn were desperate to get their hands on the ball, but in their eagerness they strayed offside, it was a simple 3 points for Harry Oliver to stretch Macc’s lead to 31 – 19.

When Blackburn did get their hands back on the ball, they continued with their battering-ram narrow attack, but this time they were making ground. Macclesfield got caught offside at the ruck and the visitors now had a real chance to pull a score back; they caught and drove at the lineout, but as they went forward their big number 8 span-off the side and crashed through two tackles to score, close to the posts. It was now 31 – 26 with a few minutes to play; the scoreboard and clock had been out of action for the whole game, so the tension in the Stand was almost too much to bear.

A big shift from Ollie Longmore, committing tacklers

Blackburn ran the ball back from the restart but were held-up in the tackle for what seemed like an age, but eventually the Referee awarded the scrum to Macc to loud applause. A no-look pass from Attis to Oliver on a crash-ball led to a high-tackle and the chance for 3 points. When Harry recovered from the hit he had 45 metres to the posts, the distance wasn’t a problem but it slid past a post and Blackburn ran it out. They then did something that they had not done all game, they chipped, it was poorly executed and Tom Morton took pleasure in setting up another attack. It first went left with a banana curving kick from Attis to Adu, Sam did, as he had done all day – made good meters; when it came back right it looked like a try was on but was lost forward in the tackle. Macclesfield’s scrum had been solid all afternoon, but the pack had saved a little extra for this one. Burn’s boys had given it everything and they just didn’t have enough left in the tank to sustain the pressure. The Referee’s arm went up, which signalled a mighty roar from the Stand. A quick word with the Ref from James Oliver, and he pointed to the sticks, his brother Harry would apply the ‘coup de gras’ to deny Blackburn the losing bonus point, the ball sailed between the posts and as the flags were raised they prompted the biggest roar of the day and an unexpected reprise of the “Whaa-Hoo” music.

It had been an outstanding defensive performance from the Macc lads, they had given it everything. The contrasting styles of the teams’ play were plain to see, but it made for a very tense and entertaining game as the ball was mostly kept in play. Blackburn’s bludgeoning belligerence would be for the better of most teams, but in Macclesfield they faced what is probably the best organised defence in the league, which in most instances stopped them in their tracks. In contrast the Macc attacks were rapier-like and always making good ground. The Blackburn boys departed early so there was no official MOTM awarded, but the players gave it to Sam Adu who ran tirelessly going from wing to wing and always making ground with the ball in hand. There were massive shifts throughout the team with Harry Oliver contributing 24 points.

Head Coach, Darren Lamond, was delighted with the result: “After losing out to Rossendale two weeks ago it was a great comeback. They (Blackburn) threw a lot at us, but the boys showed real resilience, they just kept coming back at them, and when we got the ball we put real pace into the game, and in the last quarter we got on top. There are still things to put right, and we will work on those at training, and we will get better. It was a bruising encounter but we look to have done all right injury wise, but there are plenty of tired bodies to recover during the week. All focus will now be on Anselmians this Saturday; we can’t afford to slip up”.

The win, slid Rossendale into the top spot with all three teams on 41 points; it’s now all down to bonus-point wins and the contests at Rossendale in February and Blackburn in March.

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