WIND IN THE WIRRAL

Anselmians 5 – Macclesfield 33

By Peter Harper

 

Saturday saw the first ever League game between Macclesfield and Anselmians (Saints) at Malone Field, Eastham on the Wirral. The hosts have enjoyed huge success in recent seasons, gaining three consecutive promotions and playing at level 5 for the first time in their history. The last time the teams faced each other was a Cheshire Cup game back in March 2022, when the Wirral team won convincingly by 31-54 and the Macc boys were aware of the potential banana skin they faced.

Captain James Oliver leads the team out

Skipper James Oliver won the toss and chose to play against the gale force wind which was blowing directly down the ground.  It was to prove a vital decision as Anselmians knew they would have to score 20 plus points to have a chance in the second half. From the start, as expected, the home side kicked deep into the Macc half and as the blues attempted to run out of defence, they lost the ball and infringed in trying to win the ball back. Instead of an easy 3 point penalty, Saints kicked for the corner, however, as last week the visitors’ defence continued to impress and the attack faltered.  Minutes later, Anselmians again had the opportunity to go for 3 points, but again, chose to go for the corner with a similar result.  Unfortunately, in making a decisive tackle, Harry Oliver suffered a nasty gash to the head and had to leave the field to be replaced by Charlie Attis with Tom Morton filling in at fullback and Harry Blackwell moving to outside centre.

The near gale force wind blowing directly into the visitors’ faces, made it nigh on impossible to gain any distance with clearance kicks, resulting in the ball being run out of defence on almost every occasion. From a scrum on the Macclesfield 22 metre line, the ball went out to Harry Blackwell, 5 metres inside his 22. Unbelievably, he wriggled his way past 3 on-rushing defenders, and then accelerated effortlessly away on a curving run, leaving several would-be tacklers in his wake, and ran fully 80 metres to score one of the best individual tries you`ll ever witness. For those of a certain age, it was reminiscent of England fly half Richard Sharp`s try at Twickenham in the Calcutta Cup back in 1963, although from a lot further out.  Unsurprisingly, with the strong wind and from wide out, the kick was unsuccessful; 0-5 to Macc.

From the restart, the game resumed as previously, with Anselmians playing in the Macclesfield 22, but again and again, they were thwarted by an incredible defensive line and they eventually resorted to a grubber kick to the corner. Miraculously, Danny Martin appeared from nowhere to beat the attacking winger and touchdown to save the try. Minutes later, the scrum half was at the other end of the pitch chasing a Macc kick, only to be beaten by the bounce of the ball as it skidded over the hosts’ dead ball line.

A well judged kick from the Saints number 12 lead to a 50:22 to the attacking side and from the lineout, a pre planned move at the front of the lineout led to Macclesfield conceding a soft try in the corner, 5-5 after 25 minutes. This try was followed by a period of stalemate with both sides dropping the ball in the extremely windy conditions, before the visitors got some rhythm back following big carries from the forwards with Rhys Davies and skipper James Oliver to the fore. This pressure led to a break from Terence Babarinsa but the final offload went to ground with open ground in front of the attackers. The 30 minute-mark saw the introduction of tight head prop James Cross for his first outing in the first XV this season, and the 9 matches waiting for his chance showed as he came into the fray like a man with a point to prove.

Another speculative kick ahead led to a penalty as Macclesfield were penalised for not releasing on the ground and yet again, Saints kicked for touch. The resulting maul was collapsed by the blues and this time Anselmians opted for a scrummage. Macclesfield`s defence was superb yet again with Tom Burden making several tackles in succession before the ball was turned over. Again Macclesfield showed tremendous ambition as they ran the ball from under their posts with Harry Blackwell again making ground.  Charlie Attis made a half break and the home side were penalised at the breakdown and Tom Morton relieved the pressure with a decent touch find.

Danny Martin darts through to score Macclesfield’s second try

Another attack from Macc saw them looking threatening until the ball was spilled again leading to a scrum to the home side. Crossy`s eyes lit up as he packed down for the scrum, 3 months of frustration ready to boil over, and sure enough, Saints scrum was under severe pressure for the first time in the match, resulting in their fly half dropping a horrible pass, leading to an attacking scrum to Macclesfield. Numerous phases later, with some big carries from Harry Harding, Elliot Alston and Crossy, the ball was moved out wide, only for the ball to be knocked on by the defender with an outstretched arm as the away fans screamed for a deliberate knock on. From the resultant scrum, the blues went through 10 phases, moving the ball across the pitch before a decisive line bust from Harry Harding put the defence on the back foot, Crossy carried the ball to just short of the line before Danny Martin sniped over from sort distance right under the sticks, the successful conversion from Attis bringing the first half to an end, 5 – 12 to Macclesfield.

Charlie Attis with the easiest of his kicks at goal

The second half began as expected, with Attis and Morton putting foot to ball and making Anselmians play from deep in their own 22. A loose ball on the halfway line was secured on the ground by Crossy and the ball was back with the blues, but instead of kicking, the ball was switched to the left hand side for Sam Brown to show his pace.  However, the covering tackle was a good one forcing the knock on. The resultant scrum was a defining moment in the game as the Anselmians scrum disintegrated under the pressure and the lose-ball was pounced on by Tom Burden with James Oliver striking for the line. The ball was recycled quickly and a pin point cross field kick from Charlie Attis landed directly in the lap of Tom Jennings on the far wing to score Macc`s 3rd try of the afternoon, converted by Attis to take the score to 5-19.

The blues were now well in control of the game and any attempts from the home side to breach the Macclesfield defence, were met with the same blue steel wall that Blackburn experienced last Saturday. Added to that, the absolute domination of the scrum by Macclesfield, and there was only ever going to be one outcome, however, Macc knew they needed another try to secure the precious bonus point to ensure they stayed in contention with their rivals at the top of the league.

Harry Blackwell scores his second try after crashing through the Anselmians’ defence

A turnover at the lineout proved to be the launch-pad for the coveted 4th try, with Berry carrying the ball deep into the Anselmians 22, and the pass from Attis to Tom Morton, cutting a sublime line, saw the fullback score under the posts, Attis converting; 26-5 and a try bonus point in the bag.  Minutes later, the Macc pack’s dominance at the scrum was exemplified when they drove the home side back fully 15 metres before the ball was given to Harry Blackwell to show the other side of his game when he powered through 3 defenders, taking 2 over the line to score his second of the day, again Attis adding the extras, 5-33.

The remainder of the game was a bit of a damp squib as the conditions worsened and the home side were unable to break the blue wall and Macclesfield happy to kick the ball deep into the opposition 22. Final score Anselmians 5 Macclesfield 33, job done, 5 points in the bag and an efficient performance in difficult conditions against an unknown quantity in Anselmians. This season is becoming reminiscent of 10 years ago, with the titanic 3 horse race for the title between Macclesfield, Darlington Mowden Park and Stourbridge which went to the very last play of the season………who could ever forget!

MOTM Harry Blackwell with Assistant Head Coach Tommy Taylor

Harry Blackwell deservedly won the Man of the Match award (and smashed the drinking contest in the bar!), closely followed by Danny Martin who covered every blade of the Eastham pitch, and Tom Burden with an unbelievable tackle count………again! Mention must also be made of James Cross, coming off the bench after 30 minutes and completely changed the dynamics of the scrum with an object lesson in tight head propping, ensuring Anselmians never had any ball to play with at scrum time.

This Saturday sees us return to Priory Park for the first of three home games in a row, starting with Caldy 2nds in the Cheshire Cup, followed by Kendal and Wirral.  All kick offs are 3.00 and lunches are available at all 3, although the game on the 9th, our Christmas Lunch, is almost sold out, so don`t delay!

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