MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

Macclesfield 22 – Wirral 10

By Peter Harper

 

Saturday saw 3rd v 4th at Priory Park, with Wirral visiting for a Cheshire Cup, League double header. The match was preceded by the Christmas Lunch, with a full house in the Priory Suite and almost 150 guests enjoying a fabulous meal prepared by Maggie, Barry and their team, and a special visit by Santa Clause. As you will know, a bit like Doctor Who, Santa Claus changes his appearance from time to time, and this year we had a taller, leaner, better looking and younger Santa, compared to the much older grumpy Santa we`ve seen for the past few seasons (Just jealous of my exceedingly good looks Ed.).

The Macclesfield team had some changes from their last league outing and with both Terence Babarinsa and Charlie Attis away, Harry Blackwell started at 12 and John O`Donnell slotted in at fullback. Weather conditions were dreadful overnight and with standing water on the pitch, the players turned up early with forks and blowers to ensure the match went ahead.

The rain and wind returned just in time for kick-off meaning the players on both sides faced atrocious conditions for playing rugby, almost guaranteeing a game of attrition rather than the free-flowing style we`ve been accustomed to over the season so far.

Sam Brown in full flight after putting a Wirral defender on his bottom

The visitors won the toss and opted to play against the wind in the first half. Macclesfield started brightly with some big carries from Harry Harding, Rhys Davies and skipper James Oliver, but Wirral were as stubborn as usual and difficult to break down. The visitors’ first visit into the Macc half saw them transgress and the penalty advantage allowed Sam Brown to show his pace down the left wing. The support line from scrum half Danny Martin was text-book and he was able to continue the attack and from the resulting ruck; quick-ball gave Macc a perfect opportunity to strike first, but the ball was spilled and the chance was gone.

Danny Martin splits the defence with a sure-footed side-step.

A couple of minutes later, Wirral were again penalised and a superb kick from Tom Morton gave the home side a perfect attacking lineout, just 5 metres from the try line. The ball was won by Harding but not for the first time, the ball was turned over and Wirral were able to relieve the pressure. This was a continuing theme throughout the half, with Macclesfield unable to turn possession into points due to a combination of Wirral’s defensive efforts and Macclesfield’s mistakes. The visitors then had probably their best period in the game so far, but the home side’s defence was superb, exemplified when Tom Morton atomised their fullback with a classic rib-busting tackle.

The Macc pack demonstrates its dominance at the scrum

The blues front row of Percival, Berry and Cross were now beginning to dominate their opponents giving Macclesfield front-foot-ball, however, attack after attack failed to register any points, and the home crowd were getting restless. 5 league points were imperative if Macclesfield were to stay in touch with Blackburn and Rossendale at the top of the table; but despite bossing the game and creating scoring opportunities, with less than 7 minutes to go until half time, the blues were scoreless. A couple of penalties conceded by the visitors saw Macc on the attack again, and as the half time whistle approached, a scrum was chosen after Wirral transgressed again. A big nudge from the front 5 gave James Oliver the opportunity to break from the base of the scrum, and with the defence on the back foot, the skipper slipped the ball to Sam Adu on the blind side wing to break the deadlock, 5 – 0 to Macclesfield.

Sam Adu gets over for Macc’s first score

A defensive lineout in the Macc 22 was lost by the home team and in trying to recover the situation, they conceded a penalty directly in front of the posts. Wirral slotted the 3 points, and a couple of phases later, a tight first 40 minutes was over, with the teams going into the sheds at 5-3 to the home side and the crowd lamenting the number of chances the boys left out on the pitch. The second half performance would have to improve if Macclesfield were to achieve their goal of 5 points.

Simeon Meek crashes over from close-range

The Macc pack saw 2 changes for the 2nd half with Simeon Meek replacing James Cross at tighthead and Elliot Allston making way for housewife’s favourite Phil Laing on the blindside flank. The strength of the gale was evident early in the second half as the Wirral 10 kicked the ball from inside his 22, only to see it go all the way and cross the dead-ball-line, thus giving Macc a scrum back to where the ball was kicked from. A dominant scrum allowed the backs to attack on the front-foot with fullback John O`Donnel making a powerful 30 metre run, taking several would be tacklers with him before recycling the ball. With Wirral defenders having to retreat, the ball was quickly recycled again and a couple of phases later, Simeon Meek barrelled over from a short distance – although in the bar afterwards, it was a 20 metre run! Harry Oliver’s conversion was successful and Macc led 12-3.

Harry Oliver in full-flight

It was now Wirral’s turn to test the home side’s defence and as the Macc line was under threat, prop Dan Percival was sent to the Sin Bin for coming in at the side of a maul. Down to 14, Macc were immediately under pressure but Rhys Davies somehow got in where the dark arts are practised, leading to a penalty for the blues which relieved the pressure. Moments later, Macc were on the attack again and a quick tap-penalty from John O`Donnell and a 25 metre run from Harry Oliver once again gave the home side a great field position.

Captain James Oliver scores after a catch and drive

Sam Brown, Sam Adu and Danny Martin all went close to scoring with Wirral eventually conceding another penalty, leading to a yellow card, to even up the numbers. From the resultant lineout, a catch-and-drive saw skipper James Oliver score out wide to take the game further away from the visitors. The conversion attempt from Harry Oliver was taken away by the wind and Macc led 17 – 3 and the chance of the invaluable bonus point was on!

With the strong wind at their backs, Wirral again attacked and an attacking lineout 5 metres from the Macc line led to an opportunity to close the gap, however, some great defence by Laingy led to the ball being knocked-on. The resultant scrum saw the return to the fray of tighthead prop James Cross (replacing the sin binned Percival) and his power was immediately evident as the Wirral scrum evaporated, leading to a relieving penalty for the boys in blue.

John O’Donnell grabs the bonus point try after quick thinking at the ruck

The bit was between the teeth now and a couple of powerful carries by Crossy and a searing break by Harry Oliver led to Wirral scrambling in defence in an attempt to protect their line. Sam Brown was stopped just short but managed to lay the ball back for John O`Donnel to dive over from the base of a ruck to score the much needed bonus point try. Unluckily the conversion attempt hit the upright and slipped away in the difficult conditions; 22 – 3 to Macclesfield.

With around 15 minutes remaining and the bonus-point in the bag, Macclesfield decided to revert back to their usual style of play and throw the ball about, have some fun and entertain the large crowd. By this point, Ollie Church was on for his league debut, replacing Harry Blackwell in the 12 shirt. Macc attacked and ran the ball at every opportunity, looking extremely dangerous with some fabulous runs from Harry Oliver, John O`Donnel and Sam Brown. Unfortunately, on one such attack, the ball was spilled, Wirral hacked down the pitch and with nobody in the back-field to defend, a cruel bounce took the ball away from the valiant Sam Brown and Danny Martin, covering back as if their lives depended upon it, only for the Wirral winger to flop on the ball for a well deserved try. The visitors’ fly half then made a mockery of the weather conditions, and nonchalantly drop-kicked the conversion from the touch-line; Macclesfield 22, Wirral 10.

Macc continued to attack and with total domination at scrum time, were unlucky not to extend their lead, but when the final whistle sounded, the boys in blue were happy with the job done and another 5 points in the bank.

Happy Macc lads off to the Winner’s Lounge

Man of the match went to James Cross for a dominant display at scrum time and plenty of bullocking runs in the loose. Well done to both teams for an entertaining game of rugby in atrocious conditions. Special thanks must go to the guys and girls on the gate who did a sterling job in the howling gale and horizontal rain. Thanks everyone!

We’re away at local rivals Stockport next Saturday with a 2.15 kick off, so if you are planning on seeing the boys before the Christmas break, make sure you note the 2.15 time and don’t be late! Something has to give at the top on Saturday, as Rossendale host Blackburn, meaning we could benefit – especially if it’s a 0-0 draw!

Next home game is Manchester on the 6th January.

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