By David Wilkinson
2023 re started after a 4-week gap from the league, against Stockport; the previous encounter in October had seen a nail-biting finish at their ground, with Sam Brown finishing off an excellent attack to take the spoils. This time it would be ex Macc hero Tom Eaton executing his worst drop-kick ever, that scraped over the bar, but gave Port the revenge win. It was not the best preparation to take on the league leaders at Blackburn, the Macc lads faltering 31 – 14 up in Lancs.
A week’s rest for the boys due to a frozen Priory Park, was a good reset for the visit up to Kendal. One of the highlights being a cross-field kick from Charlie Attis to Harry Oliver for a birthday-boy try and a 14 – 41 win. The following week against Rossendale was a close affair 29 – 36, but there were too many missed chances; and against Kirkby Lonsdale they got caught napping but ended up scoring 58 to Kirkby’s 17, it would be the turning of the tide.
Lymm away, unbeaten on their 3G pitch, was an outstanding affair, two teams playing some exceptional rugby. The lead would change hands on a see-saw basis throughout the 80 minutes, it would be Lymm’s toughest contest and Macclesfield’s most complete performance. With barely a minute left on the clock Macclesfield attacked from deep, first to the right and then back to the left, with Harry Oliver making 40 metres, the ball came back inside to Attis who fed Rhys Davies and back to Attis, who took the ball to within 5 metres, sending the ball out wide to Smith-Coates, who was tackled on the line. Macclesfield secured the ruck, with Attis now in the Scrum Half position, he picked his moment to lift the ball and dive over the top for the winning try. Time was up, the kick was not needed, Macclesfield had beaten the league leaders 32 – 36; the only team to do so on their home 3G surface.
Rhys Davies at full-stretch against Manchester
Next came a visit to Sandbach against two Macc old boys: Morton and Mylo, with another old boy in Jack Moorehouse on the whistle, it was a tetchy affair, but Macc scraped the 5 points 7 – 25. At home to Wirral was a kicking master-class by MOTM Charlie Attis, his boot creating numerous tries, with 45 points to the good, the downside was shipping 24 points in the process. Manchester at home was a long awaited contest, a mere 27 years since the last mammoth Priory Park contest. This one turned into a one-sided revenge match, after the early season loss. It would be Sam Moss’s 349th 1st team appearance for Macclesfield, and also the last game in charge for Ben Wade. Wadey had turned the team around from losers to winners, but the Executive Committee was already looking for something different for the following season. Burnage at home was a bit of a fun affair featuring Love Island winner Kai Fagon and Mossy getting his long awaited 350th cap for Macc, the final score of 59 – 10 brought the league season to an end, but there was still plenty of rugby to be played; Darren Lamond was now acting Lead Coach for the rest of the season.
The jubilant Cheshire Cup winners
Next up was the final of the Cheshire Cup, played at Lymm, 4th v 5th. On paper Sandbach and Macclesfield were very well matched going into the game and so it proved to be for the first 80 minutes. The lead exchanged hands throughout the game, with a score-line of 24 each after 80. Extra time was played and it soon went to 31 – 31, but Macclesfield had an extra gear and quickly got two scores ahead 45 – 31, at which point they shut the game down, the last 10 minutes being played out in the Sandbach half. It was the 8th 5-pointer on the trot and an excellent team performance.
Sam Brown scoring against Stockport in the Semi Final last season
The Pappa Johns Cup was now the focus for a second piece of silverware, starting with the first round away tie against Sandal. It was somewhat of an After the Lord Mayor’s Show affair, with cards, injuries, and thankfully, 5 points. Harry Oliver however, had been exceptional in the 15 – 32 victory; elsewhere Manchester went down 32 – 38, who would then take on Macclesfield. The game was a catalogue of errors for Macclesfield, losing 27 – 33, but they had 2 bonus points to Manchester’s 4 points, any kind of win against Derby would now put Macc through. The group was won at Derby 22 – 36; elsewhere Stockport had beaten Cleckheaton well, to create a mouth-watering semi final to be played out at Bramhall. On paper, there was nothing between the two sides, and a tight game was on the cards; it was far from it, Macc blew Port off the park in the first 40 taking a 27-point lead. Whilst there was a bit of a fight back, the contest was already over, Harry Oliver scored a wonder try running from his own 22 and beating 5 players on the way. Stockport would cross twice towards the end but the 15 to 48 score-line was no consolation; Macc were in the Final!
Great shifts from Harry and James Oliver to bring more silverware back to Macclesfield
Maidenhead versus Macclesfield at Sixways was a worthy final of the Plate Competition; Macclesfield had developed an unpredictable brand of rugby that relied upon high skill-sets and pace, Maidenhead’s success was based on direct running, with a flying left wing. Their speedster was put to the test in the first minute, a huge kick from Attis created a foot-race with Sam Brown, Brownie was up to it and stole the ball off him 5 metres out, two phases and Macc took the lead when Terence Babarinsa crashed over. It was then nip-and-tuck until Maidenhead just edged in front, but not for long, another two tries to Macc, and the fourth coming again from an Attis kick and a Sam Brown chase, forcing a mistake from their speedy winger and a try for Will Davies, 25 – 14 at halftime. Maidenhead would fight back in the second half, but Macc pulled away winning 40 points to 26. Maidenhead had put up one hell of a fight, but Macclesfield were always a bit too strong for them on the day, playing their usual well structured game with some clinical finishing. There had been some excellent individual performances, Sam Brown contained their speedy winger as well as his own major impacts to the game, Rhys Davies put in some thumping tackles, Harry and James Oliver were everywhere scoring and making tries, Charlie Attis controlled the game, and according to the Commentator had had a superb performance, but the MOTM went to Brendan Berry for his outstanding impact throughout the eighty minutes – it was a fitting end to the season.
Pre-season saw the introduction of a new coaching team, now permanently headed by Darren Lamond, with Tommy Taylor (ex Macc, Sale Sharks, Wasps and England) as his right-hand man, Rhys Davies as a Forwards Coach along with returning, Ollie Longmore and Tom Morton as forwards and backs coaches respectively.
Sam Adu slips a back hand pass to Harry Oliver for the first score against Wirral
The season started up at Penrith with a handful of new faces including: John O’Donnell on the wing, Samir Tahroui at prop, Matt Harrison back from Uni and returning: Tom Morton, and Ollie Longmore. It was a comfortable win 24 – 33, but the points’ difference should have been far greater. Wirral followed with a 32 – 48 win on the road and a competitive contest, Matt Harrison getting a hat-trick but Harry Blackwell getting MOTM. Stockport again was next, and there was to be no fairy tale revenge for the visitors, it was another thumping 46 – 6, that featured an intercept and 100 metre dash by Sam Brown, James Oliver was MOTM.
Charlie Attis conjuring up the magic against Northwich
Manchester away, was always going to be a tetchy game, and not just on the pitch. Marshall Gadd’s lads had the lion’s share of the game, but the Macc lads had the cutting edge winning 13 – 29. Danny Martin was MOTM, but he side-stepped the beer drinking contest for his Captain to show his class; James was on his way back to his seat while the two Manchester lads were still glugging their ales! Northwich came to Priory Park with a United Nations team, but they lacked cohesion, and made a lot of mistakes, at key parts of the game. Macclesfield were clinical when they needed to be, but were let of the hook several times, 38 – 17 was probably flattering. Sandbach 12 – Macclesfield 41, was a strange affair on a windy day, where the referee was far too involved. There were some classic Macc scores, but you felt that there could have been more, it was another MOTM performance from the Skipper.
Rossendale was the first big test for Macclesfield, they came to Priory Park missing Matt Lamprey, but otherwise at full strength; Macclesfield were without four key players but welcomed back several other players including Josh Degroot to the bench. The Rossendale team was littered with international players, their class at times, in one-to-one situations, making the difference, and in Lewis Allen they have one of the best 10s outside the top two tiers. At half time it was 10 – 34 with a mountain to climb, and whilst Rossendale always had an ace up their sleeve, Macclesfield played the better rugby in the second half, each side scoring another 26 points. All focus is now on the return at Marl Pitts; we will be stronger!
Next was a first league trip to Leek on a dark, dank, day; and the rugby was no brighter, 11 – 24. Macclesfield just about did enough, scoring four tries for the 5 points, but they lost Josh DeGroot at half-time to a sprung rib, which would keep him out for the rest of the year.
Harry Oliver scorches past the cover to take the lead against Blackburn
Blackburn at home was a massive game for both Clubs, Blackburn to stay on top and Macclesfield to stay in the race. Blackburn caught Macc napping in the early exchanges and created an overlap in the defensive line to go 7 points up. Macc soon levelled the scores with a well created try finished by Jennings, but Blackburn doubled their score after an 18 phase play. Babarinsa crashed through just before halftime to level. The second half was more of the same, Blackburn’s bludgeoning ball-in-hand attack versus the Macc defence, but an overthrow at a lineout created the opportunity for Blackburn to go ahead again. The Macc response was instant, two cleverly crafted tries put them 28 – 19 ahead. Attis came on at 10 and it was more of the same, in their desperation to get the ball Blackburn strayed, and it was another 3 points to Macc, the visitors pulled a score back, but Macc got another at the death when Blackburn were out on their feet – 34 to 26, the bludgeon had not blunted the rapier; it was a massive win.
Anselmians was somewhat of a revenge match after the Cheshire Cup embarrassment two seasons ago, the 5 – 33 result, was sufficient retribution, with Harry Blackwell winning MOTM. The Cheshire Cup round against Caldy 2nds was next, a bizarre fixture in my opinion. Macclesfield fielded half of their 2nd team, with Caldy fielding half of their Championship team – the result was academic.
Contests against Wirral are always highly competitive, and this one was no different; played in horrendous conditions, which if anything levelled the playing field. Thankfully Macclesfield still scraped the 5 points, with a 22 – 10 result. James Cross won MOTM for doing what he does at tight-head. The final game of 2023 was away at Stockport, and the occasion of their Christmas lunch, featuring the real Santa, who had taken a day off at this busy time. Macclesfield started with the slope, scoring four tries in the first half for a 0 – 24 score-line. The second half was just as one-sided with Macclesfield scoring another 4 tries, although Stockport did pull one back. MOTM was Tom Morton, with the highlight of the game being John O’Donnell’s reverse, inside flick-pass, as he was tackled into touch, resulting in a try for Terence Babarinsa. Elsewhere Rossendale beat Blackburn, which kept them in top-spot with Macclesfield, but with a greater points’ difference.
It has been a great year for the boys in blue, two pieces of silverware, and joint top-spot in the league. There have been very few injuries and with a now fully fit squad, the coaching team will have a tough job picking the 18 each week to represent the Club. The intention is to now concentrate on what the Coaches see as being the strongest group, with less rotation, to maximise on consistency for the rest of the season. It all starts again on Saturday with the visit of Manchester to Priory Park, for a 3.00pm kick-off, look out for the team announcement on Friday morning.