Macclesfield 31 – Manchester 21

By David Wilkinson


Macclesfield versus Manchester is always a contest, and this one turned into a competitive challenge, after a one-sided first half. Macclesfield attacked from the kick-off, getting to the 5 metre line but in their over eagerness a player went over the top at the ruck, several other penalties followed. Eventually Macclesfield regained possession and worked their way back into the 22, they drove into the red-zone from a lineout, but two Manchester players had hung onto the back of the maul and when it collapsed the referee called for a defending scrum, it was yet another decision that had gone against the home team in a dominant position.

Terence Babarinsa fields Charlie Attis’s delicate chip for the first score

However, relief was very short-lived, Macclesfield had their opponents pinned in the corner, and after a few phases Charlie Attis switched the play back to the blind-side with a delicate chip into the dead-ball area for Terence Babarinsa to field and get the scoreboard ticking with a 5-point score.

Danny Martin finishes after Harry Blackwell scythes through the Manchester defence

Macclesfield were penalised again after the restart, but were let off the hook when touch wasn’t found. Macc regained possession at halfway and attacked to the right with sharp accuracy and purpose, making good ground with every carry. Three quick ruck recycles led to Harry Blackwell jinking back inside off his left foot and taking an angle towards the posts, he drew the last defender with Danny Martin on his shoulder to finish it off, 12 – 0 after 17 minutes.

Terence Babarinsa executes a training ground crash-ball to leave defenders in disarray

The next 20 minutes requires little sporting journalism, Manchester had 95% of the possession, but showed little invention against Macclesfield’s well organised defence; one chance for a score that was created, was butchered in the last pass. Macc would then win a rare penalty on 40 metres, it was if the script had been written: the lineout on 15, ball off the top to Brendan Berry on the crash, a 1 second recycle to Attis, who flipped a no-look pass to Babarinsa on an angled crash-ball – it was unstoppable, and must have been terribly deflating to the visitors after all of their previous efforts, 19 – 0 after 37 minutes.

Phil Laing at the bottom of the catch-and-drive claims the bonus-point try

Manchester tried to attack for the rest of the half but they were generally going backwards. From the restart, Attis cleared deep to the Manchester 22, a penalty would follow creating a catch and drive on 10 metres; the bonus-point try for Phil Laing was text book play, 24 – 0. At this stage it looked like one-way traffic, even though Manchester had had the lion’s share of the ball, they could get no penetration against Macclesfield’s defence. However, it was all about to change; words from Marshall Gadd at half time must have sunk in. The visitors attacked sharply after the restart, followed by a penalty taking them to 10 metres, they attacked again quickly to the left and when stopped Macclesfield were penalised for reasons unknown; number 9 Josh Jones, tapped quickly and was over for their first score, 24 – 7 with 35 minutes left to play.

The Macclesfield blue line of defence nullified the Manchester attack

Although Macclesfield were back on the attack, decisions were still going against them. Manchester cleared deep, but it was run back by John O’Donnell, beating four players. The attack was switched from side to side but this time Manchester defended well and the ball was put down under pressure. Macc got another opportunity with a lineout 10 metres out, they drove for the line, but when the maul went to ground, three Manchester forwards flopped onto the ball-carrier, the referee called a defensive scrum and one of the Macc lads complained, it instantly became a penalty. There were lots of grumblings in the Stand, but the referee was quite correct with his decision on this occasion.

It was to get worse for Macclesfield, Manchester were now playing with more width, and when the ball reached the right wing Fraser Green chipped ahead, Phil Laing won the race and the Macclesfield cover were there in numbers to secure the ball, but referee Andy Shaw saw something that he didn’t like, and Macclesfield were penalised yet again. The ball was played quickly and spun out to the left where number 15, Robson Jones, had an unchallenged run to the line, it was well converted by Joe Davidson to make it 24 – 14 with 18 minutes left to play.

A perfectly executed move puts Harry Oliver through to score the last try

Manchester then had a good period of attacking play that challenged Macclesfield’s defence, but they held firm and after 10 phases the visitors spilled the ball under pressure. Macc were back on the attack, and this time the visitors were penalised for handling in the ruck, Attis fired the ball into the left corner to set up the play. A catch-and-drive, followed by a quick ruck, and the ball was released for a well rehearsed training ground move; Attis ran flat making a dummy scissor move with Blackwell before delicately floating the ball into Harry Oliver’s hands on the crash-ball – it was sublime, 31 – 14 with 6 minutes on the score board.

Manchester were determined to get another score, and for once found a gap in the Macclesfield defence, a clever grubber-kick put the ball behind Macc, and Josh Jones only had to gather and he was over, but he fumbled and the chance was gone. The visitors attacked again from Macclesfield’s clearance, and it was another grubber kick, this time it went into the dead-ball area and as a Macc player tried to ground it, the ball bounced up for Robson Jones to get his second, with just inches to spare. Joe Davidson again converted from the touchline to make it 31 – 21; there was one attack left for Manchester but it came to nothing.

At times there seemed to be a gulf between the two sides, even though Manchester appeared to have the majority of the possession. Macclesfield were certainly able to pull the trigger when they got close, but Manchester’s determination and change of tactics made it a real contest. The big disappointment was the penalty count, c.20+, which was very high, and against other teams would have been punished. These were Head Coach, Darren Lamond’s views after the dust had settled: “Well we got the 5 points, which was good, but we were forced to make a few changes early on in the game through injuries, which was disruptive, Tom Burden with dislocated fingers and Rees Davies with a hamstring strain. The penalty count kept Manchester in the hunt; they had a lot of possession to play with, and made the most of it in the second half. That said when we were in possession we used it well and were clinical with our finishing”.

Thankfully the Coaches have options to replace injured players next week when Macclesfield travel to Northwich.


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