BLACKBURN’S HOME FORTRESS FALLEN!

Blackburn 14 – Macclesfield 29

By David Wilkinson

 

The dreich drive into Blackburn Lancashire, created a hint of apprehension amongst the Alikadoos, as the conditions might favour, the burly Blackburn pack, but on arrival at the Ground, the green sward of the Blackburn pitch renewed their optimism (Blackburn takes great care in the maintenance of their first team pitch, which is only used for 1st team matches). Blackburn had not lost on their home turf for over 15 months, so the challenge was not to be underestimated.

The Alikadoos bar the Press Officer, squeezed into the Blackburn clubhouse, for a sell-out lunch. Yours truly had his seat given away to someone far more important, according to Phil Ainsworth. Thankfully, the travelling Priory Park faithful took pity, escorting me to the local pub/restaurant for an excellent lunch, delightful company, and much rugby banter, many thanks to the Bartons especially Kath, Jennings senior, Brierley senior, Dempsey very senior, et al.

Macclesfield attacked from deep from the kick-off

Macclesfield went on the attack from the kick-off, moving the ball right and left, making good metres and into the home-side’s territory, until the ball went into touch. From the lineout Dan Glasse, a new recruit from Sedgley Park, kicked for touch, where previously Blackburn would have chosen to run the ball back. This wasn’t a wholesale change in tactics, but there was certainly more kicking than usual from the Lancastrians. Macclesfield lost the lineout, but Blackburn would quickly follow suit; when they got possession back they put together a sustained period of phases, and while there were a few carries that got over the gain-line, Macclesfield’s defence was solid, eventually pushing Blackburn back to halfway. The first of many high-tackles from Macclesfield gave Glasse a shot at goal, but it drifted left.

Terence Babarinsa bursts through to set up the first score

Tom Morton kicked deep from the 22, which forced Blackburn into a sequence of aerial ping-pong; that Macc would get the better of. Blackburn then tried to run it out, but were repulsed back, resulting in a clearance that found Terence Babarinsa on his 10 metre line; he beat the first defender before running into space, at the tackle he slipped the ball to Samir Tahraoui, who charged on before passing to Harry Blackwell at pace, who had no problem finishing for a 0 – 7 lead after 10 minutes. It was a reprise of the Priory Park contest, Blackburn had had all of the possession, and the first time Macclesfield got into their hosts half, they scored.

Quick-thinking Captain James Oliver crashes over for the second try.

Macc ran it back from the restart, and Blackburn were penalised at the ruck, following the lineout on the 40, Burn were penalised again for a high-shot which put Macclesfield back in the red-zone. Macclesfield went through their phases moving the ball right and left, with Blackburn desperate to defend, so much so that they were over eager at a ruck, 10 metres out. James Oliver was quick to see that Blackburn were sauntering back, and tapped the ball to himself, brushing off two would-be tacklers to take an early two-try lead, 0 – 12 after 14 minutes.

It takes four to stop Samir Tahraoui’s progress

There was a change of tactic at the restart, or a miss-kick, either way the daisy-cutter was knocked-on, giving Blackburn a scrum on the 22. They proceeded to throw the kitchen sink at Macc, but the boys wearing white, threw it back at them – just as hard! The Referee pinged Macclesfield another two-times for high tackles, and a third on the 5 metre line. Blackburn chose to scrummage, and Macclesfield were penalised for wheeling, although it was difficult to tell who was at fault; another scrum, but this time it was solid, with the ball being picked up at the base, but fumbled before 6 Connor Johnson could reach the line. Macclesfield had escaped, and it felt like a pivotal moment for the visitors, their defence had coped with everything that Blackburn could throw at them.

Tom Burden is driven over for try number three

Macclesfield cleared to the 40 metre line, and then won the ball back at the lineout; they went through their phases again, with quick passing looking for gaps, but when they made a tackle wide on the left, and blitzed the ruck with 4 players sprinting in to win the ball. Try as they might, Blackburn could not breakdown the Macc defence, and were pushed back into their own half. They tried to attack down the right wing, making a little ground, but a poor pass inside was pounced upon by Babarinsa, who needs no second invitation to attack, spinning out of two tackles before being illegally tackled into touch. Morton kicked to the 22, and Macclesfield executed their fast handling phases again, right and then left until a ruck on the left resulted in another penalty to Macclesfield; words from the Blackburn tackler sent them back a further 10 metres to give Macclesfield a 5-metre lineout. It seemed the simplest of scores, unopposed at the lineout Macclesfield were quick to set a solid maul that split Blackburn’s defence in two, for what was virtually an unopposed score, MOTM Tom Burden came up with the ball, for a 17 point lead. Macclesfield had the lion’s-share of what remained of the half, which was played-out mostly in the middle of the pitch.

Following the restart, Macclesfield were penalised again for a high tackle, which accrued a general warning from Referee Andrew Shaw to go with it. Many on the touch-line were complaining about the severity of the refereeing in relation to the tackle height; the reality is, that they had been too lenient previously, and after the Rossendale game (the same referee) had been criticised for missing some 40-odd high tackles; the legal tackle height from July 2023 was changed to belly and below.

A big crowd watch-on as James Oliver secures the ball for his brother’s bonus-point try

The Blackburn defence is cut to ribbons as Harry Oliver scorches in to score

The writing was on the wall, the next tackle, by Macclesfield, that even ‘sniffed’ of being high, would result in the player being carded. And so, Dan Percival was obliged to take-one-for-the-team, without even completing his tackle. Blackburn were not able to hold onto the ball for long though, and once again came under pressure, even when they got the ball back, they couldn’t get out of their half. Macclesfield pressed with a switched attack on the left that caught the defence offside, that would put Macc back in the red-zone with lineout. The forwards attacked from the lineout, and when the ball did come out to Morton, he executed a perfect crash-ball for Harry Oliver, running back on the inside; his pace and angle took him to the line, unmolested, and to the sound of the photographer’s rapid-fire shutter; and the bonus-point score, 0 – 24 with 35 minutes to play.

Blackburn were not for lying down, and they put in a sustained period of play, working their way deep into Macclesfield’s half. A well executed attack from their backs, right to left looked like the Left Wing would score, but he was stopped on the corner flag by an excellent tackle from Tom Jennings. Macclesfield had saved that skirmish but Blackburn went even harder, with a series of quickly executed phases, which required Macc to be at their best. At the third quick-fire ruck, the sizeable frame of Jordon Lord, was binding on the left; as the 9, Lewis Kincart, picked up the ball, Lord stepped to the left, taking the Macc guard with him and leaving a gap for Kincart to run into, and race on the angle to the line, to pull a score back, 7 – 24.

Terence Babarinsa is too quick for the cover as he flies-in for the fifth

It was evident at this stage, just why the 1st team pitch was a no-go area, as its colour had radically changed from bright green to muddy brown. Conditions were now getting very difficult; twice Blackburn fumbled the ball, giving possession back to Macc. At the second scrum, for the first time Macclesfield got the edge, winning a penalty as they drove ‘Burn back. Now in the red-zone again, the Macclesfield players were dominant, first at the catch-and-drive, followed by 3 forward carries that committed defenders; the ball was whipped out to the left with a flip-on pass by Sam Adu, before he was smashed by two defenders, Tom Jennings caught and passed to Babarinsa on the left wing, who just made it to the corner; Terrence then proceeded in administering assistance to his opposite number, suffering from cramp! It was a very well constructed try that demonstrated the edge that Macclesfield had over Blackburn in all departments.

Blackburn put in a big shift, reverting to their traditional keep-ball game, but Macclesfield’s defence thwarted their attacks. For all of the Referee’s diligence in refereeing high tackles, replacement Jordon Pearson cowardly cleared out Harry Blackwell, with a cheap-shot forearm smash, which he continued with on the ground; it was obviously unseen and unpunished by the official – there were ‘handbags’ a plenty. Macclesfield would get the ball back at the scrum restart and went looking for their sixth try, Charlie Attis had come on for the last 15, producing a couple of deft kicks and two trademark no-look passes. The Referee signalled a penalty for Macclesfield then speeking to Blackburn’s Alex Gaynor-Smith, saying “We don’t need that”, but then yellow-carded Phil Laing for an ankle tap. It seemed a bizarre decision from the touch-line! ‘Burn had not given up the fight, and attacked from deep, with Macclesfield clearly now on the wrong-side of the Referee, ‘Burn progressed into Macc’s 22, and from a ruck in front of the posts, one of the Macclesfield forwards forgot the laws, diving on the ball, as it squirted out. A quick thinking, tap-penalty from Alex Evans, got the final try of the game for a 14 – 29 score-line.

The bond, a job well done by coaches and players

Although, Blackburn had had the majority of the possession, they could not breakdown Macclesfield’s defence; in contrast Macclesfield’s attack had more structure, and much more of a cutting-edge. The two quickly-tapped penalties, negated Macclesfield defensive structure, and worked well for Blackburn, giving them more of a respectable score-line. Head Coach, Darren Lamond was more than happy with the outcome: “Whilst the boys were disappointed in letting two scores in, towards the end, they had already done their stuff, and played very well in the difficult conditions. With a week off, training will be very light this week, before we concentrate on Anselmians that may be bolstered by Caldy, and then up to Kendal for their last home game, that and their position in the league will make for a tough contest”. Darren will have two players back in the mix for selection: John O’Donnell back from winning his first cap for Great Britain Police Rugby League and Jamie Harrison after a week off; it will be more tough choices.

More smiles in the Spiral

It’s difficult to see Macclesfield now not winning the league, which will most likely put them up into National Two North, with only one local fixture against Lymm. The extra cost will be considerable, with away travel getting close on to 2,000 miles; any businesses wishing to support Macclesfield through sponsorship, please contact the Club.

A job well done     

#maccrugby

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