Macclesfield 14-50 Preston Grasshoppers
Hoppers travelled to Priory Park looking to achieve their second ‘double’ of the season fully aware that their opposition’s position in the table belied their ability to play good rugby and win against teams near the top.
In direct contrast to the freezing conditions that scuppered the original fixture, the teams ran out onto a dry pitch in bright sunshine, temperature in the mid-teens and only a slight breath of wind.
Hoppers kicked off and immediately showed their intent as their own ball was chased down and won by Scott Jordan on the Macclesfield 22. A break by James Fitzpatrick, passing to James Gough, took them to their host’s 5m line and a scrum. The ball was cleared but only to the home side’s 15m line, where another run, this time from Tyler Spence, returned play to the Macclesfield 5m line.
Hoppers then mounted prolonged series of attacks across the Macclesfield 22 which was only halted by a clearing kick to the half way line. They were awarded a penalty just inside the Macclesfield half and Tom Davidson went for goal. The ball skirted the upright but the drop out re-start was woefully short and from a scrum on the home 22, Luke Proctor burst through the defence to score the first try. The conversion was good and after ten minutes Hoppers were in the lead.
Macclesfield were unfazed and immediately attacked their visitors’ 22 putting together a series of phases of possession with quick passing pressurizing the Hoppers’ defence. Play was held up by an injury to the Macclesfield wing but from the re-start Hoppers were back under pressure and defending inside their own 22.
Then Spence broke away to the home side’s 10m line and put a neat grubber kick towards the 22 only for play to be halted by a knock-on. From the scrum Macclesfield cleared to the Hoppers’ 10m line. The ball was taken by Alex Hurst who tore through the defence and passed to Scott Jordan to score just wide of the upright. Davidson’s kick was good and Hoppers were 0-14 up after twenty-five minutes.
From the restart Hurst again collected the ball and sent a high kick into the Macclesfield half where it was caught by a sprinting Ryan Carlson. Then three penalties to Hoppers took them to their hosts’ 5m line and, on thirty-two minutes, from a lineout drive Proctor scored his second try. The conversion missed the target but the score moved on to 0-19.
Macclesfield regrouped and quickly had their opponents defending on their own try line. Play moved back and forth across the field for several minutes with the Macclesfield forwards keeping possession through a series of pick-and-go moves. Their efforts were rewarded when their number four, Redfern, broke the defence to score their first try. The conversion from Moreton was good and with ten minutes to go to half time the score was 7-19.
Macclesfield continued to attack the Hoppers’ 22 but the defence was solid and the score was unchanged as the teams went in for the oranges.
Hoppers had made a very good start and for a time it looked as though they would dominate the whole game. As usual, they were strong in defence and the backs had made some telling breaks as they carved through the Macclesfield lines.
Their hosts had shown quality in their speedy handling of the ball and had not been overawed by their visitors’ performance in the first quarter of the game. Indeed, in the last ten minutes of the half they had begun to take back some control to the point where the match had become more evenly balanced.
The second half started with the sun out of sight behind the clouds and the spectators feeling a distinct drop in the temperature. Play resumed where it had left off with Macclesfield enjoying some possession in the Preston half making the forwards work hard to keep them out.
Some solid counter-rucking by Carlson resulted in Hoppers’ regaining possession and a penalty on the 22 in front of the posts. Davidson made no mistake and the score moved on to 7-22.
Hoppers now regained their dominance and pushed their hosts back to their own 5m line. From a scrum Matt Lamprey, resplendent in a fetchingly green-hued scrum cap protecting the tear to his ear from last week’s encounter, broke away and passed to Fitzpatrick who trotted over the line to gain the bonus-point try. Davidson’s conversion curved in towards the upright but his calculations proved correct and the lead moved on to twenty-two points.
Play was then held up for some minutes when Mark Taylor, the Preston physio had to attend to one of the touch judges who then returned to the game with a heavily strapped thigh.
From the re-start Hurst sent a probing kick to the Macclesfield 22 which just beat the charging Alex Jobson, making his debut in the first team. Then with Adam Howard off and Arnie on, play moved back and forth across the field in the Preston half.
There then followed an unusual replacement as the touch judge who had been strapped up decided he could not continue and his place was taken by the referee from the second team game who had just finished his match.
The game restarted and a thirty-metre break by Conor Trueman left his opposition standing as he crossed the line to score. The conversion was good and from that point things just got better for the travelling fans as only five minutes later an interception from Hurst and a break by Pete Altham presented Trueman with his second try. Davidson was kicking with confidence and the score now looked irretrievable for the home side at 7-43.
Macclesfield restarted and, once again showed their quality with a series of moves which resulted in a scrum on the Hoppers’ 10m line. A passage of deft passing moves enabled their full back, Davies, to blaze through the defence and score under the posts. The easy conversion was good and with four minutes of the match remaining they now had fourteen points on the board.
The game restarted and straight away Hoppers responded with a hack forward by Ally Murray deep into the Macclesfield half. It was quickly collected and a game of ‘kick-tennis’ broke out with ball travelling back and forth through the air.
The game was approaching the final minute when Nathan Pope collected the ball from a scrum on the Macclesfield 10m line and broke towards the 22. He passed to the supporting Trueman who took it on to the 5m line and then returned it to him for a try in the corner.
Trueman was badly injured by an apparent ‘no-arms’ tackle by the Macclesfield winger, Hall, who was duly shown a yellow card and play was held up for a good ten minutes as Conor was treated on the field before being stretchered off. Fortunately, after an ambulance had been called and he had been seen by the paramedics, he had recovered enough to tackle his after-match food in the bar albeit looking somewhat groggy.
After the lengthy delay Macclesfield restarted the game but with the score at 14-50 the ball was soon knocked into touch and the final whistle sounded.
As expected, Arnie was pleased with the result,
‘I was really happy with the fifty points; it’s always good to score so well. These games against teams in the lower places in the league always worry me. Macclesfield are a good side, better than their position suggests, and they had a purple patch which stopped us dominating throughout the match. We kept them out and in the second half we showed our class. It was a great team performance. For me Luke Proctor was man of the match with his tries, turnovers and carries, Alex Jobson and Tyler Sloane both played well on their debuts and Tom controlled the game very well. Alex Hurst made good tactical kicks and Ryan had another solid performance.’
Hoppers host Tynedale next Saturday and look to redress the disappointing result from the previous match by continuing the run of quality play shown today.
Report by John Le Page, picture by Noel Patterson