Preston Grasshoppers 42-14 Macclesfield
Last week saw some troublesome injuries giving problems for Arnie’s selection today which was further complicated when Tyler Spence had to withdraw during the week and with Jordan Dorrington unavailable it was a changed side that took the field on another warm, sunny afternoon.
Macclesfield had made a good start to their season and, on paper, looked like a side aiming to achieve promotion early.
They kicked off and soon had a line-out on the Hoppers’ 5m line. They secured the ball and scored the first try wide of the posts when Hooker, Moss, drove over. The conversion by Fly-half Davies was good and after ten minutes the score stood at 0 – 7.
Hoppers restarted and were immediately defending their 22 as Macclesfield pressed forward with speed. The move ended with a knock-on and a scrum in their favour from which Hoppers gained the first of many scrum penalties of the afternoon. During this passage of play Jacob Browne was injured in a tackle and had to be led off the field, his place was taken by Craig Proctor, making his first appearance today.
The home side then had a line-out 10m from Macclesfield line. The forwards drove and Chris Taylor scored in the left corner. With no breeze to hamper him, Ben Pearson confidently sent the ball over from wide on the wing. 7 – 7.
Hoppers had another line-out on their visitors’ 10m line. The referee deemed it ‘Not Straight’ and from the ensuing scrum, Macclesfield were able to clear to Hoppers’ 15m line. Jake Squirrell collected ball from the line-out and with a mighty kick, sent it into touch on the opposition’s 5m line.
Breaks from both sides took play up and down the pitch until a clearing kick by Macclesfield was caught by Club Captain, Ali Murray, who called for the Mark inside his own 22. The ball was gathered by last week’s Man of the Match, Sam Stott on his own 10m line and, shaking off two tackles he streaked to the try line to score just right of the posts. The conversion was good and with the ‘high tech’ scoreboard showing 14 – 7, Hoppers were now in the driving seat.
Shortly after the restart, Macclesfield prop, Percival was shown a yellow card and the home side immediately capitalized on it. With the forwards pressing into the Red Zone they were awarded a scrum. They drove again and this time it was Luke Proctor’s turn for the points just left of the uprights. Pearson had no problem with the extras and the score moved on to 21 – 7 as the half-time whistle sounded.
The teams seemed evenly matched in the first twenty minutes but as the game progressed, the Preston pack was able to drive the scrum again and again. They defended with confidence and were able to move the ball quickly through hands, making good metres with each attack.
Macclesfield were defending well with frequent clearance kicks getting them out of trouble. Hoppers were happy to run the ball and with the scrum gaining dominance, they had the upper hand.
The second half started with Hoppers kicking long into the Macclesfield 22 where it was sent back up the field. Ben Dorrington executed a silky side-step to beat his tackler and then broke to the opposition 10m line where a penalty was awarded to the home side. The line-out secured, it was Stott again, breaking through and running in just right of the posts for the Bonus Point try. Pearson’s boot was good and the score rolled on to 28 – 7.
Play then settled into a contest of possession with both sides securing and losing the ball in turn and breaks all over the pitch by forwards and backs. Macclesfield had a scrum on their own 10m line from where their number ten, Davies broke out and had a clear run to the posts. He then converted his own try to make the score 28 – 14.
It was in the sixtieth minute that the visitors had another player yellow carded when Hoppers had a penalty after play was stopped for an injury to prop Oga Mbaya. This resulted in Martin being sent to the naughty step. The line-out on the Macclesfield 5m line was collected by Matt Lamprey who then fought his way through to the line. The conversion from just right of the post sailed over. 35 -14.
From the restart Hoppers were attacking the Macclesfield 22. Murray was tackled in the air at a line-out and from the penalty Pearson broke from the 10m line to score under the posts. It was his turn to convert his own try this time, putting the score beyond the opposition at 42 – 14 with less than fifteen minutes to go.
Hoppers looked like scoring again when winger Rob Meadows made a sixty metre break from his own 10m line to touch down in the corner. However he was deemed to have had a foot in touch so his efforts were in vain.
When play resumed Murray was again taken in the air and a yellow card was shown to Macclesfield’s Burden. With less than three minutes remaining a tired Macclesfield side were chasing a lost cause and the score at full time remained Hoppers 42, Macclesfield 14.
After the match I spoke with Ali Murray to get his thoughts on the performance.
‘Another good win on the back of last week, another few injuries which is a worry but two out of two and ten points from two tough teams, we did well. The scrum went really well, line-outs need some work but with two sevens playing in the back line, to score forty points against a top four side is amazing from that point of view. I think they came with the intention to bully us today but on our patch we’re not going to let teams do that. We’re not in this league to get bullied and I think we put that message out today.’
Arnie was also pleased with the performance from his side, especially the players brought in because of the injury count.
‘At half time I said to the lads there was only one player who I had originally picked to be in the back line and they’ve all put their hands up to keep the shirt. That’s all I can ask from them.
I thought there were some really good performances, Sam Stott again, just leading from the front. In the set piece, especially in the scrum, we laid down a marker. That’s the first time Oga and Pete have started together since before Pete’s injury so it’s good to have those two firing. It looked like our scrum of old.
I’m really pleased, if you think about the back line, you have Ben Dorrington, who’s predominantly a seven these days, playing at twelve and Rob Meadows on one wing, who’s also a seven and you’ve then got Craig Proctor coming on the other wing for his debut, doing really well when Jacob Browne came off with concussion. Ewan Naylor had another good game. I’ve been waiting for big things from Ewan for a couple of seasons and he’s matured, put on some size and is doing what I’ve asked of him. I’ve said that as long as the boys are doing that, when the other lads come back fit there’s no reason I can throw them straight back in if we’re getting results like this each week.
Sandal was the first game I managed when we won the league that season. I think we won in the eighty-first minute when Jake Squirrell kicked a conversion from the touchline. We know it’s going to be a tough game. They’re a tough side and I imagine it could be another eighty – plus minutes before we get a result there. Then we’ve a week off and hopefully some of the injured will be fit again and the squad will be back to something like full strength.
I want to say how much the work of Lucy and Jamie has made such a difference in getting lads back. To have two props playing a full eighty minutes is credit to how well they’ve been prepared by our fitness team and I am really thankful for that.’
We are away at Sandal next week and there is a supporter’s coach going so sign up and let’s give the team the support they now deserve.
Report by John Le Page, picture by Mike Craig