Preview to Macclesfield (h) 14.04.12

13/04/2012

Laboured Analogies Special: A Titanic Struggle

On the 100th anniversary of a large ship hitting an even bigger iceberg, Jersey will be hoping to steer clear of danger when the Macc Lads come out to play.

A nervous fortnight without any match action for the Islanders comes to an end at 3pm tomorrow when the pre-penultimate game of 2011/12 kicks off.

The bigger picture regarding the National One title race is one that few people can resist looking at, even though Ben Harvey is insistent that his Jersey squad must concentrate on the matter-in-hand.

The immediate priority is ensuring a win against a Macclesfield side who are under little pressure, albeit that they are motivated by a desire to do themselves more justice than in the first fixture between the sides.

With Ealing looking certain to return to winning ways, Jersey know that victory over Macclesfield is essential to maintain a healthy lead over the Trailfinders. With the magic figure in National One currently standing at 114 (any tie-breaker would go Jersey's way), four points tomorrow would leave five more required from the last two games; 5 points against Macc, and just a basic win at Coventry next week would do the trick. Sounds so simple when you say it like that...

News from the Jersey camp
The last thing DoR Harvey would want to be doing this week is making wholesale changes to his squad and he is in the fortunate position of having most of the players who featured in March available for selection.

Just one change is likely in the pack, where Kingsley Lang's back injury allows a redemption opportunity at flanker for Steve O'Brien, out of favour since he captained the side to defeat against Barking five weeks ago.

Winger Ed Dawson has been ill, so Glenn Bryce moves from 15 to 11, Mike Le Booj slots in at full-back and the established centre pairing of Donovan Sanders and Dai Bishop will be in place from the off. Ashley Maggs is one of two replacement backs alongside Nicky Griffiths, who faces a disciplinary hearing next week after receiving a red card against Tynedale, the only blot on a powerful display by his side, who finished 64-0 winners, the highest score achieved by any team so far in National One this season.

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Macclesfield RUFC 15 Jersey RFC 24
A potent combination of strong defence and rapier-like counter attacking was the winning cocktail for Jersey at Priory Park on a chilly November afternoon.

The visitors scored three tries in the first half in spite of making just four visits to Macc territory. Guy Thompson rounded off a productive month with his seventh try of 'Movember', and after Josh Fowles replied for the hosts, Ashley Maggs and James Copsey crossed and it was 8-17 at the interval.

Jersey had to cope with 14 men on two occasions when Steve O'Brien and Jon Brennan received yellow cards, and while Brennan was in the bin, winger Edd Stobart scored and the deficit shrank to two points.

Macc looked capable of pushing on to victory, but superb Jersey defence kept them out. Had the scoreline remained as it was the match points would have been 1:4, but with three minutes to go Ed Dawson's try made it 1:5, and the conversion by Mike Le Bourgeois made it 0:5 at the final whistle.

Macc in 2011/12
Macc started this season with a hat-trick of bonus point wins that saw them top the table, and the 35-22 defeat at Blaydon was the only reverse in their first six outings. Then the wheels came off somewhat, with five straight defeats. Games against Rosslyn Park, Cov and Fylde saw Macc score 76 points, but concede 106, and to lose to Birmingham 21-17 after Bees' Russell Earnshaw was red-carded was a further disappointment. This was followed by a 25-13 home win against Blackheath and an excellent triumph at Ealing.

The win at Vallis Way was perhaps the performance of the season by the Blues, albeit marred by a serious injury to No 8 Chris Jones: a double 'tib and fib' break that ended his season.

The visiting team scored an impressive five tries against Trailfinders, who ended up without even losing or try (they managed three) bonus points. Macc's Ryan Parkinson showed that Jersey's Guy Thompson isn't the only back-row try machine with a hat-trick. Hooker Sam Moss also scored while Josh Fowles managed a token effort for the backs.

Defeat by Jersey at the end of November sparked a revival for Macc who won six straight games around the turn of the year and became outside contenders for the league title. But more recently the Blues have gone the opposite way - just one win in their last seven outings, not far off their worst-ever league sequence of five straight losses in early 2006.

Proof of what the team can achieve came against title contenders Ealing two weeks ago. Macc led 17-12 at the break, pulled away to 31-17 after 47 minutes before being hauled in and overtaken by their visitors who went 34-31 ahead before Ross Winney's late penalty sealed a draw (3 points each). Macc's tried were scored by Edd Stobart, Charlie Mulchrone, Thomas Mantell and Josh Fowles.

Talented scrum-half Mulchrone is one of the stand-out performers (16 tries this season) who missed the first game against Jersey. Also absent that day was older brother Fergus, formerly with Sale Sharks, who has scored 13 tries but is again missing due to a metatarsal injury. This means Winney will play full-back.

While looking out for an iceberg, Jersey fans' eyes may be caught by another large, albeit differently-shaped, obstacle. Dean Williams, all 7 ft 1 inches of him (oh, and 22+ stone) has made 25 starts and one sub appearance for Macc this season since joining from Sedgley Park last summer. His appearance record is comparable to winger Jack Moorhouse (also 25 +1) and fellow lock Alan Marsh (25), and just behind flanker Ryan Parkinson who has scored 12 tries this season but missed his first game of the season against Ealing after sustaining an injury in the warm-up.

Macc's pack has a reputation as one of the best in the league, and the team are also potent in attack - 107 tries puts them fifth in the charts, only just behind Blackheath (110) and Jersey (108). But Director of Rugby Geoff Wappett admits that it's the number of points conceded that can be crucial - 678 is twice as many as Jersey (342), and a points difference of +83 is low for a side near the top of the league. Macc are currently sixth and would hope to overhaul Rosslyn Park who are just three points ahead in fifth.

The Macc pack was significantly boosted over the summer through the arrival of prop Gavin Woods from local rivals Caldy, the return of Martin Kent, another prop, from Coventry, and lock Dean Williams (ex-Sedgley). In the backs, winger Edd Stobart joined, again from Sedgley, to provide the pace alongside Josh Fowles and Matt O'Regan.

The Macc coaching team is the ex-Rotherham duo of Geoff Wappett and Andy Northey. Wappett thinks he is the only member of the squad to have been to Jersey previously for a match.

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In August 2004 Jersey of London 3SW (level 7) entertained Geoff Wappett's Bradford & Bingley side, who had just gone up to National Three North (then level 4). The Yorkshire side triumphed by 45-17 after a closely-fought first half, with Jersey's tries scored by Richie Griffiths, John Allo and Gareth Jeffreys, plus a conversion by 'Chalky' White. Of the current 1st XV squad, Steve O'Brien and Jon Brennan both played.

A certain Matt Banahan, aged 17-and-a-half, came off the bench that day and Wappett was sufficiently impressed to make a 'come up and see me sometime' offer to the Highlands College student, altho' it came to nowt when 'Banners' went to London Irish the following summer.

Going back with Macc - club history
Like Jersey, Macc's history goes back to the 1870s, with an official formation date of 1877 and several ground moves prior to arrival in Priory Park in 1980. The 1980s also saw the club enter the Girobank North West One, a trial league which preceded the launch of the RFU's national Courage League structure in 1987.

At the turn of the century Macc were in North One, a.k.a. Level 5, and achieved promotion in 2003. This was followed by seven seasons at Level 4, including a losing promotion play-off at Redruth in 2005 and culminating in the winning of Nat 2N in 2010, when Loughborough were beaten by three points over the season, and the short-lived Championship Trophy clinched (in the same year as Jersey's Twickenham visit) with a 30-26 win over Barking at 'HQ'.

Last season Macc won 17 games in their first season at Level Three, achieving a total of 95 points and a creditable fourth place in National One.
Some of the better-known faces to have played for Macclesfield down the years include (thanks to 'Clubman' - the Macclesfield oracle - for this info):

Peter Glover - Bath/Combined Services/England (3 caps) moved to Macclesfield after his RAF days when he became a civil airline pilot operating out of Manchester and he played for a couple of seasons back in the 1970's. Wing/Centre.
Steve Diamond - Current Sale Coach was a player/coach with Macc a few seasons ago before moving to Russia and beyond.
Steve Smith - initially played at Macclesfield before moving on to Wilmslow/Sale and then England (28 caps) at Scrum Half.
Dave Cusani - Ex Orrell & one England cap (v Ireland 1987) played lock for Macc in late 1980s.
Others include Alan McInnes, Steve Burnage (former player/coach and ex Orrell/Fylde) and several others who have played at England Counties level & Cheshire.

Macc Triv
* Full-back and captain Ross Winney has scored approximately 1,550 points in his Macc career since joining the club in 2005. This is close to a National League record, altho' he is behind Esher's Jon Gregory (1,609 points from 1998-2004) and Charlie Hodgson at Sale (1,870 prior to moving to Saracens). Winney also played for Sale, Orrell, Plymouth and Wakefield earlier in his career, and has a career total of 1,901 pts to date. Neil Hallett (Rosslyn Pk, Bracknell, Esher and now Ealing) is listed as 2153, although definitive figures are hard to come by.

* Winger Edd Stobart is grandson of the Eddie Stobart whose lorries are regularly seen on Britain's motorways. This alleged connection spawned an entire thread on the Rolling Maul forum, one quiet close-season, with queries about Stobart being "in it for the long haul", whether he'd "deliver the goods" and, my favourite, a prize for the first referee to ping him for a "truck-and-trailer" offence.

* Leading try-scorer from the past two seasons (22 and 20), Evan Stewart signed for Fylde last summer, and, like Sid James in his prime, has carried on scoring (16 thus far).

* Ross Winney (a statto's best friend) scored 49 points in a game against Waterloo in January 2010.

* Macclesfield's clubhouse is believed to be the only one in National One containing a real fire. Rumours that members of the Ealing committee were using this to light their cigars two weeks ago have not been confirmed.

Following the game
Don't forget that you can keep up-to-speed with news from the game through the following channels:

• Preview on BBC Radio Jersey's Sportscene from 6-7pm on Friday, and live commentary on Saturday afternoon (FM, AM and online)
• Preview in Friday's JEP, more build-up in the Inside Centre pull-out on Saturday, and full match coverage on Monday
• Scoreflashes on @jerseyrfc Twitter, Facebook and the Rolling Maul rugby forum
• Match report on Channel 103 on Saturday soon after the final whistle
• Report Sport on Channel TV at 6.15pm on Monday, and online.

Macc's website is worth a look, plenty of good quotes from Mr Wappett, who is rarely tongue-tied!

Rivals' Round-up

Ealing (99pts) are six points behind Jersey and host Cov this weekend; Fylde (97) have a tough trip to Blackheath (91 including 40 from last 8 games). Next weekend Fylde host Ealing while Jersey travel to Cov.

And finally… the busiest weekend of the year?
It's a busy weekend for rugby in the Channel Islands. Cop a load of this:
You'll probably miss the first match of the weekend, in fact so will I if I don't get this bl**dy preview finished - Jersey Youth v Kendal at 12noon today (Friday).

Also on the agenda (all games at St Peter leaving some interesting changing room arrangements!):

Jersey v Midhurst v Chichester (Under 13 round-robin - Sat and Sun 11am)

Kendal Youth v Worthing Youth (Sat 11am)

Jersey Wanderers v Worthing (Sat 11am)

Jersey United Banks Ladies v New Ash Green (Sat 1pm)

the Inter-Insular Match Jersey v Guernsey (Sun at 12.30)

Jersey Youth v Worthing (Sun at 12.30)

the memorial match for John 'Fergie' Ferguson, St Helier v Bishopston (Renfrewshire) (Sun 12.30).

And a large exodus of young rugby players will also be heading to Guernsey for the Junior Siam games at all ages from Under 7s upwards. Good luck to them and hopefully their absence, plus that of their coaches and supporters, won't make too much of a hole in the attendance for Jersey v Macc.

Enjoy your rugby this weekend.
Tom Innes

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