Table-topping Macclesfield proved too strong for a much smaller Preston Grasshoppers side – but the home side showed a large crowd, which included RFU President Bob Reeves and former Lightfoot Green favourites such as World Cup winner Paul Grayson, that they were far from cowed in a gutsy defensive display.
Starved off the ball for most of the first half, Hoppers were undone by three tries in 10 minutes either side of the break. But they never stopped battling and shared the second half 14 apiece.
Head coach Michael Lough said: “We showed a lot of spirit right across the team. That’s what we asked for and they delivered it. We knew we were up against an enormous physical side but we wanted to play as hard as we could to show we are a good team.
“Our defence was a solid base, but you just can’t sustain that level of effort for such a long time, and we could hardly get our hands on the ball in the first half. When we did, we showed that we can play rugby.”
Hoppers slipped back down National League Two North and were left rueing the fact that, had they played this well in some of their close defeats, they could have been comfortably placed in the table.
Hoppers started brightly and laid siege to the Macclesfield line without being able to produce any score other than a Lloyd Davies penalty.
But, as the visitors turned the screw, Preston defended heroically until four minutes before half-time, when a sustained spell of pressure brought a close-range try for Macclesfield lock Jonny Kenny.
Tom Eaton added the conversion and another three minutes later when scrum-half Jordan Brookes scampered over after a line-out. It got worse for Hoppers six minutes into the second period when two successive line-outs near the line ended with substitute Josh deGroot being bundled over the line, with Eaton again converting.
If it was all a bit dull and predictable from Macclesfield, Preston showed great flair on the attack with forwards Ally Murray and Pete Altham leading the charge before sending over full-back Sean Taylor, who early in the game had pulled off a great tackle at the corner.
Davies converted, but as Macclesfield swarmed forward again, home lock Andy Irving was sinbinned and the visitors made the most of the extra man at the next scrum to tie in the defence and get flanker Mike Finnemore over for the bonus-point try. Eaton again converted.
Hoppers still refused to give up and had the last word when a great attack down the left, in which substitute Olly Yates ran well, was switched to the other side of the field. Will Lees was left in space with men over and his try, converted by Davies, was just reward for a man-of-the-match performance by the young flanker, who made tackle after tackle against much bigger opponents.
“Will was outstanding,” said Lough. “Real credit to him, because he has not been in the starting line-up for much of the season. Hooker Brad Tuff also did well on his first start this season and Davies is getting better – a real classy player. We have some young players coming through, with talent.”
In their final North One West fixture of the season, Vale of Lune answered coach Paul Woodward’s call for hard work and passion but they were unable to overcome an in-form Broughton Park side 22-19.
The visitors began at a high tempo and their efforts were rewarded when stand off Olly Lancaster dropped a goal in the fifth minute.
They went further ahead when Ade Titiloye gracefully went over. Gradually,Vale picked up the pace and in the 15th minute the impish Darren Wilson scuttled away for an unconverted try.
Vale went into the lead in the 23rd minute through Nick Royle to score his 41st try of the season and set a new club record in the process.
Two minutes later, Park centre Michael Butt reacted quickly to collect the bobbling ball to complete the scoring in the first half.
Vale began the second half in dramatic style when James Curran intercepted a pass to race clear, but the lead did not last long and from a forward rumble, prop Donald George was awarded a try in a pile up over Vale’s line in the 51st minute.
That was the end of the scoring as Vale suffered defeat.