Mackie 1st XV welcomed Hillfoots of Tillicoultry to Redcloak on Saturday in a match which will go a long way to deciding the fate of both teams. With Mackie sitting 9th and Hillfoots 8th in the league the pressure was on both teams to pull a performance out of the bag and deliver a bonus point victory.
True to form, the weather was despicable as the teams arrived to warm up. An early pitch inspection had deemed the ground playable but since then the heavens had opened and gave rise to hellish conditions. With last minute forking and sanding to disperse surface water, the referee and captains agreed to get the match kicked off much to the delight of the gathered crowd. Mackie have benefited from a tremendous home support since the turn of the year and it most certainly bouys the team in such bad conditions when supporters and ex players, friends and the rest of the squad make the effort to come to Redcloak.
Levack kicked off for Mackie and with no-one particularly keen to make the first high ball catch, the ball bounced into touch for an immediate line-out. The Hillfoots captain was not keen to play in the conditions and perhaps the pessimism had rubbed off on them as they seemed off colour compared to their usual bullish selves in the early exchanges. The Mackie forwards began to test their opposing pack by mauling off the line outs and making some good progress up the pitch a number of times. Andrew Mitchell was throwing brilliantly and each play went as smoothly as you could wish into a marauding maul. Unfortunately they were penalised 2 or 3 times for not listening to the referee when the ball needed to be played and thus at least 2 scoring chances went a begging.
With the pressure on the Hillfoots pack, their fly half was forced to kick more than he would normally wish to. When they did try to run anything, the Mackie backs pressured them into mistakes. The first try went to Levack who spotted a pass in the eyes of his opposite man and galloped on to intercept and run in to score under the posts and then convert. Not 5 minutes later and he was at it again, charging down a clearance kick from the fullback and racing on with good footballing skills to dive on the ball (and a puddle) to score again on the right. 12-0. The Mackie forwards then began to turn their dominance into points in the form of returning juggernaut Ewan Johnstone. His pace and power off the back of go forward mauls was too much and he scored two before half time. Levack converted one to make it 24-0 at half time and secure a bonus point with 40 minutes still to play.
Into the second half and Hillfoots began to stem the tide of Mackie’s rolling mauls off the lineout but with their fly half still content to kick away possession they could not get a foot hold on the game. As previous matches would tell you, kicking to the Mackie back 3 is not a great idea! Dave garden, Cameron and Ross Gray were working well together to create counter attacks and field position to create more scoring opportunities. Once close to the line, the forwards did the grafting to suck the defences in. In one such play, the defence was duly ensconced with the dirty work before releasing the backs for Ross Gray to score in the far right corner. Levack launched another fine conversion to bring the score to 31-0 and Mackie were out of sight.
Next on the scoresheet was prop Jason Matehe who finished off another fine period of play where the back division broke on the left with Simon Morgan enjoying his return with a typically bullish display. backed up by good backs rucking before another barrelling run by the forward pack up towards the line. Matehe proving too strong and surefooted to crash over the line wide on the left. Levack converted again.
Hillfoots, who have never been beaten by Mackie, were hurting, and with a final surge they managed to force themselves back up the pitch and create a maul of their own after a period of pressure got the score they wanted, much to the annoyance of the home side. With one final push, and to put right losing a try, Calum Reddish pressured a mistake out of the half backs and dived on a loose ball to score the final try under the posts. Levack Converted to make the final Score Mackie 45 – Hillfoots 7.
Man of the match was Michael Levack for his points haul of 20. The best result of the season in terms of points and the manner in which it was done. The forwards and backs dominant all over the park. Conditions were poor but the standard of rugby was high and the supporters all may have had freezing feet but they had rosy cheeks and smile son their faces after that one. Mackie jumped to 7th in the table with 2 games left. This week they play 2nd in the table Caithness – and with Mackie on form and a fully fit and available squad...it will be another cracker!
Mackie vs Caithness 3pm Saturday March 23– check website for location as Redcloak may be unplayable and could be played at Mill O’forest training ground.