REPORT & SHOTS City of Derry 1s v Highfield 1s

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City of Derry RFC 33pts, Highfield 10pts

City of Derry Rugby Club produced their best performance of the season when they scored a bonus point victory against Highfield their closest rivals in the league at Judges Road on Saturday last. This result puts the Judges Road men thirteen points clear at top of All Ireland League Division 2B with seven games remaining in the season. Highfield were the only team to beat Derry in the league when both teams met down in Cork at the beginning of November and two points was the difference on that occasion. This fixture last Saturday was a must win contest for Derry and the biggest game at Judges Road for years, when the chips were down the Squad to a man rose to the occasion and executed the game plan of Head Coach Terry McMaster to perfection and run out comprehensive winners.

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The weather and pitch were perfect for rugby on Saturday and Highfield had the advantage of the slight breeze in the first half. The Corkmen were first on the attach and were set to continue from where they left off last November on the attack and moving forward controlling possession through their massive pack. They had Paddy O’Toole back at out half after injury and were looking to him to give them the inspiration and sparkle they backs were missing all season. Following four minutes of driving forward play O’Toole made an incisive break to the Derry line and was scragged to the ground 5 meters out by Sam Duffy, Stephen Dickey was there as quick as a flash to turn over the ball and with the rest of the pack with him a marker was laid down, a statement made and ruination once again for O’Toole and Highfield as he left the fray with a dislocated elbow.

Derry played down the pitch courtesy of a penalty and initiated what was to be virtual total control of the remainder of the first half. Derry won a penalty 20 meters out in front of the posts on eight minutes and should taken the lead but inextricably missed. Highfield had a rare visit to the Derry half and their fill back Dylan Horgan kicked a penalty from 25 meters to take the lead by 3pts to nil. David Houston came on for Derry as the home team were getting a great rhythm and flow to their play with Andrew Semple and Richard McCarter bringing their backs and forward into the game.

Full Back Ali Beckett made a 40 meter break taking play well inside the Highfield half on eighteen minutes, the ball was moved infield and Chris Cooper carried ball forward. Richard McCarter was on fire and with a dummy ghosted behind the defensive line and linked with Dickey who drove forward. Highfield were in disarray and Semple linked again with McCarter who had a four to two on his left 10 meters out but was nailed with the line at Derry’s mercy and the chance was gone.

Derry were now well on top with all out attacking play, David Funston, Simon Logue and Ali Beckett were all producing strong carries inside the Highfield half and the Corkonians were on the back foot. Neil Burns made a great outside break inside the Highfield half on thirty minutes and linked with his right winger Ian Bratton who took play to the 22. Semple moved play left via McCarter who gave Stephen Corr a chance to straighten play with a drive down midfield, quick ruck ball and Semple was half tackled but offloaded to McCarter going right. McCarter pulled a wonder pass from his repertoire and found David Funston 35 meters to his right taking three backs out of the game. Funston drove forward to the 22 and found Simon Logue at pace outside him, with a sidestep and a faint he evaded two tackles but was nailed 5 meters out but managed to swirl in the tackle as his momentum carried him backwards to the line with two men hanging out of him he touched down for a great team try. Neil Burns converted and Derry were in front by 7pts to 3pts.

The game was developing into a great all round team performance from Derry. The back row were all over everything at the breakdown and at ruck and maul. Steven Dickey was everywhere like a man possessed making tackles and carrying ball and producing his best game of the season. Dickey was nicely supported in the back row by Stephen Corr and John Burns. Adam Bratton and Chris Cooper were great in the second row with Bratton playing his best game of the season as well with a high tackle count and carrying ball. The scrum was a great contest all afternoon and Derry’s front row of Rory Squires, Captain David Ferguson and Sam Duffy were technically superior to their bigger and heavier opponents. Ferguson was dervish like around the pitch leading from the front putting his body on the line at all times. The first half finished with Highfield missing a penalty chance from 40 meter and Derry were in front by 7pts to 3pts.

The second half started with a bang with Highfield on the attack inside the Derry 22. They had a number of drives at the Derry line and their big second row Dave O’Connell drove down down the right and linked with his No 8 Miah Cronin who drove over for a try and Dylan Horgan converted and Highfield led by 10pts to 7pts. Derry kicked off and won a penalty and kicked for touch 5 metres out, a line out failure gave Highfield a chance to kick clear. Their scrum half Chris Bannon was half charged down and in a contest for possession Andrew Semple picked up and ran in for a try, Neil Burns converted and Derry were back in front by 14pts to 10pts.

The pressure from Derry was intense with great line speed and harrying at every opportunity and everyone playing for one another with a unity of purpose. Derry scrum half Andrew Semple was on top of his game giving a Man of the Match performance with an all-round performance, tackling everything that moved, making breaks at ruck and maul keeping the opposition back row honest, kicking out of hand beautifully and harrying their No 9 and back row at scrum time as well as scoring a brace of try’s. The Derry scrum produced on eleven minutes with Highfield under pressure their scrum half tried to pass to his winger but Semple seen it coming and intercepted to run from 40 meters for a try and Neil Burns converted and Derry were ahead by 21pts to 10pts and firing on all cylinders’.

Highfield kicked off and McCarter kicked beautifully 60 meters in behind the defence for a 10 meter linout.
Highfield had a miss throw at the back of the line out and Stephen Corr was on it like a lion who had not eaten for a month as he gobbled up the loose ball and drove for the line and touched down for the bonus point try with four men hanging on to him. Derry were 26pts to 10pts up and deservedly so.

Highfield came straight back at Derry and threw everything into attack, the home defence showed a hunger to tackle and pride in not having their line crossed. Highfield were shuffling across the pitch 10 meters from the Derry line for several minutes but patience and commitment paid off when their No 9 when under pressure threw a pass behind his winger 15 meters out and Simon Logue collected and sprinted the length of the pitch to write Highfields Obituary with a try and Burns converted for a 33pts to 10pts lead with twenty minutes to go.

City of Derry Coach went to the bench and brought on Ross Harkin, Stuart Simpson, Craig Huey and Richard Baird. Highfield tried as they may but were unable to crack the Derry defence and they became more frustrated as time ebbed away without any progress. Andrew Semple seemed to be at the brunt of their petulance as he was everywhere making tackles, claiming the ball on the ground, harrying everyone and kicking out of defence. The two scrum halves were sin binned in injury time following a scuffle that was not of their making but the game was over and the fat lady was singing. It was a proud day for everyone connected with City of Derry Rugby Club as winning the league and promotion now looks a probability.

City of Derry RFC Team V Highfield; Rory Squires, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Steven Dickey, John Burns, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Neil Burns, David Funston, Ian Bratton, Ali Beckett, Replacements; Ross Harkin, David Houston, Craig Huey, Richard Baird, Stuart Simpson.

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