City of Derry RFC 15pts, Ballymena 13pts
Match Report by; Moss Dineen
City of Derry Rugby Club started their home competitive fixtures with an Ulster League victory over Ballymena on Saturday last. The first half belonged to Derry as they got to the break with a 12pts to 5pts lead. The second half will not live in the memory for too long except for all the wrong reasons as the play became fractured and the attitude of both teams became more fractious as the half progressed.
The game started amid torrential rain that prevailed form early morning and continued throughout. The early pressure was all from Derry as their back row of Stephen Ferguson, Richard Baird and Stephen Dickey were winning the battle of the breakdown. Ferguson, Baird and prop Sam Duffy were carrying ball into the Ballymena half. Man of the Match Richard McCarter was controlling the game beautifully from out half as the Bairdmen were scrambling to survive and the first fifteen minutes belonged to the Judges Road men.
Ballymena eventually got some time in the game and their out half Rory Drysdale missed a kickable penalty shot on sixteen minutes. The game was evenly contested at this stage but a mistake cost Derry dearly on twenty three minutes, possession was lost while running a ball out of defence on the half way line. Ballymena hacked the ball forward down the line and with insufficient cover wing forward Mike Entwhistle touched down for an unconverted try and a 5pts to nil lead.
Ballymena had all the pressure on twenty eight minutes but with men over they selected to drop a goal from 15 meters in front of the posts and missed. Derry made them pay two minutes later when awarded a penalty on their own 22 meter line, scrum half Jack Caithness took a quick tap and beat three men taking play to the half way line. Caithness had the vision to see Simon Logue running loose on the left wing and with a cross field kick he found Logue in his stride to kick forward and beat a man to touch down in the corner for a wonderful unconverted try to leave the score 5pts all.
The Derry scrum was better than last week with Stephen Jefferson, David Ferguson and Sam Duffy on top and well supported by second rowers Chris Cooper and Stephen Corr. Derry winger Simon Logue made a great break out of his own 22 to relieve pressure on thirty five minutes and when he linked with full back William McCleery play was brought to the Ballymena 5 meter line to setup a lineout. Hooker David Ferguson found the towering Chris Cooper with line out ball and following a forward drive for the line Jack Caithness was on hand to pickup and dive between legs to touch down for a try and with McCarter converting it was 12pts to 5pts for the Judges Road men which was the score at the break,
Derry brought on David Houston, Adam Bratton and Andrew Semple at the beginning of the second half. Derry started the half on the attack and were rewarded within two minutes when Richard McCarter kicked a penalty to put the home team in front by 15pts to 5pts. That was to be the last score of the game for Derry as the standard of play deteriorated with too much niggle and personal scores to be settled. Rory Drysdale kicked a penalty of Ballymena after eight minutes to reduce the deficit to 15pts to 8pts.
The standard of play deteriorated with the conditions not helping and the decision making all round led to players loosing patience with one another. The referee took action on seventeen minutes when Ballymena had wing forward Conor Smyth sent to the bin for ten minutes. The frustration among the players continued as tempers flared and the referee issued red cards to Andrew Semple for Derry and Mike Entwhistle for Ballymena on seventeen minutes. Derry lost another man to the sin bin seven minutes later when Stephen Ferguson was give a yellow card.
Ballymena capitalised on their numerical advantage on twenty six minutes when following a number of forward drives Conor Smyth got in for an unconverted try which left the score at 15pts to 13pts for Derry. The game was in the balance for the last ten minutes and Ballymena were given a chance to win the game right on time when they were awarded a penalty 40 meters out. Rory Drysdale had a shot at goal from in front of the posts but he pulled his kick to right of the posts and with the final whistle Derry survived to gain the spoils. Derry now plays Rainey away next Saturday in the first round of the Ulster Senior Cup.
City of Derry Team V Ballymena; Steven Jefferson, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Chris Cooper, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Stephen Dickey, Stephen Ferguson, Jack Caithness, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, David Funston, David Graham, Peter Henderson. Replacements; Ross Harkin, Ross Scott, David Houston, Adam Bratton, Andrew Semple..
City of Derry RFC 15pts, Ballymena 13pts