City of Derry RFC finally got their All Ireland League campaign up and running at the fifth attempt with a narrow 3pts victory over a dogged Banbridge at Judges Road on Saturday last. The score at half time confirmed how poor Derry were in the first half as they were 17pts to 6pts with no structure or rhythm to their game. Banbridge were able to capitalise on this inept display from the home team as possession was coughed up cheaply and aimless kicking out of defence fed the Banbridge backs with quality possession.
The second half display from Derry bore no reflection to what went before as half time changes by Coaches Mark Nicholl and Neil Beddow worked the oracle as the Judges Road men were the better team by far thought the second period. Richard McCarter coming in to out half from the bench and Andrew Semple moving from No 10 to scrum half were the catalyst for the home teams improved performance. Derry’s play moved up several gears as McCarter brought a structure and rhythm not only to his backline but with his variation of play he brought his forwards into the game as the momentum swung Derry’s way.
The weather was perfect for rugby at Judges Road on a November Saturday with beautiful sunshine that lasted to the final whistle. Derry started with some purpose and were on top early as Andrew Semple kicked a penalty after five minutes from 20 meters for holding on and the home team were in front by 3pts to nil. Derry with plenty of possession in their own half were struggling to string any phases of play together and there was a lack of direction and unity of purpose to their game. Derry reverted to kicking aimlessly to try and get out of their own half and they were well and truly punished on seventeen minutes.
Banbridge full back Adam Doherty gracefully collected a loose kick just inside his own half and fed out half Johnny Pollock who made an incisive break before off loading to centre Andy Morrison who was stopped 5 meters out. The Banbridge pack were on hand to dive the ball forward and No 8 Collie Bickerstaff touched down for a try near the posts and with Aarron Kennedy converting Banbridge were in front by 7pts to 3pts.
Derry clicked into gear and into the Banbridge half from the kick-off and they attacked on the right with prop Chris Shield carrying ball forward. Scrum half Stuart Simpson found Semple going left and with a three man overlap Derry coughed up a guilt edged chance. Derry were still on the attack and were rewarded with a penalty for holding on once again and Semple converted on twenty four minute and Derry were just one point down at 7pts to 6pts.
Derry looked nervous in their play as they were trying too hard and struggle to get any flow to their game, four AIL defeats and confidence seemed at a low ebb. Kennedy kicked a penalty for Bann from pressure after thirty two minutes as their lead was 10pts to 6pts. Derry lost possession in their own half cheaply on thirty seven minutes and the Bann out half Johnny Pollock accepted a gift pass from a Derry player. He made a good break and passed to centre Johnny Little who touched down for a try and Kennedy converted to bring a poor half of rugby from Derry to a close but more important for Banbridge a 17pts to 6pts lead.
Derry made the changes at half time and the second half started with a bang for them and it was all Derry. Semple was delivering quick snappy ball to McCarter who was pulling the stings and making things happen. David Funston made a good break as did Adam Bratton and David Ferguson who was stopped short of the line after four minutes. Semple moved ball to McCarter who with a cut out pass going left allowed winger William McCleery to beat his man and touch down for an unconverted try out wide and Derry were behind by 11pts to 17pts.
Derry were pinged by the referee on seven minutes and a penalty by Kennedy from 30 meters gave Banbridge a 20pts to 11pts lead. Derry were back on the attack from the kick-off and solid scrimmaging from Shields, David Ferguson and Sam Duffy along with lineout control from Chris Cooper, David Houston and Richard Baird, primary possession was a given and McCarter’s line kicking was top drawer. Banbridge lost their No 8 to the sin bin and it was advantage Derry. Good driving play from Stephen Ferguson, Sam Duffy and Stephen Corr on eleven minutes allowed Richard Baird to make a great break to bring play inside the Bann 22 and when he found McCarter on his left and it took just a dummy pass and a faint as the Man of the Match Richard McCarter touched down for an unconverted try, Derry were behind by 16pts to 20pts.
Banbridge let a penalty chance go begging on fourteen minutes with a poor kick. Derry were back on the attack three minutes later and a penalty was dispatched by McCarter into the corner for a lineout 10 meters out. David Ferguson found Chris Cooper in the lineout and a catch and drive executed to perfection had Richard Baird touching down for a try which Semple converted and Derry were in front by 23pts to 20pts.
Banbridge got back into the Derry half on sixty three minutes and were immediately awarded a penalty with Kennedy converted to make the score 23pts all. Derry in the process lost Chris Shields to the bin and it was now advantage Banbridge. Derry upped their play and compensated for being a man down as Bob McKillop came from the bench to tighten things up. Derry missed a kickable penalty after sixty five minutes and it was going to be a nervy last fifteen minutes from both sides as the game could go anyway.
Derry still had a great movement to their play and with McCarter and Semple on their game everything was possible as confidence once again was restored. Derry were giving it a last throw of the dice on seventy five minutes as they moved play dangerously inside the Bann half with options going right. Banbridge blinked first as their centre came out of the line to slap a ball down and with a penalty awarded he was dispatched to the bin and it was advantage Derry again. Andrew Semple kicked a great penalty from 35 meters and Derry were ahead by 26pts to 23pts.
The last five minutes were frantic as both teams attacked, Derry were looking for a bonus point try while Banbridge were looking to draw or win. It could have gone either way down to the last play of the game as Derry were unfairly penalised on the Bainbridge line. A quick tap penalty from The Bann took play inside the Derry half attacking on the left wing. Derry were light defensively on the right with a two on two, Banbridge out half Johnny kicked across field inside the Derry 22 and it was a fifty fifty ball, Hooker David Ferguson was covering and fielded beautifully to call a mark and kick to touch to end the game.
The home Coaches, Players and Supporter were delighted with this victory and it will hopefully restore missing confidence as the team head to Nenagh in Tipperary next Saturday for their next All Ireland League Fixture.
City of Derry RFC Team V Banbridge; Peter Henderson, William McCleery, David Funston(Capt), Adam Bratton, Johnny Kennedy, Andrew Semple, Stuart Simpson, Ross Harkin, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, David Houston, Chris Cooper, Richard Baird, Stephen Corr, Stephen Ferguson, Replacements; Chris Shields, Ryan Spratt, Bob McKillop, Richard McCaerter, Jack Hargan