CIty of Derry will have a new look centre partnership this weekend when they welcome old rivals Armagh to Judges Road in an Ulster Senior League clash (kick-off 2.30pm).
Michael Wilson reports
With the injuries mounting following last Saturday’s superb AIL victory over Old Wesley in Dublin, tomorrow’s fixture is an ideal opportunity for Bevan Lynch and Mark Nicholl to look at some new combinations ahead of next weekend’s crucial Ulster Senior Cup semi-final with Ballymena, also at Judges Road.
With that in mind, Adam Parke lines-up at first centre against the Orchard County men alongside Chris Barber while there are also starts for the returning Ryan Campbell and tight head prop Gareth Beattie who will be looking to put pressure on Sam Duffy for a place in the First XV.
Adam Bratton is sidelined with a broken collar bone and joins Peter Henderson, Chris Cooper and Bob McKillop on the treatment table but there was better news concerning David Funston who, despite a scare during last weekend’s win, should be fit enough for a place on the bench tomorrow.
“We’ve got some young players who we want to have a look at, players who have been chomping to get a bit of rugby and this is a chance to freshen things up ahead of Ballymena,” explained Lynch.
“It’s great to have a competition which affords you the opportunity to develop players, that’s something which we never had in the Junior grades and it can be hard to introduce young players when every game is a ‘must win’. That pressure cooker situation makes bringing players through more difficult.”
Despite the rotation and next week’s cup fixture, Derry’s Head Coach said he is expecting a tough test from a team which Derry defeated in a dramatic Irish Junior Cup final two years ago before pipping them to the Kukri Ulster Qualifying league title and subsequent promotion in the same season.
“Armagh have lost their last couple of games and will come here determined to win and what better way to do it than against the old foes. I have no doubt they will come up with their strongest possible team,” added Lynch.
“We are taking things one game at a time. We have a really important game to get over against Armagh but then we will be trying to build up as much information on Ballymena as we can.
“We know Ballymena have a big pack and a strong running midfielder who likes to carry the ball but that will be for next week, our focus at the moment is Armagh. It is particularly important that the regular players who are playing on Saturday perform to help those coming in show what they can do.
“At the moment we are going through a difficult period with the number of injuries we’ve suffered but it is something we have to pull together to get through and that was what we saw last week against Old Wesley. Everyone contributed to a great win, every player was needed and that sort of attitude which will help carry us through until after Christmas when hopefully we will get two or three players back.”
One player not likely to feature tomorrow is club captain Sam McAuley who saw the red card he received in the Old Wesley win overturned at a hearing in Ravenhill on Wednesday night. Despite that decision, McAuley will have to rest the shoulder injury which has troubled him in recent weeks but the Lynch is delighted his captain has been cleared.
“The decision to overturn Sam’s red card was a great relief. Our saving grace in the situation was that the referee was being assessed and we had good video and audio of the incident. The thing is, if it had been left to what was written on the referee’s report Sam would have probably been suspended for six weeks. It is not the first time there has been a discrepancy about what a linesman perceived he saw and what happen but the right decision was arrived at and I’m delighted for Sam.
“He is a leader among the boys and it will be a great relief for him and for the rest of us that is free to play,” he added.