City of Derry Rugby Club gifted their supporters with an early Christmas present on Saturday afternoon with five converted trys during a superb first half display on their way to an Ulster Senior League victory over Banbridge at Judges Road.
Banbridge were trailing by 30 points at the half-time break but increased their tally with three trys of their own in the second half to come away with a bonus point.
The two teams will meet again in the All-Ireland League on January 25th in Banbridge in what should be another fantastic game.
The conditions were arctic at the Waterside venue on Saturday with a crossfield wind that gave Derry the slight advantage in the first half.
Banbridge started the better after a Derry mistake from the kick-off and a sustained period of pressure gave them a penalty shot on five minutes but the Co Down side’s out-half Shandon Scott was wide.
Derry got their hands on the ball eventually and with that control of the game which they maintained for virtually the remainder of the half.
The set-piece was the foundation for Derry’s good play with their outstanding back row of Stephen Corr, Richard Baird and Stephen Ferguson dominating the breakdown and threatening to make that vital break.
Beattie, McFeely and Cooper set up quick ball for scrum half, Jack Caithness on 15 minutes and out half Andrew Semple linked with Neil Burns to make a great break.
Burns found Stephen Corr on his shoulder to score a wing forward’s try which Burns converted to give the home side a seven points lead.
Derry were back for more on 20 minutes when Burns pounced on a Banbridge mistake on the halfway line and launched the ball forward.
Winger Jack Hargan was alert to the opportunity and he was on the ball quickly to chip forward and touch by the posts for an opportunist try and with Burns converting Derry led by 14-0.
Derry were firing on all cylinders now and centre Adam Bratton and winger Stephen Brennan combined to give Sam Duffy ball to carry into the Banbridge half.
Duffy offloaded to Richard Baird on the run who had the Banbridge defence in disarray as he found Caithness to allow Semple to produce an exquisite side step and score by the posts. Burns converted for a 21-0 advantage.
Cathal Cregan was unfortunately sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on after 30 minutes and Banbridge capitalised immediately. Johnny Graham found scrum half Lee Stenson who passed to Hugo Harbinson on a switch move to touch down for an unconverted try and the score was 21pts to 5pts.
Derry produced two quick trys to finish the half in style, the first on 39 minutes when Chris Cooper won lineout ball 22 metres out and a powerful forward drive took play to the Banbridge line.
Jack Caithness was on hand when the ball was put to ground to pick up and dive over the line and touch down. Burns converted for a 28pts to 5pts lead.
Derry were back from the kick-off when Stephen Ferguson took ball forward in a powerful run with men hanging off him he passed to Semple on the halfway line.
The confident Semple broke forward and drew the last man as he fixed him with a stare to nonchalantly pop a pass without looking to Simon Logue outside him at full speed and the winger ran over the line for a great try. Burns converted for a half-time lead of 35-5.
The visitors got their forwards into the game in the second half when they kicked a penalty to touch on 15 minutes and a driving maul gave their No.8 Jonny Graham the chance to touch down for a try and Scott converted to reduce Derry’s lead to 35-12.
Derry coach Mark Nicholl went to the bench and brought on Bob McKillop who immediately imposed himself on the game at the breakdown.
Twenty minutes in and Hugo Harbinson was allowed to run across the midfield defence to touch down for an unconverted try in the corner and Derry’s lead was cut to 35-17.
Banbridge eventually got a deserved bonus point try on the stroke of full-time when Peter Cromie got in for a try which Scott converted to leave the final score 35-24.
Derry’s next home game is Rainey in the Ulster Senior League this Saturday.