GIFTS delivered courtesy of a certain high-flying individual are not unusual at this time of year!
Michael Wilson was at Judges Road
Photographs: Joe Boland
And while this individual in question was wearing green and black rather than red and white, make no mistake about it, Davy Houston’s dominance of all things aerial against Ulster rivals Instonians on Saturday might prove the best present Derry Head Coach Bevan Lynch receives this festive season.
Houston’s superb performance in the line-out - aided by excellent support from a pack which grew in confidence as the game went on - laid the foundation for a five-try victory which moves Derry up to 12th in the AIL Division 2A table. And it was little more than they deserved.
With the forwards in control, there was plenty of quick possession for a back-line which was patient when it had to be and ruthless when it should. It wasn’t a perfect display but it was exactly what Derry were looking for as the AIL goes into Christmas hibernation until the end of January.
“That was just the result we needed,” admitted Lynch, “We asked the boys to put in a good performance and for the majority of the game we did the right things at the right times and the scoreboard reflected that.
“We have been stuttering on three tries for a while and I thought it was going to happen again so it was nice to get those last two tries. They were well-taken and will certainly make the points table look a little better for us. We targeted this one to get five points and it was good to achieve that.”
First half tries from Houston and the marauding Stephen Ferguson had Derry 18-11 up at the break and when Inst. threatened after half-time, a defence which has been criticised over recent weeks stood up to be counted and denied the Belfast men the consolation of a bonus point.
On his side’s success in the set-pieces, the Derry Head coach was fulsome in his praise of his forwards. “John Nicholl does the videoing for us and we really put the set-pieces under the microscope this week as there were three or four things hampering us. There was a bit of early shorts holding and initially that wasn’t allowing Davy (Houston) to move around as much as he would like and you saw today he was a free spirit with Bob (McKillop) and Chris (Shields) lifting superbly.
“There was a great supply of ball and with that, the confidence went up and we launched some good attacks down through the midfield.
“It wasn’t a spotless performance. There were five or six dropped balls when opportunities were begging and I was thinking was it was going to be one of those days again but, yes, it was really nice to see the boys string some quality moves together.
“We are four points clear of Instonians now but the pleasing thing was our defence. Our defence hasn’t been good enough this season and it was a little better in this game but we have a long way to go in that regard. If we get our defence right we know our attack can look after itself. We made some small improvements against Instonians so I’m pleased.”
And he had every reason to be because this was a measured, classy display which reaffirmed the belief that Derry can still climb into a challenging position even if they have left themselves with too much to do as regards promotion.
There were scarcely 90 seconds gone when Richard McCarter kicked the home side into an early lead courtesy of a 25 m. penalty but another 90 seconds saw Rory McCann respond in similar fashion after Derry had strayed offside.
Derry’s first try arrived on seven minutes following an initial McCarter break which could have seen Baird put in Sam McAuley for a try but the big back-row chose to turn inside with McAuley screaming for a pass on the outside. Derry retained possession though thanks to the eagle eyes of a touch-judge who spotted a Inst. knock-on the referee missed. From the ensuing scrum, Adam Bratton made a powerful break before the ball was quickly recycled through Andrew Semple and McCarter to pick out Houston who broke the defensive line to score under the posts with McCarter converting.
Things got even better on 26 minutes when, following an Inst kick, Josh Lewis made a break which when stopped allowed Stephen Corr to pick and drive at the Belfast defence. The ball was eventually worked left where full-back Simon Logue joined the line and spotted a gap. His side-step took out most of the visiting defence and allowed Semple to pick out Ferguson in acres of space for a text book try.
Marcus Hart responded with a try for Instonians and when McCann slotted over a penalty for 15-8, the gap was closer than Instonians deserved, McCarter late penalty giving it a slightly better look at the interval.
If the home support was nervous at the break they needn’t have been as Derry started the second half in style. When Semple was held after the tackle, McCarter kicked the penalty into the corner from where that man Houston secured great possession and fed it back to Semple. The scrum-half threw an outrageous dummy before ducking inside the cover and scoring under the posts with McCarter converting for 25-11.
Matt Irwin’s yellow card for constantly infringing on the offside line didn’t help Instonians but David Funston quickly followed to make it 14-a-side.
Substitute Ryan Campbell’s superb late tackle denied Inst a 55th minute try which would have brought them back into the game, although McCann did managed to reduce the deficit via a penalty.
However when constant Derry pressure ended with Baird crashing over for 30-14, it was game over and the visitors knew it. The home side however saved the best for last though when, with 11 minutes remaining, a sublime blind side move involving Semple and Baird ended with ‘Rhino’ Campbell diving over in the corner to clinch a morale-boosting and richly deserved five points.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, Davy Houston, Bob McKillop, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Josh Lewis, David Funston, Chris Barbour, Adam Bratton, Simon Logue. (Replacements) Gareth Beattie, Cathal Cregan, Chris McDonald, Richard Peoples, Ryan Campbell.
Instonians: Paddy Dornan, Ryan Jablonski, Alan Whitten, Matt Irwin, Kenny Morton, Mark Hill, Daryl Marshall, Andy McKeen, Michael Sargent, Rory McCann, Marcus Hart, Jamie Scott, Seamus Mallon, Robbie Kirk, Gareth McClintock. (Replacements) Neill Simpson, David McGovern, Mark Jones, Rory McCurry, Matthew Wright.
Referee: Mark Hermin (IRFU).