CITY OF Derry prepared for this Saturday’s All-Ireland League Division 2A kick-off with an impressive Ulster Senior League victory over Queens University at ‘The Dub’.
And the Judges Road club’s supporters, management and players can feel very satisfied with their weekend’s work as the inaccuracy and impatience of the previous encounter against Instonians was replaced by a self-assured and direct display of running rugby.
City of Derry played the first half with a slight breeze in perfect conditions and almost immediately had Queens pinned in their 22 after strong carriers from second rows Phillip Brady and Bob McKillop.
The ball was taken strongly down the left flank and after a couple of pick and goes the scrambling Queens defence were grouped. The play was quickly spread across the backline where any one of three players could have run it in but last year’s top try scorer, Peter Henderson gratefully opened his account for the season.
Richard Peoples in his first outing of the season converted to give Derry a deserved 7-0 lead after seven minutes.
Derry again took the ball back deep inside the Queens 22 after a series of quick rucks which allowed half-back Andrew Semple to snipe and thread the willing runners through the retreating Queens defences.
Richard Baird was dragged down metres from the line but the quick ball was recycled and beautiful quick hands from prop, Chris Shields and Andrew Semple put Simon Logue in the left corner unmarked. However, the gift wasn’t accepted from Logue who uncharacteristically spilled the ball.
This reprieve seemed to awaken the Queens outfit who then preceded to play a brand of student rugby that was enjoyed by both sets of supporters.
The pace and offloading was of the highest order and only desperate Derry defence closed out a number of Queens attacks. Player of the day, David Funston at centre had a hugely influential game defensively and was responsible for closing down a number of promising raids.
After absorbing the Queens pressure Derry quickly re-established their territorial advantage and with both lineout and scrum dominance they began to turn the screw on the young Queens outfit.
Adam Bratton continued his try scoring habit on the 30 minute mark when he broke Queens defences with a powerful series of fends and a 30m dash to the line. The try was unconverted but Derry now enjoyed a 12-0 advantage.
Derry dominated much of the exchanges for the remainder of the half but the students deservedly scored an unconverted try on 33 minutes after a good passage of play from a long range counter attack.
Despite playing into a slight breeze Derry monopolised possession and direct running from Richard Baird, Bob McKillop and Steven Corr always had the students on the back foot.
Halves, Semple and Peoples varied the attack well, playing the wide channels when the Queens defences were grouped. Right winger Josh Lewis displayed some great footwork to unlock the defences before linking with supporting forwards who carried the ball into the Queens 22.
The ball was quickly recycled before Chris Barber showed great speed and balance to evade three defenders before scoring under the posts.
Peoples failed to convert from out in front which meant it was still a two score game when Queens narrowed the margin from a long range penalty to make it 17-8.
However, Derry looked comfortable on the ball and built phases from deep. A great counter from Baird saw him link with David Funston who gave a ‘Sonny Bill’ offload into evergreen, McKillop who took the ball strongly to the half.
The quickly recycled ball saw Adam Parke put Baird through a gap and then debutant Graeme Dunn ranged up in support and showed great pace and presence of mind to stay up until support came when he was eventually hauled in by the stretched Queens defence.
The recycled ball saw Parke switch the attack blind and take the ball forward strongly before offloading in the tackle to Steven Corr to score the bonus point try. A superb sideline conversion by Parke saw Derry ease out to 24-8.
Coach, Bevan Lynch introduced what was left on the bench with 25 minutes to go with Ian Vance replacing the impressive Semple and Gareth Beatie in for Sam Duffy at tight head.
These players continued the momentum with polished displays which was a demonstration of the growing depth among the youthful Derry ranks.
Henderson added to his first half touchdown with a further score after a series of aggressive tackles from Parke, Barber and Funston saw Queens spill the ball in their 22. Henderson gratefully collected the ball and went in untouched to make the score 29-8 with seven minutes to play.
Queens showed their fighting spirit when their most dangerous player, full-back, Matthew Quinn, scored a converted try in the final movement of the game to leave the score at 29-15.
Queens stalwart Robbie Moore was quick to congratulate both Derry players and management for their positive style of rugby and he conceded his Queens side were out-played in every aspect of the game.