CITY of Derry coach Bevan Lynch admitted there was plenty of room for improvement after he watched his team throw away a 17-point lead against Belfast Harlequins at Deramore Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Judges Road men raced into the early lead with two well worked tries in the opening 10 minutes before a number of unforced errors allowed Harlequins to bounce back and claim the points with four unanswered tries of their own.
Lynch admitted the game had been a step up from his side’s opening day victory over Banbridge and felt Derry had been the architects of their own downfall.
“You cannot expect to beat a side of Harlequins quality with a malfunctioning line-out and conceding 18 penalties,” explained the Kiwi coach.
“It is early days though and these areas are all things we can control and address at training. I thought there were a lot of positives and it was definitely a step up from last week’s performance against Banbridge.
“I thought some of the rugby we played in the first half was top draw and it was great to see Mark Walker back in the Derry jersey – he was very influential at the breakdown. We will look forward to addressing the areas which allowed Harlequins back into the game ahead of next week as we would like to have a long run in the Cup campaign.”
That Cup fixture will be an early chance for revenge as the side meet next weekend at Judges Road in the Ulster Senior Cup and Lynch will be after a similar start from his team who hit the ground running.
After absorbing some early pressure, Derry took control played some superb rugby to unlock the hosts.
First, the forwards provided excellent front-foot ball which allowed the backs to make good ground as Derry built the phases in which some of the off-loading was of the highest order. Second row Phil Brady ran a great flat line and after bouncing off the first line of defence, he spun out of a covering tackle to score next to the uprights with Richard McCarter converting for 7-0 lead after just three minutes.
Buoyed by the start, Derry showed a willingness to move the ball but it was from a Derry turnover that Harlequins mounted a threatening counter-attack from halfway. Mark Walker who had already been instrumental in a number of turnovers tracked back 30m before snuffing out the danger and dispossessing his bewildered opponent. The loose ball was quickly snapped up by Andy Semple who spotted space down the left flank and hit an open Adam Bratton. Bratton showed tremendous pace and power to beat the initial defence and held off a desperate defender to score a fantastic 85m counter-attack. Richard McCarter hit a superb strike for the touchline to convert for a 14-0 lead.
It was Bratton again in the action when he ran on to a beautiful ball from McCarter to split the scrambling Quins defence. With Derry players lining up to continue the attack, Quins wisely slowed the ruck ball and from the penalty McCarter knocked it over from 30m.
With half an hour gone the only thing Derry wasn’t winning was the penalty count and despite playing in such a positive mood, the referee deemed Ryan Campbell’s first offence in an infrequent Quins attack warranting a yellow card. On the back of two penalties Harlequins had good field position and Matthew Heaney converted the numerical advantage with a well worked back row move from a scrum inside the Derry ‘22.
After the break Derry were returned to their full complement but Harlequins began to use the breeze to play position. Derry were struggling to gain a territorial dominance which wasn’t helped by a malfunctioning line-out and uncharacteristic turnovers but they looked comfortable on defence and snuffed out Harlequins’ most promising attack after 28 minutes to earn a defensive penalty. Andrew Semple tapped the ball quickly but failed to gather and although it did not touch his hands the referee deemed it a knock-on. This decision was significant as this sparked Harlequins comeback.
The resulting scrum saw Quins quickly recycle and confusion between ‘player of the day’ Walker and McCarter saw Harlequins stroll through for a very soft try which Heaney converted for 17-14.
Derry didn’t need to play catch up but rather than clear their lines from another turnover they countered from deep and from the ensuing ruck the ball was spilled loose. As Semple went to clean up he appeared to be illegally obstructed but despite Derry’s protests, the alert right winger picked up the loose ball and sprinted 20m to score the winning try. Matthew Heaney who was in excellent kicking form converted to give Harlequins 21-17 lead.
Derry were again pinned back into their half after losing another line-out and Harlequins denied Derry even a bonus point when, in the 39th minute, the ball spilled out the side of the dominant Derry scrum.The Quins half-back flicked the ball to the unmarked winger to stroll 15m to score the bonus point try which Heaney converted to give Harlequins a 28-17 win.