CITY of Derry were handed a stark reminder of the difference between Ulster and All Ireland League rugby in their opening Division 2A game against a hugely impressive University College Cork side at Judges Road on Saturday.
Michael Wilson was at Judges Road
Photographs: Stephen Latimer
Put simply, Derry were taught a lesson by the student side whose performance was almost flawless. Dominant in the line-out, a solid scrum, superb handling and pacy support play of the highest order. It was exactly what Derry Head Coach Mark Nicholl had hoped to see, just not from the opposition. Six tries probably didn’t do Cork’s display justice and, on this 80 minutes, the team relegated from 1B last season could be front runners for an instant return to the higher division.
It was in contrast to a Derry display which was typified by misplaced passes, unreliable set-pieces and poor decision making in crucial areas of the pitch. They never got going as Nicholl conceded after the game.
“It was very, very disappointing,” admitted Derry’s Head Coach, “I thought the better side on the day won. Things we had worked on in training over the past three or four weeks, we didn’t put into practice. Basically anything that could go wrong, did go wrong. It was the right result.
“We didn’t keep the ball as well as we can to make the opposition work harder in defence. We didn’t tackle low enough and certainly, we didn’t tackle on our own terms, so it was very disappointing.
“It doesn’t matter who you are playing, you have to tackle low and put them to the ground. We will have to reassess things and maybe look at a few players’ attitudes because it certainly wasn’t what we would require.”
The silver lining for Nicholl is there should be little question of this squad’s character. Time and time again during their rise from the junior ranks they have had problems posed. Time and time again they have appeared on the brink of losing crucial games. But time and time again, these players have responded and Nicholl does not believe they will allow one bad day at the office to define their season.
“We don’t become a bad team because of one result,” he explained, “We will get back to the training ground on Tuesday night and we kick-on from there. It is not all doom and gloom. As I said to the boys before the game, we were not going to win the league simply by defeating Cork but, similarly, we are not going to lose it because we have lost one game. There are still 14 to play and I am more than confident we will finish in the top four.
“It was an improved second half but we still didn’t keep the ball as well as we could. Defensively it improved in certain areas but to give away tries like we did is a cardinal sin.”
Starting without Peter Henderson, Chris Cooper and Richard Baird, this was a strangely subdued Derry. Cork set the tone by winning turn over ball less than three minutes in before making ground into the Derry half and forcing the penalty after a high tackle. The game’s best player - Cork out-half Sean Og Murphy - stepped up with a superb kick for the game’s opening score.
Andrew Semple’s quick thinking released Josh Lewis for a run that eventually led to Richard McCarter levelling through a penalty but that was as good as it got for Derry.
Cork’s opening try arrived on 14 minutes with flanker Cathal Gallagher getting on the end of flowing support play to give the final pass to hooker Kieran Stokes with Murphy converting. Gallagher was in the middle of things again when his final pass this time set Kevin Slater through to touch down under the posts and with the conversion the visitors had a 17-3 lead.
Derry had their chances and, as a coach, there is little can be done when talented and experienced players make basic errors with their passing. In trying to force their way back into the game Derry made the mistakes that allowed Cork’s expansive running game to flourish. Try number three was typical.
Decent build-up play had won Derry a line-out deep inside the Cork ‘22 and an opportunity to get back in the game. However confusion reigned as Cathal Cregan’s throw was long, gifting possession back to the visitors and within 30 seconds French winger Sylvain Raimondi was touching down at the far end with four players lining up outside him should he need them.
At 24-3, Nicholl rung the changes with Sam McAuley and Paul McFeely entering the fray and any joy Derry had would come in the scrum but it never looked like being enough. Twice in the space of four minutes they appeared on the brink of reducing the deficit. First referee David Keane inexplicably penalised a strong Derry scrum that looked to have the drive to roll their Cork counterparts back over their own line. Minutes later, with men on the overlap, Derry’s final pass was carelessly thrown out of play. It summed up the half.
To make matters worse, in the second minute of added time, Murphy waltzed through three non-existent Derry tackles to walk in under the post before converting his own try for a 31-3 interval lead.
Things improved slightly after the break with McAuley being driven over three minutes in to reduce the deficit to 31-8 but Derry now had to throw caution to the wind which made conditions perfect for the counter-attacking Cork side. Play was swinging from one end to the other but the difference in the teams was summarised when McCarter produced an excellent break from his own 22. When outnumbered he had to wait for Stephen Corr who was the only Derry player in support. The big back row made ground but again had to hold off three Cork men before finding Josh Lewis who had joined the break late but the momentum was lost and Lewis made little head way.
Corr did eventually get in for a try after Slater had increased Cork’s advantage thanks to more generous Derry defence but Murphy fittingly put the seal on the visitors’ win when he was one of three supporting Cork players that joined in a pitch-long break to touch down under and posts and convert.
A disappointing end to a disappointing day but with a visit to Seapoint to come on Saturday, Nicholl knows his team have the perfect opportunity to bounce straight back.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beattie, Brian Prue, David Houston, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Jack Caithness, David Funston, Ryan Campebll, Simon Logue. Replacements: Sam McAuley, Steven Jefferson, Paul McFeely, James Fawcett, David Graham.
U.C.C.:Peter McCabe, Kieran Stokes, Brain Scott, Brian Quill, Donal McSweeney, Cathal Gallagher, Jonathan McCarthy, Willie Ryan, Darly Foley, Sean Og Murphy, Conor Barry, Daniel Horgan, Kevin Slater, Sylvain Raimondi, Joe Holland. (Replacements) Mark O’Mahoney, Shane Moynihan, John Fitzgerald, Steve Dinan, Charlie Regan.
Referee: David Keane.