NUIM Barnhall 20, City of Derry 32
City of Derry got their Ulster Bank All Ireland League Division 2B season of to the perfect start when they recorded a five-try bonus point victory away to Barnhall on Saturday.
Terry McMaster’s team were in scintillating form during a superb first half but had to withstand a fierce second half fight-back from the Kildare team before recording a deserved victory.
Derry have had some close encounters with the Kildare men in the past but when the Judges Road men were 22-0 in front at half-time and then scored another try within three minutes of the restart, it looked game over.
Barnhall had other ideas and put in a barnstorming second 40 minutes to come within one score of Derry with nine minutes to go. There was incessant pressure on the Derry line for the remainder of the game but an intercept from Andrew Semple one metre our from his own line saw him sprint the length of the field to seal victory.
It was a beautiful, dry day for rugby on Saturday and Barnhall took the advantage of the strong cross-field breeze in the first half but it was McMaster’s team who came out of the traps with all guns blazing.
The visitors almost scored within a couple of minutes when the ‘Omagh 2’ combined. Full-back Ali Beckett made the initial break up the right wing before passing to winger Neil Brown who showed great pace but was bundled out five metres short of the line.
It was all Derry pressure as Barnhall, even with the strong breeze, struggled to get out of their half. The Derry back row of Steven Dickey, John Burns and Stephen Corr were dominating the breakdown and carrying ball at every opportunity. John Burns was in superb form and on six minutes his powerful drive from halfway to the Barnhall ‘22 sucked in a few defenders before he found Semple in support, the scrum-half releasing winger Brown to score by the posts and with Neil Burns converting, Derry were 7-0 up.
The Derry scrum was impressive throughout with Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan and Sam Duffy getting the better of their opponents and with Chris Cooper dominating the line-outs, supported by Adam Bratton, the Derry set-piece was secure. Burns repeated his heroics again on 16 minutes with a replica drive to the Barnhall 22, this time Beckett was in support to cut through and pass inside to Neil Burns who touched down between the posts and converted himself for 14-0.
The Derry back three of Simon Logue, Beckett and Brown were electric and supported by centres, Stuart Simpson who had a great first half, and David Graham, scores looked on any time they attacked.
Logue was almost in for a try but was stopped short and then Beckett almost put his name on the scoreboard as well. It was all Derry pressure and Barnhall were ‘fire-fighting’ to survive, especially after losing two men in quick succession to the sin bin.
Barnhall eventually got their hands on the ball and got some time in the game on the half hour mark. Continual pressure on the Derry line for almost 10 minutes saw complete honesty, trust and commitment in the tackle for every Derry player as the referee awarded four penalties in quick succession as the Judges Road pack fronted up to five scrums on their own line.
The reward eventually was turnover ball 5m out and a try ‘from the gods’ for Derry. The ball was moved quickly out of defence by Neil Burns who made a great break down the right touchline. When the tackle arrived on half-way, he looped a ‘miracle’ pass over his head inside to David Graham who had a free run to the line to touch down in the corner for an unconverted try and a 19-0 lead.
Craig Huey came on for Dickey as half time was drawing close and Beckett was almost in for another try but Barnhall gave away a penalty trying to stop him. Neil Burns converted the resultant kick and Derry’s lead was 22 points.
The visitors started the second half in fine style with a scrum just inside the Barnhall half. Stephen Corr picked up at No. 8 and drove forward before passing outside to Brown who ran in from 40m to touch down in the corner and at 27-0, it looked like game over. David Funston was on for Simpson and with rolling substitutions Graham Murphy, Stephen Duffy and Corey Logan were all used as the game wore on.
Barnhall had made two changes at half-time that were to change the course of the game. Simon Gillespie came on at out-half and Paul Nalty came into the back row and their impact evolved slowly as they cut down the mistakes that Barnahll had made in the first half.
Derry struggled to get their hands on the ball and when they did they were unable to hold on to it for long enough. A simple pick-up from a scrum by Barnhall No. 8 Tom McKeown on 55 minutes and an unconverted try saw Barnhall finally on the scoreboard at 27-5.
Five minutes later and loose tackling allowed Barnhall second row Conor McDermott in for a try which Gillespie converted and it was suddenly 27-12.
It was all Barnhall now, Gillespie kicking a penalty on 70 minutes and when Brian Hennebby got over for a try on 75 minutes it was game on with Derry’s lead was down to 27-20.
Derry then lost Semple was sent to the sin bin and it was all out attack from Barnhall but outstanding tackling for Derry kept their line intact despite conceding penalty after penalty as the pressure mounted.
It was from a ‘tap and go’ penalty that Barnhall, well into injury, tried to go again and looked to find their winger with a ‘cut out’ pass but Semple, coming back from the ‘bin’, appeared from nowhere to intercept and score a try at the other end to leave the final score 32-20.
City of Derry; Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Steven Dickey, John Burns (capt), Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Neil Burns, Simon Logue, Stuart Simpson, David Graham, Neil Brown, Ali Beckett. Replacements; Graham Murphy, Stephen Duffy, Craig Huey, Corey Logan, David Funston.