City of Derry 20, University College Cork 21
With one AIL game remaining, City of Derry’s hopes of remaining in Irish rugby’s third tier hang by a thread after an under strength Judges Road 15 fell to an agonising one point, home defeat against University College Cork on Saturday.
Making matters worse for the locals was a set of results that saw fellow top-10 chasing sides Naas and Nenagh both win to leave Terry McMaster’s side four points adrift of UCC and Nenagh (and five behind ninth placed Barnhall) in 12th position going in to their final AIL fixture of the season away to Seapoint on April 11th.
Even victory over the Dubliners may not be enough to secure that coveted top-10 finish with Derry now reliant on results elsewhere as U.C.C. host Blackrock, Naas travel to Thomond and Queen’s entertain Barnhall in Belfast on the final day.
This weekend’s losing bonus point will feel like scant reward for McMaster and his players following a game which could have gone either way. Without his regular half-back partnership of Andrew Semple of Richard McCarter, the Derry Head coach was forced into a reshuffle which saw Peter Henderson moved from full-back into No. 10 and David Graham dropping back to No. 15. Derry’s personnel problems didn’t improve when they action got under way either as both Bob McKillop, and Chris Barber were forced off injured stretching the Judges Road resources almost to breaking point.
Despite this, the home side could not have got off to a better start with the superb David Ferguson crashing over for the game’s opening try only 90 seconds in. When the visitors were caught off-side, Derry kicked into the corner. Davy Houston secured good line-out possession before Derry set up a driving maul that ended with Ferguson diving over. Henderson missed the subsequent conversion in what were difficult and blustery conditions but Derry had the start they wanted.
It didn’t last long though as the Students dismissed any thoughts Derry would have things their own way within 10 minutes of Derry’s opening score. Having passed up one likely try, right winger Killian Ansboro dashed through a gap in the home defence to touch down. The Cork 15 included Kevin Kidney, son of former Ireland Head Coach, Declan, but the scrum-half was unable to kick the conversion and the game was level at 5-5.
The whirlwind start didn’t stop there either. Straight from the subsequent restart, Derry turned Cork over to secure possession from which Ferguson made another incisive break which tied up three UCC backs. He was stopped short but Derry quickly switched play right where Adam Bratton had come in off the wing to forced his way over between the posts. Henderson this time converted and with 14 minutes on the clock, Derry led 12-5.
It was a fascinating spectacle but if anything it was too open and suited the Students’ running game though the loss of Semple and McCarter meant Derry had loss their two first choice kickers which had a major bearing on their ability to manage the game.
With McKillop having hobbled off on 15 minutes, Cork reduced the deficit to 12-8 through a Kidney penalty on 24 minutes. Barber then exited proceedings with what looked like a recurrence of the shoulder injury which has kept him out of much of the last 18 months.
Four minutes before the break Cork should have had their second try when they brilliantly worked a three man over-load on Derry’s right flank but centre Jack Murphy inexplicably knocked on when he had the simple task of running in unopposed to score. It was a let-off but one Derry didn’t heed.
Three minutes later U.C.C. had their try after Henderson failed to find touch from a Derry penalty on half-way allowing Cork to run the ball back through four players, an excellent move ending with hooker Brian Vaughan scoring to leave it 12-13 at the break.
The second half was just as close. Cork started in similar fashion to Derry’s first half salvo as the impressive Kidney produced a lovely chip forward over his shoulder which deceived Bratton. The Derry winger’s hesitation allowed his Cork counterpart, Ansboro, to steal in and the visitors lead was 18-12.
Again though, Derry found a response and it came within four minutes. A patient build up saw, Derry go through the phases until the ball was eventually worked right from where Jack Beattie made an excellent break. The winger was eventually held up but Derry recycled quickly and moved the ball left gain where Davy Houston was the man over to score close to the posts with Henderson converting.
With only one point between them now, Derry won a 56th minute penalty which allowed Henderson to out the home side ahead at 20-18 but it remained anyone’s game.
Indeed it took some heroic Derry defending over the next 15 minutes as Cork threw everything at the home line but were constantly held up. However the pressure finally told when UCC won a penalty in front of the posts from which Kidney slotted the visitors into a one point lead at 21-20 with seven minutes to go.
Derry responded with a spell of pressure but couldn’t quite make the break that would have brought victory, with the home side on UCC’s 5m line when referee Dermot Blake’s full-time whistle sounded. It adequately summed up how close a contest this was but the one point defeat leaves Derry now with a mountain to climb.
Derry: Ross Harkin, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Bob McKillop, David Houston, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Stephen Ferguson, Stuart Simpson, Peter Henderson, Adam Bratton, Chris Barber, David Funston, Jack Beattie, David Graham. (Replacements) Chris Shields, Cathal Cregan, Chris Cooper, David Devine, Tiernan Thornton.
U.C.C.: Charlie Slowey, Brian Vaughan, Dave Harnett, Kieran Frost, David O’Connell, Conor Barry, Dean Nolan, Eddie Earle, Charlie O’Regan, Kevin Kidney, James Kiernan, Cian Murphy, Jack Murphy, Killian Ansboro, Brendan Monaghan.
Referee: Dermot Blake (IRFU)