City of Derry welcome back Richard McCarter and David Funston for Saturday’s trip to Greystones with Head Coach Terry McMaster warning they can take nothing for granted in the AIL Division 2B title race.
The Judges Road men are 16 points clear of second placed Highfield at the top with Greystones sitting in fourth, a further two points adrift.
It is a scenario which has led many to claim the title is already in Derry’s hands but that is not an opinion McMaster shares.
“We had targeted five games - Seapoint, Highfield, Rainey, Greystones and Dungannon - and are trying to win those fives because after Dungannon we get a break which will allow us to take a look and reset our goals,” explained the Derry head Coach.
“I wanted the players to treat these games almost as if they are ‘tour’ games and to concentrate solely on them.
“We didn’t give one of our best displays in the match against Greystones at Judges Road. It was poor so we know we have to improve on that performance. Greystones will still be going for top spot and they will believe that if they can beat us, maybe they can start the rot so that keeps us sharp.
“A number of people have said to me that the league is ours to lose but I don’t see it like that. As a teacher I’m pretty good at maths and there are six games left which means 30 points are on offer so until it is mathematically impossible for us to be caught, we won’t be relaxing and even if we reach that point we have our own goals we want to reach.”
Derry will give a late fitness test to scrum-half Andrew Semple who missed last week’s hard fought victory over Rainey having picked up a knock against Highfield. However, even if Semple isn’t deemed fit enough to start, McMaster has no worries over his No. 9 position after Simon Logue gave a superb display in Hatrick Park, Magherafelt last week.
“Last week was very encouraging. When you are on a bit of a run and then lose you No. 9, 10 and 12, that is potentially very difficult to deal with. Those players are your ‘game managers’ but the players that came in did excellent jobs, Simon (Logue) and Neil (Burns) were tremendous.
“We will give Andy a test before this weekend but I have now worries if I have to put Simon back in at scrum-half. Andy is always a threat there but Simon brings a different kind of threat and Greystones will not know what to expect from him.”
Last week saw a very different Derry from the free flowing, expansive side most people have become used to at Judges Road, as McMaster’s men ground out a difficult 19-12 victory.
“In the Rainey game, we did well with the ‘uncontrollables’ as I call them. The pitch was heavy which doesn’t suit the style of rugby we like to play and the weather was bad. Rainey knew they had a chance when they turned around at 10-12 but we didn’t give them the ball in the second half. Their coach said to me afterwards he thought it was their chance when he saw the changes we had to make but I was delighted because the players showed they could play a different type of game.
“We changed our game in the second half but I believe defence defines the spirit of the group and the players have proved since Christmas they have that spirit with only one try conceded in three games.
“Before the Christmas break we had become complacent in that we thought we could out-score most teams so why worry as much about defence but I explainedthat if we want to go further we had to improve defensively and they have taken that on board.”