City of Derry Head coach Bevan Lynch is backing to his players to build on Saturday’s 12-point Ulster Senior League victory at Ballynahinch as the Judges Road club enters the definitive stage of their AIL campaign.
The locals produced a workman like performance to secure a bonus point at the county Down venue which moves them up to second place in the table, just six points behind leaders Dungannon.
An added bonus for Lynch was the try-scoring return of highly-rated full-back Peter Henderson who seems to be working his way back to full fitness in perfect time for next weekend’s crunch AIL clash with Clonakilty in west Cork.
All in all, a satisfactory day at the office for Derry who had not played since New year’s Eve though Lynch knows the real tests are yet to come.
“I was pleased with our performance against Ballynahinch,” said Lynch, “It was out first games since we defeated Ballymena and it was good to get the cobwebs out of the system.
“We defended really well as a unit and our line speed was impressive. We have a few very important games coming up in the AIL over the next few weeks which will determine how good a season we are going to have but we can look forward with confidence after today.
“I was pleased with our back play at times but we have work to do, our players have a good work ethic and I feel we will improve as the remainder of the season progresses,” he added.
The playing conditions at Mountview Road were cold and damp with a strong wind blowing across the pitch throughout the game which made it difficult for players, especially at line-out time.
Derry started with a slight wind advantage and were soon on top thanks to strong driving play from a lively pack in which Sam Duffy, Chris Shields, Gareth Beattie and David Houston produced some strong drives to keep Ballynahinch on the back foot.
Richard McCarter kicked two penalties on five and seven minutes for an early Derry lead following ‘Hinch infringements at the breakdown.
It was all Derry early on as the visitor’s scrum dominated throughout. The pressure eventually told on 13 minutes when three quick ruck balls, courtesy of the impressive back row where Johnny Lyons was making his debut, got quick ball for Andrew Semple to find captain Sam McAuley loitering with intent on the wing. McAuley showed no shortage of pace and power to crash over for an unconverted try after going past two men in the process and Derry led 11-0.
Ballynahinch got some decent possession and pulled themselves back into the game when Derry were penalised on 20 minutes, Lash converting the resultant penalty to cut Derry’s lead to 11-3. When ‘Hinch came straight back from the kick-off to get outside centre McCormick in for an unconverted try on 21 minutes, it looked like Derry could be in for a long afternoon.
However, as they have so often in the past, Derry once again rose to the challenge and David Funston, Adam Bratton and Simon Logue produced flashes of outstanding, attacking play. The pressure began to tell on Ballynahinch who had their hooker sin-binned after 25 minutes.
The try of the game arrived on 32 minutes when the Derry forwards, led by McAuley and supported by Houston, Lyons, Corr and Beattie, got quality ball to produce a flowing movement through the heart of the ‘Hinch defence. Sam Duffy drove forward and, when stopped, found Logue who got in behind the defence and with Hinch in disarray, Semple found Henderson who marked his return to competitive rugby with an excellent team try which left the score at 16-8 at the interval.
The home side started the second half in positive fashion and within five minutes their forwards had got in for an unconverted try to leave just three between the teams. Derry came right back at ‘Hinch and excellent play on 47 minutes from Henderson, Funston and Bratton allowed McCarter to release winger William McCleery to show pace and power to score a real winger’s try. With McCarter converting Derry had pulled 23-13 clear.
Ballynahinch refused to be bowed though and sustained pressure again saw their centre McCormick get in for an unconverted try to bring it back to 23-18 with the game very much in the balance.
Derry were always dangerous when they got inside the home 22 and good line-out ball from Houston was the platform for a training ground move on 55 minutes which saw McCarter switch with McCleery who was coming in off the wing to dart through the gap and touch down between the posts. With McCarter again converting 30-18 provided Lynch’s men with some breathing space as well as securing the bonus point.
The remaining 25 minutes produced little of note on the scoring front but it did see some outstanding defending from Derry with Mike Ryan, Cathal Creggan, Stephen Ferguson and Stephen Corr outstanding.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, David Houston, Gareth Beatty, Stephen Corr, Johnny Lyons, Stephen Ferguson, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, David Funston, Adam Bratton, William McCleery, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Cathal Cregan, Mike Ryan, Adam Parke, Ryan Campbell, Richard Peoples