CITY of Derry’s end of season renaissance gathered pace in Limerick on Saturday when the Judges Road men continued their late drive toward a unlikley promotion play-off spot with a richly deserved bonus point victory over Thomond.
The win was Derry’s seventh consecutive success in all competitions and despite only moving the lhe locals into ninth position, Bevan Lynch’s men now sit just four points behind third placed Seapoint and six behind De La Salle, Palmerstown in second with four games to go.
The North West men found themseves 10-3 down at half time but five superb trys and 34points later their goal of a top four finish remained very much within grasp.
Conditions in Limerick were dry for the most part and reasonable for rugby with Derry beginning with the advantage of a strong cross-field breeze. The early pressure came from the visitors but it was Thomond who were first on the scoreboard when, after ten minutes, with a simple move along the backline saw centre Mike Russell get in for an unconverted try and a 5-0 lead.
Derry were finding it difficult to cope with the big Thomond pack at the breakdown and there was little protection when the ball was won for scrum-half Andrew Semple meaning the backline were never able to work with quality possession. Thomond were looking the stronger team and in typical Munster style they pick and drove to the Derry line on 24 minutes which let hooker Alan O’Donnell in for an unconverted try to double the home advantage and things were not looking good for the visitors.
Derry did eventually get some quality possession inside the Thomond half but with lack of penetration they failed to threaten the Thomond line. However the increased time on the ball gave Derry confidence and continued pressure saw repeated infringements at the breakdown and it was no surprise when Thomond had Alan O’Donnell sent to the sin-bin after 38 minutes and Richard McCarter kicked the resultant penalty from 20m in front of the posts to leave Derry down 10-3 as the half time whistle sounded.
Superb Second half
Derry supporters must have been apprehensive about the chances of an away win after seeing their team play second fiddle for most of the first half. However coaches Bevan Lynch and Mark Nicholl set the template for victory down to their players at half time and what a start they enjoyed to the second half with Thomond still down to 14-players.
The Derry pack won possession in the home half from the kick off. Semple found Peter Henderson on his right, 40m out. The full-back made the break to release winger William McCleery who in turn showed a clean pair of heels as he scored in the corner for an unconverted try to put Derry right back in the game.
It was now all Derry as they were populating the breakdown with more intensity and began to produce quality possession for an always dangerous backline. It appeared only a matter of time before they took the lead and right on cue they moved ahead 56 minutes with an excellent 40m penalty from McCarter which gave them a 11-10 lead.
The Derry forwards were now in control with the back row of Stephen Corr, Stephen Duffy and Richard Baird outstanding and they had terrific support from ‘Man of the Match’ David Houston in the second row. Derry lost Corr to a shoulder injury early in the half but after 16 minutes Gareth Beattie and Chris Shields won good ball in the Thomond half and released Houston who made a telling break. As he drew the last defender, he released Simon Logue who finished in style for a try which McCarter converted and Derry‘s lead was 18-10.
Thomond reduced the arrears on 66 minutes with a penalty from Michael Ryan but Brian Prue, who had returned to fray after the loss of Corr, was to play a decisive role in Derry’s victory as he became prominent in the loose and won great ball at the lineout.
The Derry defence was solid as Ryan Campbell, Adam Bratton and Chris Barbour along with Sam Duffy and Cathal Cregan forced Thomond to spill ball on a regular basis and Derry cleared their lines on the back of a strong scrimmaging performance.
Derry increased the intensity and when Thomond kicked loose ball to Simon Logue in his own half, he punished them with a mesmeric break which released the impressive Barbour to make an outside break and give McCarter a run-in try which he converted himself for a commanding 23-13 lead.
Thomond had run out of steam as the game came to its conclusion and with the Derry pack out ‘Munstering’ them with pick and drive rugby, Henderson got in for the bonus point try on 79 minutes which Richard Peoples converted for 30-13.
Thomond kicked off and when Josh Lewis released Sam McAuley his powerful break took play inside the opposition half where he found the supporting Richard Peoples who ran in under the posts from 40m and converted to complete a great victory on Munster soil.
City of Derry: Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Sam Duffy, David Houston, Brian Prue, Stephen Corr, Stephen Duffy, Richard Baird, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, Chris Barbour, William McCleery, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Cathal Cregan, Gareth Beatty, Adam Bratton, Richard Peoples, Josh Lewis