CITY of Derry completed their All-Ireland League preparations with a superb six-tries bonus point victory over Queen’s in a scintillating game at Judges Road on Saturday.
The win keeps Mark Nicholl’s men top of the Ulster Senior League table, eight points clear of Ballynahinch who have played a game less, and sets Derry up nicely for this weekend’s AIL kick-off at U.C.C.
Conditions were perfect and Derry showed their intent from the start with influential full-back Peter Henderson continuing his fine recent form. There were only two minutes on the clock when Queen’s spilled the ball inside the Derry half. Henderson picked up and where normal practice would be to just secure possession, the full-back, in one quick side-step, released David Funston to draw the last man and leave Josh Lewis with a run-in try which Henderson converted.
Henderson was almost on the mark on five minutes when he chipped the last player but was just beaten for the touchdown from 40m out. Queen’s were finding it difficult to live with the Judges Road men whose back row of former Queen’s player Tom Patton, Adam Bratton and Stephen Corr were dominating their opposite numbers. They were well supported in tight and loose by Brian Prue and David Houston.
Adam Parke started at out half and was pulling the strings nicely. He found that man Henderson out wide on 15 minutes some 40m out and the star man fended off a couple of tackles to score an unconverted try in the corner for 12-0.
One concern for the home side was the lost of three backs to injury in quick succession, something which disrupted the team’s momentum. Simon Logue injured a hip, Henderson a finger injury and their captain David Funston came off after a midfield collision before the first quarter was over.
The changes saw Richard McCarter made a welcome return to out-half with Parke slipping into centre alongside Ryan Campbell who had a fine game. Jack Caithness moved to full-back with Adam Bratton moving from flanker to wing. David Houston moved to the back row and with James Fawcett coming on it was an all Strabane second row.
Queen’s had a good second quarter and their powerful centre, Stuart McIlwaine, handed off two Derry backs to touchdown for an excellent try which former Derry player, Ritchie McMaster, who was kicking well all day, converted for 12-7 with just over 20 minutes gone. The game was ebbing and flowing from half to half but with Queen’s having marginally the better of it McMaster kicked a fine long range penalty to reduce the arrears to 12-10 and it was anyone’s game.
Derry finished the first half stronger with McCarter getting into his rhythm at out-half. He found Chris Shields with a disguised pass on 37 minutes and a try looked a certainty but he was just held up. Derry got the five metres scrum from where No. 8 Stephen Corr touched down for a pushover try and McCarter converted for a 19-10 half-time lead.
The second half started as the first half had with Derry dominating possession. Cathal Cregan had come on at hooker along with Steven Jefferson at prop. Cregan produced a bit of magic five minutes in with quick show of the ball and a burst of pace that deserved a try but he was stopped just short.
Patton who was terrific all through was also stopped just short on 52 minutes but from the resulting scrum Corr picked up to show and cut back inside to score a great No. 8 try under the posts which McCarter converted for 26-10. McMaster reduced the deficit with another long range penalty on 55 minutes.
Bratton had another terrific game for Derry at both flanker and on the wing and he cemented a ‘Man of the Match’ performance around the 65th minute. First Queen’s were turned over in the Derry half following superb work from Beattie, Houston and Patton, Bratton picked up the loose ball and produced a powerful 60m run, fending off a couple of players to score a unconverted try and a 31-13 lead. Bratton almost replicated the score from the kick -ff as he fielded the ball and powered 50m into the Queen’s 22 before he was brought down.
Derry were played well throughout the second half with Ryan Campbell always prominent and Andrew Semple at scrum half having his best game of the season, varying his play and keeping the opposition guessing. Semple released Richard McCarter on 72 minutes to make the decisive break from over 30m out and when he found Josh Lewis, he produced power and pace to score a try out wide. McCarter converted for 38-13 with just over five minutes remaining and it was game over.
Despite this, Queen’s came back with two tries in the last five minute as the home team eased off. Full-back Damien Hall got in for an unconverted try on 75 minutes and, three minutes later, substitute John Russell got another consolation score which McMaster converted excellently but the game had already been wrapped up.
City of Derry - Chris Shields, Sam McAuley, Gareth Beattie, Brian Prue, David Houston, Adam Bratton, Tom Patton, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard Peoples, Simon Logue, Ryan Campbell, David Funston, Josh Lewis, Peter Henderson. Replacements; Cathal Cregan, Steven Jefferson, James Fawcett, Jack Caithness, Richard McCarter.