City of Derry’s AIL Division 2B title bid reaches its halfway point at Judges Road this weekend in the first of back-to-back Ulster derbies against county rivals, Rainey Old Boys.
Terry McMaster’s side remain top of the table after last week’s hard fought victory away to bottom side Seapoint but with what is essentially a ‘Winter break’ following next week’s encounter at Rainey, the Derry Head Coach knows how important these two games will be to his side.
We are asking the players to ‘empty the tanks’ over the next two games because they will get a recovery period afterwards.City of Derry Head Coach Terry McMaster
“The boys love playing at home and we would take any type of win but, yes, these next two games are crucial in terms of the league,” explained McMaster
“After these two games we have basically a month off (until January 9th). We have already put a rehab programme in place for that period so we are asking the players to ‘empty the tanks’ over the next two games because they will get a recovery period afterwards.”
Sixth placed Rainey caused the shock of the round last weekend with a excellent 18-13 victory over second placed Highfield, a result which McMaster believes highlights the dangers posed by this weekend’s opposition.
“Rainey defeated Highfield last week which shows you how much of a challenge this game will be. Funny enough, someone asked me on the way back up from Seapoint if that result would be a good thing for us and it is and it isn’t.
“Of course, it’s great to have a bigger cushion in terms of the top of the table but it will have given Rainey a real confidence boost as well, so we know we will have to be at our best.
“Rainey are a very young team from what I know. Derry had already played them last season before I arrived so I don’t have the benefit of having seen them last year but I did a bit of work with them a few years ago and there are still a couple of players from then.
“Still, most of their team will be a bit of an unknown quantity for me but we have done some homework on them. We know they kick well and chase well and we are wary of that threat. They will be physical up front and quick about the pitch but hopefully the conditions will allow us to play a bit of rugby. The forecasts haven’t been great so we will wait and see.”
On the team front, Derry will be without Ger Collins who pulled his calf against Seapoint last week while Neil Brown is unlikely to be risked until January after hurting his shoulder in training. Ross Harkin’s return will offset the loss of Collins while McMaster has a number of options along the backline to replace Brown what is an unusual ‘double-header’.
“It is a situation we have never been in before as a club, to be facing a side in back-to-back AIL games,” added the Derry coach, “It is slightly unusual in that you would expect to finish the first half of fixtures and then return to the side you played in the first week.
“It is made even more unusual for us by the fact that it is our closest club that we are facing in successive weeks but you cannot control these things and must take the fixtures as they arrive but we will certainly know each other well by 4.30pm four next Saturday.”
Last weekend’s 20-18 victory, coupled with that surprise defeat for Highfield, left Derry six points clear at the top of the table with four or five clubs jockeying for position behind them. It also highlighted what the Derry coach has been saying all season about the potential of any team to defeat any other if they are not on their game.
“I cannot believe that the Seapoint team we played last week have yet to win an AIL match this season. With the exception of Rainey, we have faced every side in this division and the Seapoint team we met last week would comfortably be in the top three we have played. They were limited enough going forward but had an excellent defensive game. Now, perhaps they had players who returned last week to strengthen them but if they manage to field that 15 in future weeks they will win matches and take points off teams in this division.
“We did very well to score three tries against their defensive outfit. Although they’ve lost eight games, in four of those they picked up a losing bonus point which tell you it could have gone their way. It shows how close things are in this division and means you have to be at your best every week.”