CITY of Derry’s recent run of good form came to an end on the banks of the Lee, on Saturday when they were beaten by a determined Highfield performance that swept them to a deserved 21-13 victory.
They Cork men came into the game on a five match losing run and with their coaching staff resigning last Tuesday a victory was needed to stop the rot and guarantee AIL Division 2A rugby next season.
Their players had taken over preparation of the team and this produced a galvanised level of performance that Derry could not match and with their out half Paddy O’Toole giving a man of the match performance the Judges Road men were unable to produce their recent outstanding rugby.
The pressure from the home side told with just six minutes gone when they once again got possession on the Derry 22 metre line. This time prop forward Paddy Ryan caught Derry sleeping at a ruck as he picked up and ran in for a try and with O’Toole converting Highfield’s lead to 7-0.
Derry looked reasonably confident as they got over the initial setback and they got some decent possession. This was rewarded with a penalty from Richard McCarter on 12 minutes when he converted a penalty for offside from 35 metres to make it 7-3.
Soon after the try of the game came from Derry when they were well on top and playing some attractive rugby.
Derry won a penalty and found touch 30 meters out from the Highfield line. David Houston won possession and scrum half Jack Caithness found McCarter 35 metres out, he chipped the defence beautifully and when Richard Baird collected he drew the last man to give his wing forward Tom Patton a run in try under the posts and with McCarter converting Derry were 10-7 ahead.
That Derry try and the manner of its execution would have been a setback for most teams but Highfield were not fazed and came back in determined fashion.
They increased their physicality and were rewarded with another penalty from O’Toole on 22 minutes to level the scores.
It was all possession and pressure from Highfield now and it took a brave crunching tackle from Ryan Campbell on the half hour mark to drive their big second row Kelly into touch just short of the Derry line when a try looked a certainty and it keep the score level at the break.
Early in the second half Highfield regained the lead with a penalty from O’Toole and the home team were 13-10 ahead.
City of Derry coaches Mark Nicholl and Ashley Blair went to the bench and brought David Witherow and Gareth Beattie into the front row and Stephen Ferguson to the second row. Derry were now on top in the set pieces but the turning point in the game came on 55 minutes.
The Judges Road men won a penalty just inside their own half which was reversed for over robust play on the infringing Highfield player.
Highfield kicked for touch and setup a series of attacks inside the Derry 22 and with everyone expecting a move to the open side they switched play blind and found a mismatch to score an unconverted try in the corner for a 18-10 lead.
Derry lost Peter Henderson with a hamstring injury and he was replaced by Richard Peoples, but they reduced the deficit again after when McCarter kicked a penalty from 25 metres and Highfield’s lead was 18-13.
Derry upped their game and were producing some strong attacking play but they were thwarted by a determined Highfiled defence and some unforced errors when chances were available.
Highfield lost their winger Quaid to the sin bin on 62 minutes and it looked like a real opportunity for Derry to capitalise. Highfiled cut down the space out wide and tackled as if their lives depended on it. Derry were probably guilty of going wide too often and too early and in the process quality possession came to nothing.
Cathal Cregan came on at hooker and continued Derry’s domination at scrum time. Highfield survived the sin bin without conceding and one felt Derry’s chance of victory was gone especially when O’Toole kicked another penalty on 72 minutes to take Highfiled’s lead to 21-13, which they carried to the full time and deny Derry a loosing bonus point.
City of Derry: Steven Jefferson, Sam McCauley, Paul McFeely, David Houston, Brian Prue, Stephen Corr, Tom Patton, Richard Baird, Jack Caithness, Richard McCarter, William McCleery, David Funston, Chris Barber, Ryan Campbell, Peter Henderson. Replacements: Cathal Cregan, David Witherow, Gareth Beattie, Stephen Ferguson, Richard Peoples.