City of Derry reached the half-way mark in their All Ireland League Division 2B promotion bid with a hard fought, bonus point 32-21 win over Rainey Old Boys at Judges Road to extend their lead to nine points at the top of the table.
Terry McMaster’s raced into a 19-3 lead and looked set for a comfortable afternoon but a Rainey rallied with 13 unanswered to ensure a tense second half which eventually took Neil Burns’ late penalty to settle home nerves in a game they made difficult for themselves with too many lapses in discipline.
Yet,that tense finale it was in stark contrast to an emphatic opening half hour in which Derry scored three tries and could have scores at least another three. Burns had already missed a first minute penalty in the difficult blustery conditions by the time David Graham crossed the line for the home team’s first try which owed everything to Ali Beckett’s initial break down the right. Once the full-back had been stopped, play was quickly switched left where Graham, who had seconds earlier been denied by Josh McIlroy’s brilliant last gasp tackle, was the spare man to run in for an unconverted score.
Despite the home pressure, Rainey reduced arrears from an excellent McIlroy penalty after Derry were caught offside in what was the Magherafelt side’s first foray into enemy territory.
It proved only temporary respite though as on 14 minutes, Derry’s second try arrived and again the home team’s ability to cut through the visiting back-line was apparent. The move began with Simon Logue’s initial run down the left flank. The winger was held up but, after recycling possession, Richard McCarter picked out John Burns with a lovely flat pass which helped the flanker break the Rainey defensive line. He didn’t have the pace to complete the move himself but drew in the remaining cover before the ball was switched right to Beckett who scored with Neil Burns converting for 12-3.
John Andrews’ team wasn’t helped by the loss of flanker Rory Winters to the sin-bin on 25 minutes and within 90 seconds Derry had a third try. Again to was a well worked move, Stephen Corr breaking through two tackles before off loading to Ross Harkin who showed great awareness to get his pass away to the supporting Neil Burns who scored and converted.
At this stage, Rainey looked set for a long afternoon but in the 10 minutes before half-time the complexion of the game changed completely. The impressive McIlroy kicked two huge penalties within two minutes of each other to bring it back to 19-9 but still Rainey didn’t look overly threatening. That was until Derry gifted them a clear run on their posts with a loose pass that was gobbled up by Jody McMurray who charged into the Derry half. With options either side, he chose Gavin Martin who ran in under the posts, McIlroy converting for a half-time score of 19-16.
If Derry had been shocked by the unlikely fightback, they responded in style with their bonus point try arriving within three minutes of the restart. This time Adam Bratton’s charging run was the catalyst and with captain David Ferguson running a superb supporting line, Derry were in under the posts with Burns again converting. A Burns penalty extended the advantage to 29-16 but Rainey’s second half performance was much better than their first and they made the home team work over the remainder of the game.
Only desperate home defence from a succession of five metre scrums kept Rainey out but it came at a cost as Sam Duffy was sin-binned for infringing inside the scrum.
The Rainey pressure eventually told on 71 minutes with second row, Peter Stewart, superbly collecting a line-out close to the Derry line and forcing his way through a mass of bodies to touch down for 29-21.
The visitors had the momentum at this stage and Derry were still down to 14 men but McMaster’s men found their rhythm again managed the remainder of the game very well with scrum-half Andrew Semple placing some lovely kicks in the Rainey corners to stop the visitors building any impetus.
The result complete the first half of fixtures for Terry McMaster’s team whose focus for the second half of the campaign will be to ensure the impressive attacking play which has been so apparent in the league to date isn’t undone by a worrying tendency to concede avoidable points.
City of Derry: Rory Squires, David Ferguson, Sam Duffy, Adam Bratton, Chris Cooper, Steven Dickey, John Burns, Stephen Corr, Andrew Semple, Richard McCarter, Simon Logue, Stuart Simpson, Neil Burns, David Graham, Ali Beckett. (Replacements) Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan David Houston, Craig Huey, David Funston.
Rainey Old Boys: Kieran Donaghy, Joe Roe, Neil O’Kane, Peter Stewart, Ronan McCusker, Bernie Mullan, Rory Winters, Darren Corrigan, Michael Pyper, Gavin Martin, Nicky Stirling, Jody McMurray, Damien McMurray, Caolan Moran. Josh McIlroy. (Replacements) Andrew Shaw, Michael Caithness, Johnny Lees, Andrew Donaghy, Matthew McClelland.
Referee: Adrian Reavey.