City of Derry 21, Bective Rangers 8
A fifth win in succession means City of Derry are out of the two relegation spots for the first time since the early weeks of the season as Bective Rangers became the latest victims of the Judges Road AIL renaissance.
It’s five in a row now so it really keeps momentum going and moves us out of the relegation zone for the first time, which has obviously been our ultimate goal.City of Derry player-coach, Richard McCarter
Derry went into the game two points adrift of the Dubliners and with the knowledge that any victory would see them leapfrog their visitors in the AIL 2B table. That mission was eventually accomplished with a degree of comfort though the nagging frustration will be that a bonus points was there for the taking.
The victory, coupled with Skerries’ victory over basement side Thomond, means Derry move to eighth in the 10-team division. Thomond have become isolated at the foot of the table and, barring a miracle, will be relegated but ninth spot - which brings with it a relegation play-off against the runners up in Division 2C - is now between any one of four or five teams with even Dungannon looking over their shoulders.
Bective won 29-3 when these sides met in Donnybrook in November but there was never any danger of a repeat of that scoreline once Derry had navigated a difficult first 20 minutes.
The visitors started with a real purpose, pushing their hosts back and ensuring the opening minutes were played almost exclusively within the home ‘22. However, like Dungannon, Barnhall and Old Crescent before them, Bective found the home defence in miserly mood and 15 minutes of concerted pressure from the visitors yielded only a penalty from out-half Gearoid O’Grady.
And that should have been a warning because this was a Derry victory born out of their pack, in particular the impressive front row of Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan and Sam Duffy who destroyed their Bective counterparts in the scrum.
Playing against the wind in the opening half, Derry’s main problem was indecision. Twice the home side won penalties which, given the conditions and the distance to the posts, should have been kicked to the corner. Instead Neil Burns, who has been kicking superbly, went for goal. Given Burns’ recent form, the decision to kick was understandable but with a scrum and line-out that was frightening the life out of Bective, going for the corner was an obvious option, a fact illustrated superbly seven minutes before the break.
Again, Derry won a penalty in midfield as Bective attempted to break up play and slow Derry momentum. This time Burns brilliantly found the corner. The short line-out was secured, a driving ‘pod’ set up and at the heart of the drive was Gerard Doherty who bulldozed his way through the Bective defence to score.
Burns’ showed how good his kicking is when he sent a difficult conversion between the posts to send Derry in 7-3 to the good at half-time.
Derry were looking a quick start to the second half and Bective literally handed it to them on a plate by knocking on the kick-off inside their own ‘22. It provided the Derry pack with the perfect platform. Time and time again, Bective were penalised for turning or collapsing the home scrum in and bid to stop the pack. In all it took six minutes before the inevitable penalty try was awarded and Bective scrum-half Colm Doyle yellow carded.
Burns added the extras and Derry had the game under control.
They should have had a third try on 49 minutes. Player coach Richard McCarter, operating at full-back kicked ahead and took advantage of a fortunate bounce to follow it up and hack through. Ian Bratton was on to his kick in an instant but looked to be blatantly pulled back as he tried to chase his own kick. It wasn’t spotted and Bective had got away with one.
Midway through the half Derry did get their third try and again, the scrum was the platform. A knock-on by visiting full-back Cormac O’Beirne handed Derry a scrum. The pressure was applied again but with Bective focus on the set-piece, play was switched right where centre David Graham sent his opposite number back at a rate of knots as he stormed through to score under the posts with Burns converting for 21-3.
That left 20 minutes to grab a bonus securing fourth try and Derry had their chances but as the rain made handling more difficult, they came came and went to leave a frustrating footnote on an otherwise excellent display.
Substitute Aidan Mulligan’s late consolation for Bective meant little to the game or the AIL Division 2B table. Derry had won the battle but the ‘war’ is far from over for either team.
City of Derry: Ross Harkin, Cathal Cregan, Sam Duffy, Chris Cooper, Adam Bratton, Joe Dunleavy, Stephen Corr, Richard Baird, Jason Bloomfield, Neil Burns, Tiernan Thornton, David Funston, David Graham, Ian Bratton, Richard McCarter. (Replacements) Steven Duffy, Gerard Doherty, Craig Huey, Stuart Simpson, Conor Cannings.
Bective Rangers: Thomas Dever, Gavin Walsh, Omar Dahir, Oisin Lennon, Niall Sludden, Eoin Sweeney, Joe Coyne, Mark Bennett, Colm Doyle, Gearoid O’Grady, Shane O’Meara, Daniel Clifford, Thomas Bulfin, Richard Dunne, Cormac O’Beirne. (Replacements) Jer Moore, Dean McKeon, Aidan Mulligan, Martin Smith, Finbarr Ryan.
Referee: Daithi Flood (IRFU)