One to forget for Soper
City of Derry 50
IT was hardly the start that new coach Daniel Soper had hoped for, seeing his Banbridge side ship 50 points in the opening Ulster League game of the season.
But at least the Kiwi now knows the task ahead of him as he plans for the All-Ireland League programme later in the season.
Newly promoted City of Derry, back in the senior ranks after two years in the Qualifying League, travelled to Rifle Park oozing confidence on the strength of pre-season wins over Tralee, Thomond and Belfast Harlequins. That was clear from the opening exchanges as they hit the home side with two early converted tries, full-back Peter Henderson and impressive winger Simon Logue out-pacing the defence on separate occasions for out-half Richard Brady to add the extras on from out wide.
A try either side of the interval from powerful No 8 Stephen Ferguson assured Derry of the bonus point, and with Brady’s conversions taking the tally to 28 points the game was over as a contest.
Bann did manage to battle their way back into opposition territory for long periods but Derry again showed them how to finish when scrum-half Andy Semple sprinted away from the cover for his side’s fifth try. It hardly mattered that Brady fluffed the conversion from in front of the posts.
Bann resumed their onslaught against the rugged Derry defensive line, eventually registering on the scoreboard when Jonny Pollock grabbed a ball that squirmed, arguably forward, out of James Andrews’ hands in a tackle and raced in unopposed from 20 metres out. Shandon Scott added the conversion.
The 33-7 scoreline probably reflected the balance of play up to that point.
But as Bann tried to cut the deficit further they managed to cough up possession three times in the last seven minutes, allowing the rampant Derry threequarters further opportunities to exhibit their finishing prowess through Semple and Henderson (2).
If those scores, one of which Brady converted, distorted the final points differential between the sides, there was no doubting Derry’s overall superiority.
At the set scrums they were able to disrupt Bann’s supply line, in the tackle they were shudderingly effective and in attack they were clinically efficient.
The momentum and enthusiasm of a newly-promoted side always makes them difficult early season opponents and conversely Bann have been notoriously bad starters over recent seasons.
But with just eight weeks before the sides lock horns again with AIL points at stake, Soper knows just how much work has to be done with the Bann team in the interim, especially as Derry will then have the additional advantage of playing on their own turf.
But the Kiwi was far from despondent after the game despite the result. “It is a big scoreline but there is absolutely nothing to get disheartened about,” he reflected.
“We were the dominant side in periods of that game, particularly after they scored early in the second half and we went on to dominate for 20-25 minutes.
We just need to learn how to keep our composure when we are in their “22” and take our points, just in the way they did to us. They took their opportunities well and we did not.
“There are lot of things that we have seen and are pleased with. It gives us plenty to work from and we will get stronger from that.”
Next up or Bann is a home fixture against Queen’s, followed by an away fixture against the students in the first round of the Ulster Senior Cup. Queen’s are harder hit than most clubs by age-grade representative call-ups at this stage of the season, a factor not unconnected to their 59-15 drubbing at Ballynahinch last Saturday.
But they will still present a big challenge for a Bann side still finding its feet as the players come to terms with new patterns of play. There are unlikely to be wholesale changes to the squad, although flanker Ryan Patterson and lock Michael Johnston will probably get a run after impressing for the Seconds in their win over Derry’s second string.
Saturday’s game at Rifle Park kicks off at 2.30pm.