The University 2nd XV squad were on the road again on Saturday past to take on City of Derry 4th XV in an Ulster Branch Minor League North fixture. The Uni lads were quietly confident having easily dispatched their opposition in the home game at Cromore road before the Christmas break. However, judging from the pre-match warm up, it was evident that City of Derry had made a few changes to the side that travelled to Cromore Road – indeed it seemed their 4th XV had been very active in the January transfer window. The old, wise (but somewhat burly and out of shape) heads that travelled to Coleraine were replaced by younger, leaner and more athletic counterparts. Nonetheless, as Coach McCully correctly stated ‘These are the sorts of things that happen when you travel to play a senior side 4th XV and their 1st and 2nd XV’s don’t have a game. If you have a good enough team spirit you will still win’. Wise words indeed.
The game kicked off with the Uni men on the attack. A few early sorties into the opposition 22 were rewarded by three points from the boot of the ever reliable Richard Murphy. Restart kick-off receipt was poor, something that has been a problem for the Uni lads all season. However, what followed next was UUC shampoo rugby at its finest. A few mid-field exchanges and good Uni defence resulted in the City of Derry outhalf kicking deep into the Uni 22. Fullback David McMenemy collected the ball, and in typical UUC 2nd XV fashion, elected to run out of defence rather than put the kick in. The Armagh flyer beat numerous defenders and off-loaded the ball to a Uni player on half way. A number of great ‘take and gives’ saw the Uni lads advance to the opposition 22. As a City of Derry defender put in a good tackle, the ball was off loaded to Stevie Brown coming in at pace. Stevie cut a great angle, drew the last defender and put Richard Murphy in for a length of the pitch try. The two Uni alicadoos on the touchline were in raptures. Murphy easily converted his own try, 10-0 to the Uni. The pre-match words from Coach McCully really did seem well founded at this stage. Yet, for the next 15 mins the Uni men decided to switch off defensively, with City of Derry scoring two soft tries, both of which were converted. The young, athletic City of Derry team had their tails up at this stage and things looked ominous for the Uni boys. However, that man David McMenemy came to the rescue again! Good handling by the Uni backline saw the Armagh flyer coming into the line from fullback; with two defenders to beat he elected to chip the ball over the top. He then duly followed up his own kick, leaving defenders in his wake, for the Uni’s second try of the game. Murphy was successful with the conversion. Score 17-14 to the Uni. The whistle for half-time blew shortly afterwards.
The Uni lads started the second half in great spirit, buoyed by the late McMenemy score just before half-time. The Uni scored another two unanswered tries, neither of which were converted. The first went to Chris McClelland after good all round team play. The second was scored by winger, Nathan McCall, after a few good phases of play the ball was passed out the entire backline for the winger to literally fall over the line for a well deserved score. Richard Murphy also kept the scoreboard ticking over with a penalty, great game management from the fly half. The score was now 30-14 to the Uni. Surely this was game over – but far from it! The City of Derry men came back hard at the Uni boys and scored two excellent tries of their own, one of which was converted, along with a penalty goal. The score was now 30-29 to the Uni, and as the City of Derry captain shouted loudly to his players, this really was ‘game on!’. To their credit the Uni lads dug deep, and were awarded another penalty for their continued pressure in the City of Derry half. Murphy converted with ease, leaving some breathing space with the score at 33-29. A few minutes later with the clock running down the Uni boys were awarded another penalty 20 metres out directly in front of the posts. The was due mainly to great defensive work from Stevie Brown with a huge ‘man and ball’ tackle and then getting back to his feet almost instantaneously to steal ball. The City of Derry player held on to the ball for his life, still reeling from the huge hit Stevie had just put in on him, giving the referee no option but to award the penalty. Richard Murphy stepped up to convert what seemed like a straight forward three points. However, using his years of experience Richard decided to miss the penalty and therefore avoid the dreaded half-way restart (which the Uni really have been having trouble dealing with all season) and thus make City of Derry drop out from their 22 instead (I’m sure this must be what he was thinking!!). Anyhow, this proved to be an excellent decision as City of Derry kicked out long from their 22 restart. The Uni lads easily retained possession until the final whistle, gleefully kicking the ball out of play on the stroke of full time. Final score 33-29.
This was an excellent performance from the Uni 2nd XV squad. However, there is still plenty to be worked on. Conceding 4 tries is never something to be proud of. It would be difficult to pick out a Man of the Match, but great games were had upfront by captain Scott ‘Randy’ Stevenson, Stuart Whitcroft, Dave Coaches and Chris McClelland. In the backs, Richard Murphy had another solid well controlled game, whilst Stevie Brown, and Lee Johnson showed flashes of brilliance, but David McMenemy created so fantastic moves from full back setting up two tries and with his fantastic counter attacking earned him Man of The Match . Next game for the lads is a home fixture in the McCambley cup against Carrick 5’s. A successful run in the cup would really add the gloss to what has already been an excellent season.