For this away visit to the impressive Castle Park Stadium, home to Doncaster Knights, Derby saw the return of Charlie Barker, Tom Taylor-Dawes and Luke Wilmott. It was a starting debut for Ben Marsden in the centre and Alex Taylorson from the bench.
The later kick off meant it was a floodlit game on a full size wide pitch. With a more beefed up pack, Derby planned to keep it tight. Phoenix had the exact opposite game plan and moved the ball at great speed through their backs from anywhere on the park. This created a mismatch on the wing of one forward facing two speedy backs. The resulting try by Bulumakau was converted by Brooke giving Phoenix an early 7-point lead. This was quickly followed another try by the ever alert Polkington. A recycled ball from a quick penalty ended with flanker, Robinson, for their third try in fifteen minutes. However, when prop, Wheelhouse, was sent to the Sin Bin, Martin Kent led his Derby Pack to a great fight back and Luke Wilmott barged his way over for an unconverted try. Minutes later good ball from another steady scrum was passed to McGrath Van Wyk. His chip and chase was perfectly timed and George Castledine converted the try to narrow the gap to five points. However, after a good spell a missed tackle saw the ever present Robinson score under the posts for Brooke to convert. The tension increased as Derby pressed with both sides fumbling some passes. Sam Tebbs guided his way through a wave of players to emerge and hit a shocked defender like an Exocet missile. Eventually a quick ball from a 5-metre scrum was taken over the line with power by new player Ben Marsden. Castledine’s conversion narrowed the score to 24 points to 19, closer than anyone could have expected after the start.
At the interval Ollie Saffell was replaced by Alex Taylorson. Luke Wilmott showed extraordinary strength in ripping a ball from a Phoenix grip leading to a try by Ryan Manning converted by George Castledine to give Derby a slender 2-point lead. Sam Pinton replaced the hard working Tom Taylor-Dawes. A quickly taken Phoenix lineout was duly ended by Robinson and converted by Brooke to make the score Phoenix 31 Derby 26.
The tireless Charlie Barker was replaced by Tom Taylor-Dawes and the injured Ryan Manning was replaced by Ollie Saffell and Simon Moone replaced Martin Kent. Though Derby tried hard, it was the illusive centre, Smith who scored next and with Brooke adding the extra points the now 12-point gap looked like a chasm. Ignoring that Luke Wilmott thought he had scored but the referee did not allow it. Fierce pressure brought just reward in a penalty try. With Derby again pressing, the final whistle was blown, thus denying them the chance of a win against a very good side but leaving with two points was an achievement.
Overall it was the best spirited performance I have seen this season.
Match Report by Gerry Sherry