Match 17. A chance to renew old rivalries as we headed to Matlock for our latest fixture. We were welcomed by the warmest February day and the news that Wirral RFC were also there on tour and the morning was to involve a pair of fixtures.
Matlock started the morning with their match against Wirral and we had the chance to weigh up the opposition as the tourists got off to a flyer, dominating with pace and power in the backs. The good work by Matlock up front very much gave us cause for optimism but we knew that the team from the north-west would provide a stern test.
Indeed, that proved to be the case as we started brightly but, after a bruising first few minutes, conceded first as their powerful backs took advantage of poor defensive shape to go 5-0 up. Much like in the latter stages of the match against Lichfield though, we dug deep and, galvanised by a typically barnstorming run by captain Rhys Williams went through several phases of our own. Indeed it was only some borderline work in the ruck that was preventing Derby from cutting loose, the ball being turned over at critical times.
It was the power of the Derby pack and the control at the base of the ruck that was proving to be the key to unlocking the Wirral defence. After a handful more phases the whitewash was eventually crossed by Rhys as he crashed over from short range to level the scores.
The match continued with intensity and tempo as both sides threw the kitchen sink at it. Wirral came close with only a superb try-saving tackle from Lewis Newburn halting them; and again when Cameron Finlay threw a loose ball back inside (a surefire contender for muppet of the morning!) only for the touch judge to rule that his foot was in touch and the resulting try was chalked off. Finn Courtney and Oscar West were stopped short of the line as the momentum continued to shift back and forth. It was another patient build up that finally led to the decisive score, several phases resulting in enough space being created for Will “Woody” Woodward to pirouette his way over to edge Derby in front right at the end of the match.
Against Matlock, all of the substitutes were given a chance to get good game time and the back line was re-configured to give every player a chance to play in a new position. Derby raced into the lead as Cameron Finlay made a scything blind-side break from scrum half to open the scoring before Ollie Lamb chased down Finn’s kick, controlling it brilliantly with his foot before gathering to score in the corner. Matlock responded well, showing the development that they have put in this season with a break down the wing exposing some weaker tackling to bring the try deficit down to one. Derby extended the lead again as Finn finished off a strong run to add his name to the list before Matlock again hit back. Clearly the changes to our side were having an effect as several of the regular starting players were either substituted out or had their positions switched again. Derby held their composure though, as had been the case all morning, and were able to finish the game with the final try from Ollie as he grabbed his brace.
All seventeen of the players involved could hold their heads high and picking man of the match was tricky. Eventually though the coaches selected Oscar West for his contributions against Wirral in the forwards and then his endeavour against Matlock in a less familiar centre role. As for muppet of the morning, Ollie Lamb leaving his shoes in the car was a shocker but ultimately it had to go to Cameron Finlay for the horrific, French-style no-look fling back inside, which nearly gifted Wirral the lead.
The next scheduled match is Paviors but they have cancelled so who knows which team will replace them and, frankly, who cares?! Given the performance against Wirral, we should fear no-one and relish the chance to test ourselves at every opportunity.
Match Report by Marc Williams