An early 8am meet was the start of NLD cup final day for the under 15s as they boarded a coach to Scunthorpe. Following home victories against Market Rasen and Bridgford and away wins against Melbourne and Stamford, the team had topped their pool and earned the right to face Newark in their first ever cup final.
The weather was perfect for rugby and the pitch was firm but well-maintained – ideal for Derby’s expansive game. A good crowd had turned out to watch and the atmosphere was electric as the teams lined up for kick off.
It was Newark that started brightest, Derby looking a little sluggish and nervy in the early exchanges as the powerful running around the fringes brought the team in blue good possession and field position. Indeed it felt almost inevitable when Newark were the first to register points with a well-worked try under the posts which they comfortably converted.
Derby didn’t allow heads to drop though and pressure from the restart allowed the black and gold shirts to create some momentum of their own, building the tempo and moving the big forwards of Newark around the pitch. Before long, Newark were caught offside in midfield, finding difficulty in matching Derby’s pace and Jack McAteer coolly slotted the three pointer to open their account.
This seemed to grow the confidence in the side and Derby were quickly back into their patterns, pushing Newark hard and getting close to the line for several phases. Again the Newark defence were struggling to keep up and Fred Chell sniffed an opportunity from short range, expertly identifying a gap and reaching for the line. A tough conversion was missed but Derby led by a single point – a lead they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the game.
The first half continued to be attritional, Newark sticking to their game plan of big carries in and around the ruck area – which Derby began to defend with reasonable comfort – and Derby trying to up the pace but too many one-up runners made ball retention an issue. A pick and go from Newark at the end of the half was the only threat to the scoreboard but a wonderful tackle at full back from Fred snuffed out the danger and the half came to an end still poised at 8-7.
The half-time team talk clearly galvanised Derby after the break as they turned up the dial on their pace and came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. Tempo and creativity had become the ingredients for success and were in abundance for Derby’s second try of the match as swift handling created space on the wing for Dale Nisbet to round the defenders and touch down. A big carry from Jacob MacKenzie followed by more quick ball and lightning hands brought more joy down the right wing for Dale shortly afterwards and Derby started to pull away against a tiring Newark side. Not wanting to rest on their laurels, Derby continued to press and a kick ahead from Cameron Finlay looked too long but he followed it up and, collecting the ball on a favourable bounce, was able to race over for another score. Strong phase play brought about an opportunity for Simon Koroiyoade to go over from close range, Matt Gould adding the extras. There could have been more for Derby when a Dan Riley try was chalked off for the slightest of forward passes following yet more excellent handling as the black and golds continued to threaten throughout the second half.
With the clock in the red, Newark bagged a late consolation after a couple of soft penalties had given them a lineout on the 5m line which they bundled over. The conversion was missed and Derby were able to celebrate a 30-12 victory.
Many thanks need to go out to the teammates, parents, family, friends, and teachers who came along to support – your enthusiasm was inspirational! Thanks must also go to the other squad members and coaches who were unable to travel but who have played a huge part in the team’s success this season – especially Craig Hughes who was unfortunate in picking up a serious injury a week ago while playing for the 3rd XV. As a coaching/management team we are so incredibly proud of what has been achieved this season (including, but not limited to, this win) and we look forward to finishing it with style over the next few weeks.
Match Report by Graham Finlay