Plucky underdogs Matlock gave their long-term arch rivals Derby a genuine fright before succumbing in an entertaining Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Derbyshire (NLD) Three Counties Cup tie at sunny Cromford Meadows.
Derby play two levels above their hosts in the National League. But they led by just one point at half-time and not until the second period did the big-city side make their supposed superiority tell, finally coming home 29-16 to the good.
“This was a great performance by Matlock,” said a club spokesman. “We battled manfully throughout, playing a total of 30 minutes with only 14 players because of yellow cards, and the only difference between the two sides was clearly the pace of the game played at National Three level.”
The home side welcomed back captain Tim Taylor, returning after three weeks in Canada, and from the start of the tie, it was clear they were up for the challenge. They refused to allow Derby any sort of rhythm and took the lead in the tenth minute when James Fairclough calmly converted one of many penalties the visitors gave away early on.
Derby regrouped and clawed their way back into the game with a 17th minute try that gave them a 5-3 advantage. But ten minutes later, Matlock responded with a superb team-try to restore their lead, playing through a number of phases, with forwards and backs supporting each other, and looking after the ball well before creating space for John Statham to burrow over in the corner.
As the tie opened up, the visitors retaliated with a fine team-try of their own, followed by a conversion to edge them in front 12-8. But more transgressions cost them dear before the interval, and Fairclough slotted another penalty to cut the deficit.
Derby’s coaching staff clearly delivered a strong message at the break because the players emerged for the second half with much more intensity, and it wasn’t long before a converted try extended their lead to 19-11.
As Matlock began to struggle and their defence was stretched, they conceded another converted try. But having been on the retreat for the first 20 minutes of the half, they refused to lie down and rallied with some more terrific rugby that caused the visitors more problems.
A chance was missed when Luke Howard turned his opposite number inside out, only for his pass to go behind Dan Hooton, who had raced up in support. But they did manage a second try when a period of concerted pressure led to Fairclough dancing his way through to dive over.
The gap was still 13 points, but Matlock continued to battle bravely and it was testament to their efforts that Derby took the opportunity of a kickable penalty late on to try and make the tie safe.
This Saturday, Matlock return to Midlands 2 East (North) division action at home to Spalding (2.15 pm).