Derby Rugby Club rally to restore pride but cannot delay inevitable relegation after defeat to Bournville
DERBY'S relegation from National League Three Midlands was confirmed after defeat to Bournville – but they at least restored some pride with an improved second-half display.
Their fate was sealed at the University of Birmingham on Saturday, with seven fixtures still to play.
It has looked inevitable for quite some time now and after a 19th successive league defeat, head coach Roxy Fearon and assistant Scott Johnson can now focus in earnest on next season's swift return to Midlands One East.
"When we came in after Christmas, we were already looking to next season," said Fearon.
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"We're hoping to retain as many of the squad as we can over the summer – and maybe get a few old heads back.
"We're hoping next season will be better. We know we can compete at that level.
"We've got some great young players coming through and we need to build on that."
Derby fell behind to an early penalty at Bournville and four converted tries left them trailing 31-0 at half-time.
The home pack, which featured former Derby player Nick Southern, were making their extra size count – but the visitors started the second half started well.
Ben Marlow gathered the ball from Matt Down's chip and drove to the line. When the ball was recycled, Eldon Atherton was there to score.
Bournville soon hit back, though, and scored three more tries, two converted, to extend their lead to 50-5.
Derby got their second try four minutes from time, when good work from Marlow and Jake Roome released Owen West to touch down.
Down added the extras but Bournville had the final say with another converted try.
"Bournville have a big set of forwards and, unfortunately, we don't," said Fearon. "They kicked to the corners and mauled us to death.
"We didn't play well in the first half – it was probably the worst we've played since myself and Scott took over.
"At half-time, I told the lads: 'I don't care about the size of their forwards, we need to compete'.
"We only lost the second half 26-12, which was a massive improvement.
"It was too little, too late, to be honest, but at least we showed some character.
"We didn't roll over and scored two good tries. We got some pride back."
Colts captain Lewis Hancock made his first-team league debut at centre, with another young gun, Josh Gundry, given another chance at scrum half.
Prop Bruce Pendrey, meanwhile, came off the bench to become the 56th player used by Derby this season.
"The average age of the team was 22 and the young lads did OK," said Fearon.
"It's a harsh environment to learn in but, hopefully, they will benefit from it."