Caledonia Reds 58
Glasgow & The West 25
DAVID BARNES @ Canal Park
AFTER a rocky start which saw them fall six points behind inside five minutes to two Chris Hyde ruck penalties, a Caledonia Reds side containing several players with no or little Premiership experience blew Glasgow & The West away with a performance brimming with power, cohesion and controlled aggression.
This victory books the Reds an Inter-District Championship final clash against the South – who beat Edinburgh on Tuesday – at Braidholm in the southside of Glasgow next Sunday. More importantly, the vitality of the play and the sizeable crowd on a glorious early-summer day at Canal Park in Inverness provides further grist to the mill for proponents of district rugby as a worthwhile exercise which can give ambitious club players a ‘next level’ to aim for.
“If you had said to me beforehand that would be the scoreline, I would have said ‘no chance’!” said victorious head coach Colin Sangster afterwards. “I was confident we could win but I never thought for one minute we would score as many tries.”
“We had three early injuries up front with guys having to be replaced so that scuppered our strategy for replacements throughout the game, and when we went in at half-time we looked really tired, so all credit to the guys because they really lifted it in the second half and ran Glasgow off their feet.
“The Caley spirit is massive and that’s part of it, but we prepared really well, we’ve got four really good coaches, our strategy was really clear, the players brought into it, they trained really well, and they came here ready to play,” he added. “There was guys out there from National Three, like our hooker Fraser Allan from Howe of Fife, who came in and were terrific. Just because some of these guys are not playing Premiership now, that doesn’t mean they don’t have the potential to play that level, which they showed out there.”
“We’ll now have to see who is fit for next weekend because that was a really physical 80 minutes, and it will be impossible for us to train this week because of the geography of Caley – we’ve trained upon until now at the weekends – so we’ll have to think about how we keep things ticking over and pull together again next week for another massive challenge.”
The hosts struck back after those two early penalties with an impressive passage of continuity rugby which featured significant interjections from from stand-off Liam Brims, left winger James McCaig, flanker Oscar Baird and centre DJ Innes, before full-back Adriu Muritoki put McCaig over for the opening try.
Max Wallace then got in on the act by finishing off the Reds’ second try, before Innes showed plenty pace and footwork to make it three tries inside a seven minute window, with Brims converting successfully on each occasion.
The visitors found their way back into the game with a try from a quick tap-penalty by blindside flanker Fraser Grant, but the hosts responded in the best possible way with another line-break which featured Sam Cordosi offloading out of contact to No 8 Callum Carson, who seemed to pull a muscle but had the wherewithal to send and inch-perfect diagonal towards the left touchline for Rupeni Rokoduguni to run onto and score.
Glasgow & The West had the last say of the first half, with Grant scoring again in similar fashion to his first, and Hyde’s second successful conversion made it 26-20 at the break.
The red-carding of Glasgow No 8 Mark McCornick for head-on-head contact early in the second half was a hammer blow to the visitors, and Caley played their hand with the coolness of a veteran card shark. Brims nudged over two penalties to open up some more daylight, then converted his own try scored under the shadow of the posts.
Innes hot-stepped over for his second of the afternoon, replacement winger Magnus Henry was sent on a 60-yard run to the line by the quick-witted Muritoki off turnover ball which came from a thunderous hit on the Reds’ own 22, and Baird finished off the scoring for the home side.
The visitors managed a late consolation score through Ewan Stewart but that couldn’t disguise that they had been a distant second-best to highly-motivated and well-drilled opposition.
“It was one of those days,” shrugged beaten head coach Kenny Diffenthal. “We competed in the first half, started to do the stuff we have been working on, then I think they caught us out with a few things we didn’t see coming. Once they started their offloading game, we struggled to handle that.
“But some boys put their hand up today, especially a few of those who came off the bench, so we’ll take that into account when we go start planning for next week’s [3rd/4th place play-off] match against Edinburgh.”
Caledonia Reds: A Muritoki (Highland); J McCaig (Currie Chieftains), M Wallace (Edinburgh Accies), D Innes (Currie Chieftains), R Rokoduguni (Highland); L Brims (Glasgow Hawks), H Russell (Falkirk); S Murray (Highland), F Allan (Howe of Fife), G Brough (Gala) J Mills (Edinburgh Accies), S Blair (Highland), O Baird, (Glasgow Hawks), S Cardosi (Dundee), C Carson (Highland). Substitutes: A Falconer (GHA), E Bissett (Howe of Fife), J Ramsay (Currie Chieftains), C MacPherson (Stirling County), G Gregor (Highland), J Imrie (Stirling County), M Henry (Highland), S Ross (Highland).
Glasgow and West: C Hyde (GHA); R Flett (Glasgow Hawks), J Pinkerton (Glasgow Hawks), C Bickerstaff (co-captain) (Marr), S Bickerstaff (Marr); G Cruickshanks (Glasgow Hawks), F Johnston (GHA); M Downer (Glasgow Hawks), P Cairncross (co-captain) (Glasgow Hawks), A Acton (Marr), M Crumlish (Glasgow Hawks), A Kerr (GHA), F Grant (Marr), E Stewart (Biggar), M McCornick (Newton Stewart RFC).Substitutes: M Ashdown (Glasgow Accies), M Fox (GHA), A Troop (GHK), D Dario Ewing (GHA), M MacFarlane (GHA), J Anderson (Ayr), S Graham (Glasgow Hawks), B Frame (GHK).
Referee: John Smith
Caledonian Reds: Tries: McCaig, Wallace, Innes 2, Rokoduguni, Brims, Henry, Baird; Cons: Brims 6; Pens; Brims 2.
Glasgow & The West: Tries: Grant 2, Stewart; Con: Hyde 2; Pens: Hyde 2
Scoring sequence (Caledonia Reds first): 0-3; 0-6; 5-6; 7-6; 12-6; 14-6; 19-6; 21-6; 21-11; 21-13; 26-13 26-20 (h-t) 29-20; 32-20; 37-20; 39-20; 44-20; 49-20; 51-20; 56-20; 58-20; 58-25.
Red card –
Glasgow & The West: McCornick (45mins)
Man-of-the-Match: There was several outstanding Reds performances, including flanker Oscar Baird who put in a mighty shift despite injuring his hand in the first half, but centre DJ Innes was the fulcrum of so much of what was good about his team in both attack and defence, scoring two tries for good measure.
Talking point: Let’s step away from the entrenched arguments about whether district rugby can ever be a credible alternative to Super6/Series and judge this competition on its own merits. A healthy and vocal crowd of 737 paying spectators, many of whom had clearly enjoyed the pre-match hospitality, watched an entertaining contest, making this exercise an undoubted success by any dispassionate assessment. Club players who can’t or won’t make the step up to semi and full-time pro deserve a next level to shoot for, and anything that adds a buzz to the grassroots game should be actively encouraged.