THE second semi-final of the revived Inter District Championship takes place tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon at Canal Park in Inverness (home of Highland RFC) with hosts Caledonia Reds taking on Glasgow for the right to face the South in the competition final at Braidholm (home of GHA) on Sunday 21st May. The game kicks-off at 3pm with tickets available HERE.
The visiting side is packed with Premiership experience, including four starters who were involved in Marr’s defeat to Hawick in the Scottish Cup Final last weekend, while Glasgow Hawks and GHA are well-represented with six and three starters respectively. Back-rowers Ewan Stewart of Biggar and Mark McCornick of Newton Stewart are the two non-Premiership players in the starting XV.
Meanwhile, the hosts have a lighter sprinkling of Premiership experience (six of the starting XV) through players who came through the North and Midlands system before moving to the central belt, with the majority of the side currently operating in either National One (five of the starting XV play for Highland, one for Dundee and one from Gala), National Two (one from Falkirk) or National Three (one from Howe of Fife).
However, Reds forwards coach Kevin Wyness believes that the challenge of representing the biggest land mass of the four district teams without a Premiership outlet can give his team a vital edge.
“Caledonia have been at the forefront of trying to get the Inter District Championship back over the last few years, and we’ve had a couple of one-off games against the South to try and kick-start it,” he explained. “This year, a vote at the SRU AGM has granted us an opportunity to prove that it works, and I’d say that 1,514 people at Netherdale on Tuesday night proves that there is something there.
“We’re really looking forward to this weekend,” he continued. “We’ve had two camps at Strathallan School in Perthshire over the last couple of weeks and we’ve had Glen Brough drive from Galashiels and back, which is a 160 mile return trip, and we’ve had guys from Inverness doing 240 mile round-trips, so the players have really committed to this programme.
“We’re up against a Glasgow and West team who have more Premiership players than we’ve got, but what we’re hoping is that the North & Midlands/Caledonia collective feeling is a bit stronger.
“Anyone who has ever come through the Caley ranks knows what you’ve got to commit to play representative rugby in this part of the country, then you get to a certain age and if you want to take your rugby career a little further you have to move to the central belt, but these boys are still committed to where they have come from and this is an opportunity for them to show that.
“You look at somebody like DJ Innes, who is a very good player based at Currie Chieftains now, and he was jumping at the opportunity to play for Caley again. So, he’s been a very important player and character for the squad.
“What we’re also saying is that if we get an opportunity to extend the Inter District Championship at some stage, to playing home and away games, then guys like Fraser Allan – the Howe of Fife hooker who could walk into any Premiership side in my opinion – can see where the game takes them without having to leave their hometown club. I think that’s a great opportunity for all of Scottish rugby.”
Wyness added that a celebrity spectator at the Reds’ warm-up match against the Army last month also boosted the team.
“Harry Russell, our scrum-half, had his little brother along to watch,” he revealed. “So, that was a bit of a turn-up for the books. From Racing 92 to watch the Army versus Caledonia Reds in Cupar is a bit of a leap, but the players loved that he was watching a game of rugby they were part of!”
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).