Inter-District Championship: Caledonia Reds clinch title with nail-biting win over the South

Heartbreak and euphoria at Braidholm after late penalty miss hands glory to men from the north

Caledonia Reds celebrate winning the 2023 Inter-District Championship. Image: Colin Robinson
Caledonia Reds celebrate winning the 2023 Inter-District Championship. Image: Colin Robinson

South of Scotland 30

Caledonia Reds 32

DAVID BARNES @ Braidholm

THIS game, and therefore the 2023 Inter-District Championship, went right to the wire. Ultimately, Caledonia Reds held their nerve, took their chances, and produced some defensive heroics to clinch the win, but only after the South missed an injury-time penalty which would have seen the result swing the other way.

“I’m absolutely over the moon,” beamed Reds head coach Colin Sangster. “We were under the cosh for long periods of that game, struggled to get possession, especially from scrum, and defended heroically, so to come away with the win is fantastic.

“We scored a couple of tries out of nothing, then they were on our line with a scrum which was moving forward when the ball popped out the side and we picked up to score at the other end, which was a bit fortuitous, but sometimes you make your own luck,” he added. “The lads have worked hard and got their reward.”


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Opposite number Matty Douglas refused to describe the defeat as disappointing. “That’s not a word I use,” he said. “Yes, maybe in the first half we weren’t good enough, but we had a good chat at half-time, stayed positive, and got ourselves back into. That runaway score from our scrum which was going forward a rate of knots changed the game, but I’m proud of the effort and resilience the boys showed to get back into it, and to stay in it to have that chance at the end.

“We have to be happy. This whole thing has been great for club rugby, and credit to Caley who played some great stuff in the first half,” he added.

South drew first blood when Caledonia Reds No 8 Oscar Baird was penalised straight from kick-off for crawling along the deck with the ball and Craig Dodds kicked the points, but that score was quickly cancelled out by Liam Brims when the Borderers strayed offside following a powerful burst from DJ Innes.

Reds then burst into the lead in spectacular style when Adriu Muritoki scooped a long pass from Brims off the deck and darted home from 35 yards amid a flurry of ankle-breaking side-steps.

Not to be outdone, Reds scrum-half Harry Russell summoned his inner-Finn by collecting his own delicate chip ahead to launch an attack from his own half, and he may have had a point when he complained that South full-back Kirk Ford had illegally blocked him as he attempted to repeat the trick later in that same move.

After a sustained spell of pressure close to the Reds line, an offside penalty gave Dodds an opportunity to narrow the gap, but he somehow missed from almost directly in front of the posts. A harbinger of things to come.

South players and coaching staff were still yelling about a Caley knock-on at the back go a maul on their own 10-metre line when Russell again chipped ahead, this time to winger Rupeni Rokodugini, launching a counter which ended with skipper Sean Blair charging over unchallenged. However, that try was belatedly chalked off when referee and touch-judge ruled that there had been another knock-on by Russell just before the scoring pass.

There was another daring counter-attack from Reds a few minutes later, with the hot-stepping Muritoki again proving elusive as he jinked his way out of his own 22, but Russell lost the ball in contact.

South’s set-piece was making in-roads, but their discipline wasn’t great, and they had one scrum penalty reversed because Bruce McNeil reacted to some gentle baiting from Callum MacPherson, and the Borderers shot themselves in the foot big style when Struan Hutchison‘s telegraphed pass was picked off by MacPherson, who galloped home from 60 yards.

It was a key moment for the South. Their pack was on top but they weren’t playing smart rugby. Fortunately for them, they decided to screw the nut, powering through a long sequence of short, sharp, powerful phases, before Shawn Muir rumbled over on the stroke of half-time.

 

Hooker Archie Falconer lasted all of 15 seconds after coming off the bench at half-time before being yellow-carded for a tip-tackle  but his absence for the next 10 minutes was not too keenly felt by the Reds, with the recently replaced Fraser Allan trotting back onto the pitch as front-row cover and showing that he still had plenty gas left in the tank by carrying 40 yards from his own half to set hip a try for Brims.

South reverted back to their dominant pack, hemming the Reds into their own 22 and securing a series of penalties, but that scrum slip-up gave the men from North and Midlands an escape route which they fully exploited. Play swung to the other end of the park, with replacements prop Jacob Ramsay thundering up the left touchline, Sam Cardosi and Rokoduguni providing support, and Russell finishing off.

There was, however, a few pl0t-twists left in this game, and South snatched a lifeline when Ford squeezed over in the right-hand corner on the hour mark. Then Calum Crookshanks was first to react to scrappy line-out ball to score again for the Borderers, and suddenly it was a nine-point game. It would have been even closer if Dodds had managed to convert either of those scores.

Now it was the Reds who were rattled, and South took advantage when second-row Michael Badenhorst picked out Muritoki’s loose pass and rampage home for the second long-range interception try of the match. This time Dodds added the extras, making 27-29 with 11 minutes to play.

South turned the screw, pulverising the Reds scrum into conceding yet another penalty, which allowed them to kick into the 22 then get their driving game going to earn an opportunity for Dodds to nudge his team into a single point lead with four minutes to play.

But Reds weren’t ready to throw in the towel yet, and they came back hard, getting their reward when Ben Gill was slightly harshly penalised for getting in the way of a recycle after making a tackle. Cool-as-ice replacement stand-off Glen Faulds stepped forward to slot the decisive points.

Now, it was South’s turn to try to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, and that dominant scrum gave them a chance to do just that with the clock in the red, but Dodds’ kicking had been hit-and-miss all day, and on this occasion it was the latter of those two options.

 

Teams –

South: K Ford; D Patterson (S Watt 60), F Robson, C Dods, R McKean (B Gill ( 75); S Hutchison, B Colvine (G Welsh 57); S Muir©, M Carryer, N Little (C Crookshanks 57), S Fairbairn (A McColm 57), M Badenhorst, S Graham, C Renwick (A Dun 15), B McNeil.

Caledonia Reds: A Muritoki;  J McCaig, M Wallace (S Ross 69), D Innes, R Rokoduguni; L Brims (G Faulds 72), H Russell© (J Imrie 57); S Murray, F Allan (A Falconer  41), G Brough (J Ramsay 41),  S Yarrow (J Brough 57), S Blair©, C MacPherson (F Allan 45, G Gregor 50), S Cardosi, O Baird.

 

Scorers –

South of Scotland: Tries: Muir, Ford, Crookshanks, Badenhorst; Con: Dodds 2; Pen: Dodds.2

Caledonia Reds: Tries: Muritoki, MacPherson, Brims, Russell; Cons: Brims 3; Pen: Brims, Faulds.

Scoring sequence (South first): 3-0; 3-3; 3-8; 3-10; 3-15; 8-15; 10-15 (h-t) 10-20; 10-22; 10-27; 10-29; 15-29; 20-29; 25-29; 27-29; 30-29; 30-32.

 

Yellow cards –

Caledonia Reds: Falconer (41mins), Gregor (57mins)

 

Man-of-the-Match: Hot-stepping Highland full-back Adriu Muitoki lit up the game every time he touched the ball, and the interception try he handed Michael Badenhorst didn’t prove costly in the end.

Talking point: Rumours of rugby’s imminent demise in the north of the country have clearly been grossly exaggerated, but this victory doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious issues which need to be addressed. Time to roll up the sleeves, undertake some blue sky thinking, make some tough decisions, pull together and develop a credible plan which can harness the diverse but fertile rugby landscape beyond the central belt.


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About David Barnes 3963 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

4 Comments

  1. Cracking Sunday afternoon viewing. Caledonia looked so dangerous and Brims was the standout but South should have won that. More of these games next year please.

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