Caledonia Reds 26 Co-optimist RFC 17
The Caledonia Reds returned to the field to take on a talented Co-optimist outfit that included an array of Scottish Premiership regulars as well as professional players Folau Niua, Carlin Isles and the recently signed Murray McConnell from the Glasgow Warriors.
The game was held at Duffus Park in Cupar, home of Howe of Fife RFC and a bit of a spiritual home for the region due to it being a habitual host of age-grade Caledonia rugby as well as the senior District side in the days of the old Inter District Championship.
It was therefore a fitting location for what was undoubtedly a historic match that pitted some of Scottish rugby's top talent against each other in a highly entertaining match that was played at a blistering pace and fierce intensity.
The opening exchanges were fast and attritional as both sides probed for early chinks. The Co-optimists, in true Barbarian style, looked to run the ball at every opportunity and with speedsters Isles and Ayr's Craig Gossman out wide they looked threatening whenever they spread the ball wide.
The Reds had a lot of the early pressure but failed to make it count and it was from a Co-optimists breakout that the opening try was scored. Gossman's break on the left wing saw him go clear before finding full back Keith Buchan of Heriot's in support to open the scoring. Graham Wilson converted.
The Reds came storming back and a neatly worked break up the middle from inside their own half saw Howe of Fife's Chris Mason go clear for what looked like a certain score in the corner but the Caledonia 6 was caught 5 metres short by Carlin Isles as the American demonstrated that his incredible speed is useful both on defence as well as attack.
From the resulting lineout, Reds openside Iain Wilson, another Howe man, made an opportunistic steal at the tail and snuck over for the score. The conversion was missed.
The Co-optimists were always threatening with their enterprising style of play but the determined Reds defence stood firm and whenever the Co-optimists did make a break, the Caledonia back 3 of Graham Lindsay of Stirling County, William Wardlaw and Steven Aitken both of Aberdeen Grammar were outstanding in their covering tackles.
Half time: 7-5 to the Co-optimists.
The Reds came out of the blocks quickly in the second half and took the lead early when number 8 Danny Levison of Dundee crashed over for a score which again went unconverted.
Perhaps the moment of the match came shortly after when burly Reds prop Nicki Fraser of Ellon and Aberdeen Grammar, nicknamed 'The Bull', made a scintillating break in mid-field and sprinted all of 30 metres before being caught just short of the try line.
The Caledonia scrum was dominant all afternoon providing a fantastic platform for the Caledonia backs to play from. The next try came from another solid scrum and a well worked scrum move on the left hand side, just inside the Co-optimists 22. The ball was worked right and a simple dummy switch and pop to full back Steven Aitken who picked a fantastic line to go in under the posts. Fraser Lyle of Stirling County converted to give the Reds a 17-7 advantage.
Then came the moment that many in large crowd were waiting for. Isles found himself in space just inside his own half. He beat the first defender to get in behind the first line of defence and it was then good night as the Caledonia cover defenders couldn't get near him as he sprinted in for the score in the left hand corner. Conversion was missed.
However, the comeback never looked likely as Fraser Lyle consolidated Caledonia's lead with three penalties to push them out of reach at 26 to 12. The Co-optimists did have the last say however as Currie's Ruaraidh Smith finished off an excellent break through the middle to cap off a fine afternoon and an fine game of rugby.
Next Sunday, (May 4), the Caledonia Reds will play the Newcastle Falcons 'A' at Pennypit Sports Complex in Prestonpans.
Caledonia Reds: Steven Aitken, Graham Lindsay, Danny Gilmour, Fraser Lyle, Will Wardlaw, Stuart Edwards, Peter Jericevich; Nicki Fraser, Reyner Kennedy, Alan Brown, Murray Douglas(c), Rory McKay, Chris Mason, Iain Wilson, Danny Levison. Subs (all used) - Jamie Bhatti, Darrel Russell, Craig Deacons, Greig Ryan, Andy Dymock, Cameron Ferguson.
Co-optimists: Keith Buchan, Craig Gossman, David Milne, Folau Nuia, Carlin Isles, Graham Wilson(c), Murray McConnell; Robbie Wilson, Calum McIntosh, Willie Aitken, Richie Maxton, Craig Borthwick, Mark Cairns, Andy Rose, Ross Weston. Subs (all used) - Stewart Mustard, Shaun Muir, Callum Templeton, Peter McCallum, Richard Snedden, Ruaraidh Smith, Craig Inglis.
Referee: Charles Samson.
Our picture, courtesy of John MacFarlane, shows the Caledonia Reds squad.