Alloa RFC..............................................25

Caithness RFC........................................8

BT Caledonia Shield Final

FOLLOWING last week’s postponement due to the heavy snowfall, both sides put on a highly entertaining performance at the second time of asking in difficult underfoot conditions.

Alloa were desperate for this match to go ahead as due to contentious cup rules this final would have been decided by the toss of a coin if the game failed to go ahead at the second time of asking and to ensure that this did not happen the club had no fewer than three pitches on standby just in case, including Oriam which is Scotland’s indoor synthetic training pitch.

Thankfully, Earlsfield was deemed playable and both sides put on a performance worthy of any cup final and rather surprisingly one with very few handling errors.

The home side started the match on the front foot and within 10 minutes they scored from a driving line out which saw hooker Dale Foster emerge from the mass of bodies with the ball in hand and they soon doubled their lead from an almost identical play, this time it was prop Matthew Duncan who squeezed the ball over the line.

Both tries went unconverted, but a 10-point lead was a fair reflection of the opening exchanges.

The rest of the first half became a more even affair as Caithness came back into the match and as the rain intensified, so did the level of play with both sides hammering each other’s defence but the tackling was ferocious at times and both sides held firm to the break.

Caithness had the wind in their favour for the second half and they quickly halved the Alloa lead when they scored from a back row move off the back of a solid scrum and when they pulled back a further three points moments later from an easy penalty the home side could have panicked, but instead they rallied together and produced a magnificent 30-minute display of controlled rugby that ultimately sealed the victory.

Alloa had brought on Gary Taylor at the interval and he along with fellow back rowers Jamie Syme and Matt Pope continually battered the Caithness defence and it was from one of these powerful forward surges that Alloa put pressure on the visitor’s line and this eventually resulted in a defensive infringement allowing Lee Carney to successfully slot the penalty kick.

This score settled the nerves and soon after a Graeme Ross drive was held up just short of the line, but Matthew Duncan was on hand to drive over for his second score of the day. Lee Cairney added the extra points from the conversion.

Alloa now had the scent of victory in their nostrils and the large home crowd went wild with ten minutes remaining when another second half replacement, Ed Waller spotted a dog leg in the Caithness line and the stand off burned the covering defence to put Alloa out of sight.

To their credit, Caithness played right to the end, but however hard they tried they just could not find a way through the well-organised Alloa defence.

Matthew Duncan was rightly awarded the J&M Builders Man of the Match for his two tries, but in truth this could also have went to any number of players in the squad, who to a man displayed 100 per cent effort and commitment to ensure that it was Martin McKenzie, captain for the day, who proudly held aloft the Caledonia Shield.

Three cup titles and a league title in the last four years is not a bad return for the Wee County side and is just reward for the Alloa coaches and management team who have worked hard with their charges to produce an open, expansive style of rugby.

The four Scottish Regional Shield winners now progress into the National Shield competition and having eliminated the Midlands League 1 leaders Caithness, they now face West 1 League leaders, Carrick RFC on 31st March – KO 3pm at Earlsfield.

The winners of this tie then progress to Murrayfield for Cup Finals day and Alloa have fond memories of their last visit there in 2015, but Carrick have good memories of their own as they are the current National Shield holders following last season’s victory over Murrayfield Wanderers.