The rugby league season in Scotland continues to develop with Sunday 4th June seeing a successful Origin match played between the North and the South at Kinross Rugby Club.

There are now 4 teams in the Caledonian Brewery National League – Edinburgh Eagles, Carluke Tigers, Aberdeen Warriors and Strathmore Silverbacks – with Bon Accord Bulls and Easterhouse Panthers also training and playing friendlies outside of the National League. As part of the development plan for the game in Scotland, the Club XIII team is being re-introduced in 2017 with a significant playing programme expected to be in place for 2018 onwards. Part of this process is the North v South Origin match which acts as a trial for the Scotland Club XIII, and Head Coach Mike Wallace was on hand to see for himself the talent that was on display.

Neither side had had the opportunity to train together before the game other than in the period building up to kick off. It is therefore credit to the players and the coaches that the game was played with such energy and teamwork. As the teams lined up it was impossible to predict how the game would go, but it quickly became apparent that while the North had superior handling skills, the South possessed the physicality both in attack and defence, which led to a fascinating contest.

The early form of Connor Meikle, Terry Skeet and the barn-storming Colin Jarvis allowed the South pack to dominate and get the upper hand in field position from the outset. They were rewarded by scoring the first points through student international Jordan Duncan, followed by a typically destructive barge over the line by Jarvis. Both were converted giving the South an early 12-0 lead. The North soon hit back with a try finished off by Tom Hall driving through the defence off the back of a penalty.  As the North looked like they were getting back into the game they fumbled, the South reacted quickly moving the ball wide and Scotland U19 international Patrick Noutch finished some crisp handling on the left wing opening up a 16-6 lead. North responded through a kick and chase that was skilfully regathered by Lewis Hall before he showed great agility side stepping a defender to score near the posts. The response from the South was physical.  Jarvis caused problems for the North defence time and again and Ross Bryan capitalised on a broken line to beat his tacklers and score a try which he converted.

The fast paced and high energy first half ended 22-10 to the South.

Coming out for the second half, the South looked as though their first half efforts had taken it out of them.  The North took advantage, moving the ball quickly and as they gained in confidence the points quickly followed. The first try of the second half went to Scott Strachan, despite some dogged defence. This was followed by a Michael Jamison try following some slick handling which put him into space.  He used pace and agility to step his defender with a jinking run. This was converted, drawing the score level at 22-22.

By now the South were finding it increasingly difficult to gain territory and their pack were less effective than they had been in the first half. This was compounded by some poor handling and penalties being given away. With the momentum having switched to the North, they scored again with a break-away try which took them into the lead for the first time. The effect was to re-energise the South who suddenly found their form again. Once again spearheaded by their pack they piled the pressure on the North. The powerful Skeet proved unstoppable from 15 metres out taking the South back into the lead. Tries followed from Jordan Duncan, Cammy Harrison, and Damien Genocchio put space between the teams again. The North were tiring fast and struggling to stay in the game after their earlier second half success. Jack Plumridge finished them off with the final try of the game which took the score to 50-26 in the South’s favour, to finish off a tremendous match, competitively fought for and played in a great spirit

The watching Club XIII Head Coach was pleased with what he had seen and awarded Tom Murray the Man of the Match due to his solid defence, his agility in attack, and his unwavering work rate.

In my experience Open trials can be a bit hit or miss with the availability and ability of players. This year proved to be a hit, it was a tough, bruising and hard fought match between the North and South. It was great to see some of our best domestic players battle it out with moments of individual flair as well as linking up with their team mates to deliver what was a really entertaining match. Today’s match highlighted that there is still a good crop of players in Scotland and new players coming through. The scoreline probably flattered the South a little bit, they were the more experienced team but all credit to the boys from the North, they put in a great shift and put the South under a lot of pressure.  The match has certainly given me plenty to think about regarding selection for the Club XIII this year. Finally, I would like to say a big thank you to Kinross RFC for hosting the match today and also to our referee who did a fantastic job to keep the game flowing.

The players now return to their clubs with the next club fixture being Edinburgh Eagles v Aberdeen Warriors on Saturday 10th June (venue Inch Park, Edinburgh – kick off 2pm)

In the Wheelchair Rugby League Challenge Cup, Dundee Dragons host Glasgow Panthers on Sunday 11th June at Grove Academy in Dundee. The game starts at 2pm.