Caledonia Reds ..... 20

Glasgow .............. 14

CALEDONIA Reds kept their large and enthusiastic northern support on tenterhooks until well into the second half before patience and perseverance brought their reward and a place in next season's Heineken Cup.

The Reds, playing their first European Qualifying Tournament match at Rubislaw in Aberdeen, trailed Glasgow for nigh on an hour and took the lead only in the sixty-third minute with a John Manson try.

However, it would have been a brave man, indeed, who would have written off the Reds, who had battered away at the Glasgow line only to see themselves thwarted by stonewall defence from Gordon Bulloch's men. The question, always, was going to be how long could Glasgow hold out?

Glasgow had already qualified for European rugby's premier tournament but - and this is an indication of the major flaw inherent in a European Qualifying Tournament, wherein each side plays only three games - there was still the issue of the district championship to be decided and it could have gone virtually anywhere.

In the event, it was a decision taken 120 miles south at Inverleith where Edinburgh - from zero to hero in a single season - lifted the championship by virtue of their superior try count and the Scottish Borderers were consigned to a season in the European Conference ranks. So, no successful defence of their district championship for the Reds and no first championship in eight years for Glasgow.

This Rubislaw encounter was, though, a decent enough advertisement for district rugby. The conditions - glaur and gloom - were not entirely conducive to champagne rugby, but the 2000-or-so who packed into Aberdeen GSFP's ground were rewarded with a contest of honest endeavour and not a little good rugby.

Reds scrum half Derrick Patterson was hospitalised after a crunching touchline tackle five minutes from the end which left him with rib damage and difficulty in breathing. The ambulance was just leaving the ground as the final whistle sounded and Caledonia had booked their European berth for next season.

Reds coach Ian Rankin said it had been a case of getting the job done. On four or five occasions his side has eschewed the opportunity to penalty kick for goal, Mark McKenzie choosing instead to spear the ball down the touchline for lineouts within striking distance of the Glasgow line. It was a tactic which could have come unstuck but, for the Reds, all was well that ended well.

''We had to go for tries and so we kicked for the corner,'' said Rankin. ''Even when we were 7-0 down at half-time the lads were still confident that it would go our way.

''But when we were 14-0 adrift I confess that an early visit to see my GP was on the cards. We had been hard done by a few times on the try line. We were almost there but there would be a penalty against Glasgow for infringing at rucks and mauls. At the end of the day, though, it was a good spectacle and a good advert for the game on TV,'' concluded Rankin.

Those penalties conceded by Glasgow were, in fact, a recurrent theme throughout. Jim Fleming pulled up Glasgow on more occasions than was good for them. Especially near their try line, Glasgow were in imminent danger of being ''done'' for persistent infringement and the penalty try which would have ensued.

Glasgow captain Gordon Bulloch, who at one point was called aside by Fleming who pointed ominously towards the clubhouse, said later that his side had been puzzled by some of Fleming's interpretations of the tackle law. That, though, is the name of the game. Playing the referee has become almost as important as playing the opposition.

Glasgow coach Keith Robertson, whose first EQT game in charge this was, added: ''We were lucky to be ahead at half-time. In the second half they must have had 80% of the territory. On a heavy pitch like that it takes a very special team which can defend for 80 minutes and, by the end, it had just taken too much out of us.''

The match was but six minutes old when Glasgow stormed into the lead after Mike Beckham had set up the ruck from which the ball spun left, allowing Chris Simmers - and what a revelation he has been this season - make the pacy break that allowed Gordon Bulloch in for a try. Tommy Hayes converted.

Paul Rouse was over for Caley seven minutes later, but the try was disallowed because of a forward pass. At the other end, Caley pounded at the Glasgow line, Grimes, Wainwright and McIvor each coming close.

Glasgow had their backs to the wall, and when Rowen Shepherd sclaffed a penalty attempt just on half-time it seemed as though all of Caley's hard work would be rendered null and void.

Glasgow went further ahead with a Simmers try in the forty-fourth minute and Hayes' conversion put them 14 points to the good. Thereafter the Reds found themselves in the driving seat and, more importantly, were converting pressure into points.

Dave McIvor's try, converted by Shepherd, cut the leeway and a penalty from Shepherd saw Reds back in contention with a vengeance.

Manson's try in the sixty-third minute, converted by Shepherd, put Caley in the lead and, in the eightieth minute, Shepherd had a penalty which provided for the home side an ultimately emphatic victory.

SCORERS: Caledonia Reds - Manson 1t; McIvor 1t; Shepherd 2p 2c. Glasgow - Simmers 1t; G Bulloch 1t; Hayes 2c.

Caledonia Reds - R Shepherd; S Longstaff, J McLaren, P Rouse, J Kerr; M McKenzie, D Patterson; J Manson, G Scott, W Anderson, J White, S Grimes, D McIvor, G Flockhart, R Wainwright, capt. Substitutes - D Herrington for Anderson (57min), M Waite for Flockhart (57), D Officer for Rouse (68), J Petrie for McIvor (72), D Short for Patterson (75).

Glasgow - C Sangster; D Stark, A Bulloch, C Simmers, G Metcalfe; T Hayes, F Stott; G McIlwham, G Bulloch, captain, M Beckham, M Norval, G Perrett, F Wallace, M Wallace, J Shaw. Substitutes - G Mackay for F Wallace (57), D McLeish for Shaw (57).

Referee - J Fleming (Boroughmuir).