IT WAS an honourable “draw” when Chris Paterson, Scotland’s most-capped rugby internationalist, took on Kilmarnock FC players Josh Magennis and Conor Brennan in a friendly skills challenge earlier this week.
The trio met at Rugby Park’s artificial pitch, to help publicise the forthcoming Scotland v Tonga rugby international, to be held there on Saturday, 22 November, in a challenge which demonstrated their mastery of both the oval and round balls.
It was quickly apparent that Killie striker Magennis was not unfamiliar with the oval ball. “I played a bit at school and with Bangor Rugby Club,” the Irish striker admitted, after delivering a perfect “spiral” kick to touch.
“Rugby is my second game – I was a centre three-quarter and just loved running with the ball, so I am a wee bit disappointed that, because we are away from home that day, I will miss the international.”
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During the crossbar challenge Magennis showed his prowess by being the only one of the trio to hit the horizontal, with a rugby ball from almost halfway, but he lost out to “Mossy” in the round-ball penalty shoot-out, when goalkeeper Brennan saved the second of his three shots, but was caught out by Paterson’s “straight down the middle after he dives” technique.
Paterson, however, produced the save of the day, when he donned the gloves and flew to his left to turn aside a Magennis thunderbolt.
Fellow Ulsterman Brennan, like Magennis an avowed Ulster Rugby fan, had some advice for the Scotland players who will feature on the 22nd: “Be careful about how the ball fizzes about off the surface”, he said.
Paterson, who has unpleasant memories of school PE sessions on an old-fashioned, sand-based, artificial surface, reckons the new Rugby Park pitch will make for a fast, fluid, exciting game.
“I don’t think the surface will be too much of a factor. The players will forget all about it once the game starts,” he added.
Paterson believes, after the summer tour and with Glasgow, in particular, going so well in the Guinness Pro12, Scotland are in a good place. He also feels the huge crowds at the Commonwealth Games Sevens could have a positive knock-on effect for this latest use of a football ground for rugby.
“The Sevens highlighted the skills level in rugby and, hopefully, we can get a knock-on from that and attract some football fans to the Tonga game. If they turn up, I think they will be well entertained,” added Paterson.
The challenge day also included an opportunity for the press to demonstrate their inadequacies with a rugby or a football, which they did in spades.
The Scotsman’s veteran representative insisted that not having a genuine, heavy, leather ball and hard-toed boots as well as using a kicking tee rather than building a sand castle cost him dear – never mind the 35-plus years he was giving away…
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