TWO hours before Scotland take on Argentina in the last of their autumn internationals on Saturday, one of the most significant games in the recent history of the North and North East of Scotland will take place in Aberdeen.
Aberdeen Grammar and Highland will meet at Rubislaw for the first time in three and a half years on National League One business, each bidding to improve their position in arguably the most competitive league in the Scottish club game. Tom Aplin, captain and ace kicker for Grammar, certainly believes so.
“Take away the top three in the Premiership and there’s nothing between the rest of that league and all of National League One, as we have been finding out this season,” said Aplin, who is one of four survivors from the last Grammar side to have played against their Inverness opponents at Stirling in April 2019 in the final of the National League Cup.
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Kevin Brown, a former captain of Highland, is one of five players still in Canal Park side, recalls the occasion, won by Grammar 26-10.
“We started brightly going 10 points up, only to fade as Grammar finished the stronger. There is no chance of that happening on Saturday. We are a much improved and fitter side now,” said the veteran Highland hooker.
The form book would suggest Highland are favourites to take the honours, having won five games from their nine starts, and still in the race for the one promotion place on offer, while Grammar have only won two of their games and find themselves in one of the three relegation places, nearing the halfway point of the campaign.
However, like their Rubislaw counterparts, Highland are finding it hard to win on the road, giving Aplin the opportunity to say: “There are no easy games, especially when there are long journeys involved, including four trips to the Borders, but we always fancy our chances at Rubislaw, and Saturday will be no different.”
Both were in agreement about the one-up and three-down arrangements in the league. “It makes for a very pressurised situation at both ends of the league, “ said Brown.
The outcome may be decided by the input of the coaching teams, where Highland might just have the edge in the experienced Davie Carson, over Greig Ryan and Nat Coe who are jointly in charge at Rubislaw and new to their positions, although Ryan in particular has vast experience of playing in a Premiership side.
But any advantage the Inverness side might have, is countered by the input of Iain Stanger, the forwards coach at Rubislaw who brings all the know-how of his time in a Grammar side who came within a whisker of winning the Premiership in the 2003-04.
As in most derby games, the form book is likely to go out the window, making for a great if tense afternoon
“With both sides keen to throw the ball about, anything can happen, but in stand off Sam Knudson we have a winner,” said Aplin, while Brown was equally confident that his team would continue to build on the remarkable progress they have made in coming from Caledonian League Two North to the possibility of a place in the top league in Scotland.
“If not this year the following one. No 8 and captain Callum Carson will be our game changer,” he said.
With only a handful of games scheduled for the area on Saturday, it is hoped all roads will lead to Rubislaw for one of the big days for rugby in the North and North East of Scotland.
For the losers, there will be no time to mope as the two are due to meet again in Inverness on December 10th.
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