Aberdeen Grammar overpower Highland to lift National League Cup

The leading two teams from the North and North-East prove that rugby is alive and kicking beyond the central belt

Aberdeen Grammar
Aberdeen Grammar celebrate winning the National League Cup. Image: Bryan Robertson

Highland 10

Aberdeen Grammar 26

DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh

THIS was not a match for the feint-hearted. Urged on by a raucous crowd, both teams threw the kitchen sink at it – and while there were plenty of mistakes and some hair-brained indiscipline, it was a compelling spectacle if you enjoy your sport with warts and all. Highland started brightly but couldn’t sustain it against a bigger, more experienced and ultimately better organised Aberdeen side, who were worthy winners in the end.

“Full credit to Highland, I thought they were superb with the physical challenge they produced, and we’re really happy to finish in fairly dominant fashion after a really tight game,” said Ali O’Connor, the victorious head coach. “We anticipated that they would really come at us in that first 20-minutes, and the crowd support they had was absolutely superb which clearly geed them on. But we came back into it when we tightened things up and cut out the errors, and that ultimately won the day for us.”

Grammar finished fourth in National One this year and will play in the new-look Premiership next season. “We’ve got a programme pf physical development for the boys over the summer because we know that is an area we have to be better,” said O’Connor. “There will be a recruitment strategy of some kind, but we really have to sit down and think about where we go with that. A couple of lads are leaving – second-row Ewan Stewart is graduating and will probably move away, and flanker Alec Dravitski is going back to New Zealand – but the rest are staying on, so we will be able to keep the core of the team together.

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Highland head coach Davie Carson rejected the suggestion that the difference between the two sides was Aberdeen’s experience of regularly playing a higher standard of rugby this season.

“I thought the first half was a fantastic advert for us in National Two and them in National One – it was a brutal, fast game of rugby – but their size eventually told in the end,” he said. “In the second half, we never got the ball, we made too many mistakes in set-piece and they strangled the game after that with pick-and-go for 20 minutes, which we just couldn’t defend.

“Our guys have learned a lot this year coming up from National Three, and that’s us bouncing up again [having finished second in National Two]. They have now seen the kind of size they are going to be up against.”

Highland took the lead after nine feisty minutes with a Rory Carson penalty, and the Inverness outfit continued to dominate territory and possession for the next ten minutes, eventually stretching their advantage to 10 points when full-back Rupeni Rokoduguni offloaded out of contact to send Callum Carson under the posts for a converted try.

That was the jolt Aberdeen needed and they responded almost immediately with captain Sam Knudson putting scrum-half Tom Morrison in for their opening score; and it got even better for Grammar when they crossed the try-line again almost straight from the restart, with winger Douglas Russell making the initial indent, the barrelling Tom Aplin carrying the move on, and a slice of good fortune seeing his pass inside ricochet back the way it came into Bryn Perrott’s hands for the full-back to dart home unchallenged from 20-yards. Perrott converted both those quick-fire scores to make 14-10 with 25 breathless minutes on the clock.

Aberdeen second-row Robin Cessford was yellow-carded just before half-time for offside, but Highland failed to take full benefit when Carson missed the tricky penalty from the right. And it was soon down to 14-aside when Calum MacPherson was sent to the cooler for not rolling away.

Aberdeen looked certain to score try number three when Murray Mitchell closed in on the line during the last play of this epic opening period, but Highland somehow managed to pull the outside-centre down just short of the whitewash.

Bulk and power is key

With their scrum well on top, Aberdeen began to really turn the screw at the start of the second half. They shoved Highland off their own ball, No 8 Greig Ryan was held up over the line, and Aberdeen then splintered Highland from the resulting set-piece to earn penalty try.

Perrott missed a penalty which would have extended Aberdeen’s lead to 14 points, but the traffic was all one-way by this point, and there was a real sense of inevitability about what was coming when Aplin burst onto a short ball and powered in for try number four with 66 minutes played.

With Grammar flanker Dravitski the third player in the match to see yellow, Highland rallied bravely to set up camp Aberdeen’s 22 for the final five minutes, but they were now playing for nothing more than pride. They didn’t get the consolation score they deseved, but their head coach could not speak highly enough of his team’s collective effort.

“By hell they put their heart and soul into that,” concluded Carson. “Although we didn’t get much ball in the second half, we made sure they only scored two tries – and our boys were on their knees at the end. They are just an awesome bunch of guys, and what a hell of a season they’ve had.”



Highland: R Rokoduguni; C Ross, R Cross, S Ross, J Nawacaleru; R Carson, R MacDonald; L Sinclair, K Brown, M Paterson, O Baird, S Blair, C Carson, G Gregor, C Macpherson. Subs: S Watson, J Milton, B Gordon, N McLaughlin, I Chisholm, C Irvine, M Henry.

Aberdeen Grammar: B Perrott; N Coe, M Mitchell, T Aplin, D Russell; S Knudson, T Morrison; M Schosser, A Cook, C Reddish, R Cessford, E Stewart, A Dravitski, C Jollands, G Ryan. Subs: B Inglis, R Anderson, J Robertson, W Alton, S Mills, A Robertson, C Shepherd.

Referee: John Shaw


Scorers –

Highland: Try: C Carson; Con: R Carson; Pen: R Carson.

Aberdeen: Tries: Morrison, Perrott, Penalty Try, Aplin; Cons: Perrott 2.

Scoring sequence (Highland first): 3-0; 8-0; 10-0; 10-5; 10-7; 10-12; 10-14 (h-t) 10-21; 10-26


Yellow cards –

Aberdeen: Cessford,Dravitski

Highland: Macpherson


Man-of-the-Match: Aberdeen centre Tom Aplin was a rock in the middle of the park – a focal point in both attack and defence – and he has a huge boot which helped relieve the pressure on a number of occasions.

Talking point: A cracking advert for what club rugby should be about … from two teams north of the central belt! Scottish rugby needs these great clubs to continue on their current upward trajectory.

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. David & Jack, thanks to the Offside Line journalistic team for bothering to turn-up at Bridgehaugh on Saturday to see two cracking games between old Caley North rivals, Highland RFC and Aberdeen Grammar Rugby. From your reports, I trust you were not disappointed by what turned out to be a super day for amateur rugby in Scotland.

    Though the SRU event team on the day did a great job (and Dee, the President of Scottish Rugby turned-up and participated enthusiastically), it is a shame that the SRU paid such little heed to the Cup on its progress through the knock-out stages to the Final. Great to see both a National 1 and a National 2 side competing in the Final (both promoted upwards next season). Apart from some dodgy, inconsistent calls from the match officials, the games were played in good spirit and the passion for the game was most evident.

    Highland got the nod 10-15 in the 2nds game, completing a fantastic run to be Champions of Caledonian North 2, But Aberdeen Grammar’s scratch 2nds gave them a real challenge. Just a pity the game was played on a side pitch, not within the main ground. It detracted from the occasion.

    The main event was a cracker (as your reports suggest), but why so few media/press reps and why only pre-publicity a few days before the event, the competition being notably absent from all previous SRU news releases? Is the 2nd most important Cup competition really not worth the ink, when the Bowl got much more build-up? Not born mere syndrome? The SRU press team seem to have been instructed to ignore the National League Cup throughout and even the programme for the day, was a disgrace. A flyer with minimal team info and a wee intro, when the focus of the publication was as a “flyer” to promote, so-called “Silver Saturday” (an admission that the offering does not meet the top, “gold standard”?)! Poor call from Mr Dodson and his Executive. It was clearly their ball and we weren’t going to get to play with it!!

    Big thanks you’s to Stirling County and their staff and officials; Aran and the SRU events team; Vicky, SRU Competitions team; Dee Bradbury for turning-up and being a great sport; the players on both teams in both games; the Dundee High committee man for showing-up and supporting the event; the fabulous supporters for both teams who got on a bus and made it such a great day; and Bill Giles and the weathermen who gave us such a fantastic sunny stage to play on.

    Raspberries to Mr Dodson and his SRU Executive for ignoring us all season; The SRU Media Team for similar treatment and doing their best impression of “the invisible man” on the day; the referee and his official “Assistants” who seemed out of their depth and unable to take positive control of a full-on club game (where was Holly? She is the best ref we have had all season!); the touch judge who raised and then lowered his flag at the end of the 2nds game, when the score was 10-10, without the ref noticing (though George Whitecross did a splendid single-handed job up to that point. Not to blame for a dodgy bit of gamesmanship!); and the over-officious and totally un-necessary security staff who just seemed to want to antagonise the happy crowd for no apparent reason.

    The Winner? Well, of course, the game of rugby at the amateur level!! What a great ad for the ethos of the game. Just a pity not more people and media were attracted to participate. Something for the SRU to remedy next year? I sincerely hope so.

    And best of luck to all teams being granted the honour of plating at Murrayfield this weekend, with perhaps a little bit of bias toward our local compatriots, Aberdeenshire RFC.

    Jimmy Rae, Honorary President, Aberdeen Grammar Rugby
    (these are my personal views and not necessarily those of the Club)

    • Hi Jim,
      Thanks for your message.
      It was indeed a great day of rugby – another reminder that the game is (and must remain) about more than giant salaries and eye-watering tv deals.
      I look forward to covering Grammar in the Premiership next season, and continuing to follow Highland’s resurrection.
      All the best,
      David Barnes

  2. There is nothing wrong with 7’s being held in April, the fault is with the xv’s game which shouldn’t encroach into April, possibly bar cup finals.

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