THE good news for discerning rugby supporters who like their sport to have a strong, competitive edge is that National League One will be back in business this season with several teams determined to make their mark, but according to Highland head coach Dave Carson, lacking one vital ingredient.
“This league is arguably the most exciting and entertaining of them all in the Scottish game, as was the case last season when three teams were scrapping for the title right up until the last week of the campaign. In the end it was Heriot’s who eased through by a mere one point, leaving Gala totally frustrated after making a hugely entertaining contribution in their 22 games but denied promotion. It just doesn’t make sense not to have two teams going up,” said Carson, who hopes his Inverness based side will be once again in the mix for the title after finishing a credible fifth last season.
The logic of Carson’s case is hard to dispute, and while Heriot’s only clinched the championship in the last game, it could well have been that one team might just have run away with the league in March, or even earlier, leaving clubs to make meaningfulness, not to say expensive, trips up and down the country.
“When we kick off the season in September, it would be good to have the incentive of knowing there are two places in the Premiership on offer but as it stands only one team will go up which given the talent and ambition of teams like Biggar who were third last season and Melrose, Ayr, Kelso and others, who would all grace the top league, is nonsense,” added Carson, who modestly left his own side out of the equation.
But then Highland’s ambitions are well known and in the year in which the club celebrates its 100th anniversary, nothing would suit Carson more than taking the Canal Park into the top Scottish club league, especially when they have one of the finest facilities in the country, attracting substantial crowds to home games far in excess of other teams in the division, which given the fact Highland were languishing in Caledonia Division Two North just 10 years ago is nothing short of remarkable, and a huge tribute to a highly organised committee, combined with Carson’s understanding of a squad he has nursed over the years to within touching distance of the top league league in the country.
“They are still a generally young team who are learning all the time, including veteran hooker Kevin Brown who just gets better with age. I am hopeful of being able to continue to successfully introduce young players to the team as the season unfolds. There is so much talent in our second and third teams, ready to be unleashed in the first team. It bodes well for the future of the club,” said Carson.
But while Carson’s focus will be on the top slot in National League One, he is acutely aware that for the first time in the history of the division, there will be four teams from the Caledonia area competing if not for the title but for regional bragging rights within the league now that relegated Aberdeen Grammar have joined Highland, Dundee High and Stirling Wolves.
“Naturally, we all want to end up as high up the league as possible but just as much want to beat each other. It will be interesting to see how Grammar fare in their new environment. I wish them well and look forward to our first competitive encounter since they beat us in the National League Cup final four years ago in Stirling,”said Carson.
The two meet at Rubislaw in the second week of the eagerly awaited campaign.